More sophisticated than previous efforts "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place," Darren Star's "Central Park West"-- with which CBS hopes to mine some key demo gold this fall -- looks like a nighttime soap winner. With Star trademarks such as stunning cast members, fancy locations, trendy camerawork and slick production values, "CPW" is "MP" grown up and moved back East.

More sophisticated than previous efforts “Beverly Hills, 90210″ and “Melrose Place,” Darren Star’s “Central Park West”– with which CBS hopes to mine some key demo gold this fall — looks like a nighttime soap winner. With Star trademarks such as stunning cast members, fancy locations, trendy camerawork and slick production values, “CPW” is “MP” grown up and moved back East.

Stephanie (Mariel Hemingway) and husband Mark (Tom Verica) are new but not naive Gotham transplants from Seattle. A magazine editor, she’s been recruited to revive the monthly Communique,owned by the autocratic Allen Rush (guest star Ron Leibman). Mark is a struggling novelist/playwright.

Character conflicts are quickly established at Hemingway’s first staff meeting, when she mixes it up with headstrong Carrie (Madchen Amick), Communique’s gossip columnist. But Amick is the daughter of Linda (Lauren Hutton), whose hubby owns the mag. Carrie’s brother is the JFK Jr.-esque Peter (John Barrowman), scion of the Fairchild family, who works in the D.A.’s office and whose every move is reported by the tabs.

Episode also quickly establishes other main players: Nikki Sheridan (Michael Michele) owns a Soho gallery; Gil (Justin Lazard) is the heartless playboy stockbroker who dumps girlfriends via e-mail; Alex (Melissa Errico) slithers as a tabloid reporter.

In the best soap opera tradition, tangled relationships are revealed, seductions are planned and back-stabbing runs rampant. Star’s script is fast-paced and peppered with enough provocative tidbits to bring viewers back.

Show looks expensive, and Manhattan setting is used to its fullest, especially the many helicopter shots that lushly chronicle the city. Use of pop music on soundtrack adds a hip note.

Cast members are pretty, talented and already comfortable in their roles. Hemingway acquits herself well as the editor who must be tough and ambitious but (in the world of soaps) must also retain audience sympathy.

Standout is Amick as the jaded denizen of the downtown clubscene: She’s the bad girl, the schemer, and she has fun with it.

It will be interesting to see how Star & Co. tart up “CPW” over the season. Kylie Travis, the Aussie sparkplug from the moribund “Models Inc.,” is slated to join the cast in the third episode, and her addition promises more sexual intrigue and steamy situations.

Stay tuned.

Central Park West

CBS, Wed. Sept. 13, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in New York City by Darren Star Prods. in association with CBS Entertainment. Executive producer-creator-writer, Darren Star; co-executive producers, Allan Arkush, David Stenn; producer, Judith Stevens; director, Arkush.

Crew

Editor, Joanna Cappuccilli; production designer, Cynthia Charette; art director, Teresa Carriker-Thayer; sound, Bill Daly; music, Tim Truman. 60 MIN.

With

Cast: Mariel Hemingway, Madchen Amick, Lauren Hutton, John Barrowman, Tom Verica, Michael Michele, Melissa Errico, Justin Lazard, Ron Leibman, Tina Chin, Dennis Creaghan, Daryl Edwards, Kim Raver, Peter Gerety, Justin Theroux, Karen Travis, Michael Bergen.
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