Pamela Anderson Lee's golf cart is puttering down a sandy path on a beach at Marina Del Rey. You can tell it's her golf cart because it's the one with the pink-fringed roof and purple tiger-striped seat covers. When it finally rolls to a stop, out pops the actress, looking for all the world like Jackie Kennedy as accessorized by Traci Lords.
''Don't you just love my hat?'' Lee asks as an assistant helps tuck her billowy blond mane into an oversize pink pillbox. ''It used to be a trash can, but I just love it. It's so...me!''
Of course, the last time Lee visited these parts, she was dressed a lot more casually in that famously pneumatic Baywatch swimsuit but that was then and this is now. Today, the 32-year-old sex symbol and mother of two has a new look just as jiggly, but a lot more giggly and is on the beach to shoot a scene for another show, a loopy little detective series called V.I.P. that's making some of the, um, biggest busts on syndicated TV.
Part Charlie's Angels, part A-Team a sort of T&A Team it has Lee starring as Vallery Irons, a clueless Valley Girl who accidentally becomes the, er, titular head of a mostly female L.A. private investigation agency. Now in its second season, it's regularly pulling in more than 6 million viewers a week, sometimes even beating Xena: Warrior Princess in the ratings. It's spawned its own product line (mouse pads, calendars, T-shirts), its own Web page (www.vipactiontv.com), and even a network rip-off (ABC's Snoops, which lasted only 10 episodes, proving even David E. Kelley can make a mistake). More impressive, it's revealed a shocking side to Lee's personality never before exposed on film, even in that infamous X-rated home video: a sense of humor about herself.
''We had some studio executives here the other day,'' she says, ''and they started saying 'There are three elements to this show....' And I was like, 'Yeah, hair, makeup, and wardrobe.' Which is really sort of true. The episode we're doing this week, for instance. I'm wearing these little white gloves and clutching this little purse and then I'm in the middle of a gunfight. It's the same every week. We're playing dress-up and cracking jokes at ourselves. It's silly. It's ridiculous. I love it.''
When the studio saw the first few episodes they were like, 'What the hell is this?''' says executive producer J.F. Lawton, the screenwriter Columbia TriStar Television turned to three years ago to create just the right vehicle for Lee's inimitable talents. ''There was a lot of back-and-forth about whether this was the right approach and the right tone. About how campy we could go without pushing it over the top.''
Actually, what Columbia TriStar wanted from the scribe who had penned Under Siege and the original script for Pretty Woman (and who had zero experience writing or producing television shows) was a lot less clever: an irony-free bullets-and-boobs hour series that would attract male viewers after the football game had ended. But, as it happens, that was precisely the sort of thing Lee was trying to avoid. ''Coming off of Barb Wire, I was like, Oh God, that doesn't work,'' she says. ''I wanted to do something funny.''