For now, Lori Loughlin might be best known as Rebecca Donaldson from the sitcom "Full House." But that could change as she tackles being the creator, producer and star of the WB's "Summerland."
The hour-long drama, which airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., started a 13-week summer run on June 1. Its debut made a bit of a ratings splash, attracting more teenage watchers than any other show in its time slot and pulling in quite a few adult viewers too. Perhaps even more impressive: Many returned to watch the show's second episode.
Loughlin, 38, stars as Ava, a happily single California fashion designer whose sister and brother-in-law die unexpectedly, leaving her to care for their three children.
The straight-laced Midwest-bred kids (Nick Benson, Jesse McCartney, and Kay Panabaker) are fish out of water when they move into Ava's unstructured beach house environment and meet their aunt's idiosyncratic roommates (Shawn Christian, Merrin Dungey and Ryan Kwanten). The ensuing clash of cultures imbues the show with humor and offers balance with its takes on weightier issues such as mortality, adolescence and drugs.
Some of those plot lines are a far cry from the frivolity of "Full House," but they're not new territory for Loughlin. When she was 15, she played kidnapping victim Jody Travis on the daytime drama "The Edge of Night." Other dramatic turns include TV movies "Doing Time on Maple Drive" and "No Means No," which earned her an Emmy nomination for best actress.
Loughlin is married to fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, with whom she has two daughters and a stepson. Playing the part of new parent Ava, she said, parallels her own parenting experiences in that it entails "flying by the seat of your pants" and juggling having a life beyond being a parent.
Loughlin talked to TV Week about all that and more in a phone interview.
Was "Summerland" your idea?
"It came purely out of self-preservation because I had to go into a meeting with the WB . . . and I didn't want to go in the room looking like I had an empty head. . . . I thought, 'You know, a lot of TV shows are about murders, forensics, and all these interesting subjects, but [there are] not a lot of family shows.'"
What inspired the idea?
"I was thinking about a friend of mine who is single -- she never had any children -- and works in the world of fashion. . . . She could handle herself in any situation except when you put her in a room full of children. That's what made me think of the whole concept -- what could I do not playing the mom. And I thought "Maybe I could play the aunt."
Your husband is a fashion designer. Did his career influence you in making that your character's career?
"I did not actually choose fashion designer. When I pitched it, I said she worked in the world of fashion. At the last moment it was [producer] Aaron Spelling that stepped in and said 'Let's make her a fashion designer.' And at first I thought, 'Oh no, I'm gonna have the biggest critic at home -- don't do that to me!' But when he watched the pilot and he saw the office where we worked . . . he's like 'Yeah, it looks good. It really does. You guys did a good job.' "
How did the idea of juxtaposing the lifestyles of the Midwestern kids and California adults come about?
"I came up with that idea. I just thought, you know, if she gets these children, they should really come from a foreign place. I wanted it to be so much like they came from, you know, just a completely different background, and that she was living one lifestyle and they were living another. And now they had to be uprooted and thrown into this life in California."
Is it tough working as both producer and actor?
"You know, not really. And I'll tell you why: Because the bulk of the work and all the headaches really fall on the shoulders of our executive producer, Remi Aubuchon, who is running the show. . . . So I'm in the loop, but . . . the brunt of what I'm doing is on the set as an actress."
When did you first become interested in acting?
"I was probably 5 or 6 years old. And I don't know if I had a complete idea formed in my head, but I do know I was watching the 'Wizard of Oz,' and I thought, 'That looks like fun.' I just remember that being my first real memory."
How did you get your start?
"My mom had a friend that was going into Manhattan to meet with an agency for modeling. She was taking her teenage daughters in and she asked my mom if I wanted to go along. My mom reluctantly let me go, but I don't think she ever thought anything would come of it. And I went in and they handed me a contract and said, 'We'll take you.' "
When putting together "Summerland," what was the greatest obstacle you experienced?
"There were many times I thought the show would fall apart. When I first pitched the idea they had a writer write it that the WB actually picked, but then they weren't that pleased with the script, so they said: 'We're gonna abandon that idea -- we're gonna go to a different writer.' And that's when they hired (writer and executive producer) Stephen Tolkin."
C. Thomas Howell has a part in "Summerland." You were married to him . . .
"No! That's a very big lie. I was never married to C. Thomas Howell. I know that that's on there [the Internet]. They also have on there that I was in "Green Acres" in 1965 and I was 5 years old, which kind of ticks me off a little bit because that makes me a bit older than I actually am. . . . I did a movie a long time ago with Tommy called "Secret Admirer." I've been friends with him a long time, but never, ever married to him."
How do you balance your personal life with your professional responsibilities?
"Clearly my family is my priority. I always take my girls to school whenever I can . . . if I get off early I jam right home so I can be there for dinner and put them to bed."
Was working with kids on "Full House" preparation for this role?
"Yeah. You know, I never thought of it that way, but clearly it has helped having so many years under my belt with children -- and then having my own."
Do you ever keep in touch with your ex-"Full House" co-stars, such as the Olsen Twins?
"I keep in touch with everybody from that show. . . . They [the Olsen twins] turned into great young women. And I'm in touch with John Stamos all the time. We are truly a family, and I think that's a large reason we were as successful as we were."
* Born on July 28, 1965, in New York.
* Married to fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli since Nov. 25, 1997. Has two daughters, Isabella Rose, born on Sept. 16, 1998, and Olivia Jade, born on Sept. 28, 1999. Her stepson, Gianni, was born on Oct. 19, 1991.
* Television series include "Hudson Street," 1995, "Full House," 1988-95, and "The Edge of Night," 1980-83.
* Trivia: Loughlin was a guest star on "Seinfeld," for the October 1997 "The Serenity Now" episode.