The fluctuating weight of Kirstie Alley has kept the once-svelte “Cheers” star on the cover of tabloids for years, a predicament she made fun of in fantastic, over-the-top fashion on the 2005 Showtime comedy “Fat Actress.” Now those body issues have led her where so many celebrities go in the hopes of remaking themselves for the public: reality TV.
It’s there that Alley said she discovered what her everyday life looked like from the outside. “When I see the footage, I’m shocked. I see myself playing with my lemurs, and then I see footage of the stuff around my house . . . it does look a little Alice in Wonderland-ish. Apparently, I am very eccentric. I had no idea.”
Alley’s new A&E series “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” was originally conceived as a project she’d produce, a weight loss show not unlike “The Biggest Loser.” But when the major networks passed on it because she refused to eliminate the participants competition-style, producers asked if instead she’d let them film her own journey trying to slim down. Eventually she agreed to the project because, she said, “I hate being fat.”
Of course, the kooky mishmash of her Hollywood life is a perfect backdrop for the show, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on A&E. Also helpful: The actress is a loud and proud Scientologist (she credits Scientology for helping her nix a cocaine habit) and keeps her infamous pet lemurs in a cage outside her Los Feliz home.
She’s hardly self-conscious about it. Like any actress who chooses to live and work in Los Angeles, Alley is relishing the positive attention from cameras that aren’t being wielded by lurking paparazzi. “Now that the show is filming, there are less of them. Usually, there are 10 cars parked outside at any time,” she said. And they better watch out: During an interview at her house, Alley revealed that she has a private investigator check into their backgrounds, and has turned in at least one peeping photographer to the police when it was discovered he was a sex offender.
In “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” the cameras document her second major attempt to drop pounds, this time with the help of a guy friend she recruits as a “chubby buddy.” It’s a benign half-hour show filled with fumbling assistants, botched workouts, quality time with her kids, True, 18, and Lillie, 16, and a lot of laughs at her own expense. Alley is usually the first to poke fun at her problems, evidenced best by “Fat Actress,” in which she lampooned herself first and Hollywood second. When she pushed for her Jenny Craig commercials to be “self-deprecating and hysterical” -- “They have chicken fettuccine. . . . FETTUCCINE!!!” she screamed in one ad -- instead of something more earnest, her partnership with the weight-loss business ended.
But it’s time, Alley said, to restart the part of her career that isn’t all about her figure, and that means keeping the weight off. Why film the makings of her comeback? “So I’m in a pickle again, and we sort of know how my life will go at the end of the pickle because I’ve had a 30-year track record in films and television. But during the pickle is what I think might be interesting for people to see.”
Anyone familiar with Alley’s Emmy-winning work on “Cheers,” or her active Twitter account, knows she can be very funny. Brazen too. Asked how she put back all 75 pounds she famously lost a few years ago -- a triumph she celebrated by baring her new bod in a bikini for Oprah Winfrey -- Alley said, “It took me awhile to figure out I can’t eat 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day, which is what I ate my whole life and stayed thin. It [ticks] me off.”
“Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” premiered March 21 and, from the first couple of episodes, it’s obvious that shrinking that 230-pound frame will be a challenge. (Growing the ratings will be another: The show attracted only about 1.3 million viewers Sunday.) But since those episodes were filmed, she’s shed 20 pounds using a weight-loss plan she launched called Organic Liaison. (When “Today” show host Meredith Vieira asked her two weeks ago about a report written by Roger Friedman of the Hollywood Reporter alleging that the program was “a front for Scientology,” Alley cursed -- and then she laughed. “It’s not true,” Alley said. Does the church profit? “I’m way too cheap to do that.” Alley later tweeted that Friedman “is a front for poop.”)
Oprah is among those cheering her on. Alley contacted the talk-show host, who has also battled weight issues in the public eye for years, on a whim a few years ago. “I sent in a tape cold of me going, ‘Oprah, look at me, I’m really fat. I think if I had a better looking kitchen, I would be thin. Can you help me?’ And she did,” Alley said. She’s been back several times. “You know you have those friends who invite you over because you’re sort of the court jester? I feel like I’m Oprah’s jester.”
Alley has always done whatever makes her happy. “When I decided to do ‘Cheers,’ people said, ‘Oh my God, don’t do that. Stick to movies.’ And then after the show, I went back to movies. Then I wanted to spend time with my kids, so I started doing commercials and people said, ‘Don’t do commercials!’ But I’m like this -- I don’t care!”
For now, that means getting back to 145 pounds, maybe producing a movie -- one about “real women” -- and sharing her life with an audience. “I like to inspire people. That’s why I got into this business. I want to inspire people to do something . . . I don’t know what, but something!”