Two scraggly paparazzi skulk like coyotes at the bottom of the hotel driveway, anxious to snap photos of Kirstie Alley, who has tucked herself behind a van. It's a wise move, considering the men will lie in wait until she grimaces or bends over to display her much-photographed booty or takes a bite of anything. She's spent the day shooting Fat Actress, her Showtime comedy (debuting March 7 at 10 p.m.), which is part comeback (as in, she's worked sparingly the past five years), part comeback (as in, ''Yeah, Hollywood, I'm biiiig! Now suck on this show awhile!''). Readying her goodbyes, Alley muses that she'd like to wear a poster board reading ''Paparazzi Are Pedophiles'' as costar Bryan Callen, a Mad TV alum, skims through an old tabloid. And speaking of paparazzi what does he find but a wildly unflattering, Watch out, Tokyo!-style photo of the fat actress herself, accompanied by the usual estimates of her weight. ''It has to be 300?'' Alley groans. It ain't the truth. Alley, 54, says she topped out at 203 pounds, and clearly has slimmed down since.
But hey, 300? That makes for a nice big number and a helluva promo for Alley's new show. The actress boasts two Emmys (one for playing neurotic babe Rebecca Howe on Cheers from '87 to '93), two top 10 shows (the unassailable Cheers and the rather assailable Veronica's Closet), a blockbuster movie franchise (the Look Who's Talking series, which started strong and ended...with talking pets), and a mountain of screw-you money because of it all. But during Alley's 24-year career, it's been her skinny-plump-skinny-fat-fatter jig that's garnered as much scrutiny as our color-coded terror warning system. One tabloid even claimed that she shipped 40 to 100 pounds of Swiss chocolate to her house each month. ''This was back when I weighed, you know, 137,'' she says. ''It was insane bulls---. The intention of the tabloid is to destroy you.'' TV execs weren't so encouraging either: During both her series runs, she says, she was subjected to ''shake the weight'' talks.
When NBC canceled Veronica's in 2000, Alley dropped out. Aside from some TV movies and those manic Pier 1 ads, in which she was often sequestered behind overstuffed sofas and pillows, Alley stayed home and hung out with her kids, Lillie, 10, and William True, 12, with former husband Parker Stevenson (Baywatch).