In a way, Lloyd Bridges doesn't seem cut out for "Paper Dolls/"

I mean, here's the fellow who's best known for his role as Mike Nelson in "Sea Hunt," who spent the better part of four years under water adn whose most recent series saw him in the title role of "Joe Forrester," a hard-working street cop.

This fall, fresh from the part of Caleb Quinn, the scruffy scout who accompanied Barry Bostwick in the "George Washington" miniseries, he trims himself up, dries himself off and takes the part of Grant Harper, slick corporate head of a cosmetics conflomerate in "Paper Dolls," an evening soap opera centered on the world of fashion and glamor. Harper is described in releases by ABC as a "master manipulator," a man who uses his wealth to buy what he wants, including the affection and loyalty of his daughter. He sounds like TV's next J.R. Ewing or maybe Blake Carrington.

"No! No! No!" said Bridges. "I don't know why they've done that. He's a successful businessman, and I suppose they manipulate a bit. But he's a successful businessman and as honest as a businessman can be."

Then, bridges describes his character as though he's reciting his own life story. "I (Harper) have love for my family," he said. I (Harper) have love for my family," he said. though I do have trouble with one son. I was married before, and his mother -- we were celebrating my coming into my own, I had a few drinks and was driving and she was killed in a car accident. H'es held it against me ever since. He's jealous of my daughter, who worship 1/2s me. And I'm in love with a well-off Philadelphia woman . . . but not as much as I loved my first wife. I worked my way up from poor beginnings . . . My son runs one of my divisions -- not too well, I think. When we talk about things it always gets meotional.

"I don't know whether he's a nice guy," said Bridges, looking at his character from the outside. "But he's very human."

And he's surrounded by a cast that blends familiar faces with fresh ones. Nancy Olson plays Marjorie, Harper's second wife. Mimi Rogers plays Blair Harper Fenton, his much-favored daughter and a top model who's approaching the (professionally) critical age of 30. Dack Rambo plays Wesley, the disfavored son, and Richard Beymer plays David Fenton, Rambo's brother-in-law and businses rival. Jennifer Warren plays Dinah Caswell, mother of a promising model who fears what the glitzy world of high fashion will do to her family, while Brenda Vaccaro plays Julia Blake, a stage-mother type who spurs her daughter-model down the trail to fame and fortune.

The two rising modesls are played by newcomers Nicolette Sheridan and Terri Farrell, whom you may have seen on magazine covers. And there is Racine -- the high powered modeling agent played by the one and only Morgan Fairchild, who has survived the failure of "Flamingo Road" and a short string of mediocre feature film and TV productions to return to prime time where she belongs.

All of these characters have been stirred together by executive producer Leonard Goldberg, a proven winner who was responsible for "Charlie's Angels."

With such a strong cast, able production and high-glitz costumes and sets, "Paper Dolls" has a good chance to be among the few new fall programs that will still be around next spring.

And Bridges clearly enjoys being a part of it. He praises his fellow ctos and seems to have achieved a close identification with his role. In the early stages of new shows, some actors and actresses speak of needing time to figure out just who it is they're playing. Bridges already knows his role as well as his lines.

"There's a reason for that," he said. "It's the head writer and coproducer, Jennifer Miller, and the line producer, Michelle Rappaport, and of course Goldberg pulling the strings at the top. We had six episodes ready before we started shooting. The production staff listened to the actors. Theplot line is still open, but I feel that I know what I would do and what I would not do."

One of the things Bridges the actor would not do for a long time was another series. "A lot of things came to my agent," he said. "I simply told him I was not interested. This one was brought to my attention by Goldberg himself." And it was the right offer at the right time. The role called for a limited work schedule and satisfied Bridges' desire to remain before an audience. "When actors finish one job, they worry about whether there will be a next one -- you think, maybe they'll get wise to us."

No one's gotten wise to Bridges for more than 30 years -- the producers keep on calling. While it was "Sea Hunt" that earned him TV star status, he has been a familiar presence on stage, in movies and on television. He's starred in Broadway productions of "Oh, Men! Oh, Women!" "Cactus Flower" and "Man of La Mancha." He was part of the beste miniseries ever, "Roots," as well as "The Blue and the Gray," "Movieola" and "East of Eden." In the movies, he helped fly the "Airplane," and he was the deputy who abandoned sheriff Gary Cooper when the nasties came ot town to shoot it out at "high Noon."

He and his wife of 40 years, Dorothy, gave two sons to show business, Jeff and Beau, and they have a married daughter, Lucinda. It was while playing Joe Forrester in the mid-70s that Bridges decided he wasn't seeing enough of them. "We worked from early morning to late at night," he recalled. "I got pneumonia. And I never had time for my wife and family." In a series with an ensemble cast, no one has to carry the burden of the whole show. "But everyone," he said, "gets a time at bat."