A drama about the inner workings of an airport has all the intrigue of an empty luggage carousel, but NBC's LAX seemed destined to soar because of three words: ''starring Heather Locklear.'' In her 23-year career, the actress has established herself as the hardest-working (you try juggling simultaneous starring roles in T.J. Hooker and Dynasty), most reliable show savior (thank you, Heather, for resuscitating Melrose Place) in Hollywood. Even a small guest appearance from La Locklear has boosted ratings for series like Scrubs and Two and a Half Men.
In September, Locklear seemed poised to extend her near-perfect record. LAX debuted to an audience of 13 million. But then things went south quickly: The series lost 5 million viewers in its second week and went into a free fall until November, when NBC axed the drama from its schedule.
Why didn't her presence boost LAX the same way it did Melrose (viewership jumped 22 percent when she joined) or Spin City, which she critically rejuvenated? Insiders insist Locklear shouldn't be blamed for LAX's crash landing: Though early promos showed the drama to be a light confection about an airfield chief (Locklear) and an egocentric terminal manager (Blair Underwood), the show spiraled into a dark hodgepodge of airport crimes and forgettable guest stars. Even Locklear recognized the risks of LAX before its debut. ''Right off the bat I knew there would be a ton on my shoulders with this show,'' she told EW in August. ''You can set yourself up, though. Like with Coupling last year. I know Rena Sofer and I saw what happened. Sometimes the publicity is too much for the show.''
Unlike that Coupling star, Ms. Miniskirt is emerging from her accident of a series unscathed. LAX wasn't even off the air before the rumors began to fly: Warner Bros. flirted with asking Locklear to join NBC's Joey. More tantalizingly, there were reports she was moving to Desperate Housewives' Wisteria Lane (not true DH consulting producer Charles Pratt Jr. said execs originally considered Locklear for a role but couldn't land her because of her existing pact with NBC). TV insiders say there's a 99 percent chance she'll land on someone's schedule next fall, provided she wants to, which seems likely if you read between the lines: ''If I'm overworked, then I'll cry. And if I'm underworked, then I'll cry,'' said Locklear. ''You know actresses. They get a job they want a vacation.''