LOS ANGELES - There's more than one reason Heather Locklear is hot.
Temperatures well over 100 degrees have been the norm during production of early episodes of her NBC drama series "LAX," premiering Monday, Sept. 13.
But even with 16-hour days on the set in Ontario, Calif., the glamorous, long-popular actress is not complaining. She says she's happy to have a weekly job again, in one of the few shows actually built around her; "Dynasty," "T.J. Hooker," "Melrose Place" and "Spin City" already were on the air when she became a cast member. After signing her to do her next series, NBC put Locklear in a couple of "Scrubs" episodes while trying to find just the right vehicle for her.
The first try was a sitcom pilot that didn't sell last year. Now, Locklear lands back in the weekly lineup as Harley Random, runway supervisor at Los Angeles International Airport. Harley could step up to become overseer of the entire facility, after the former holder of the post walks into the path of a jet taking off in the pilot episode's opening.
Harley's principal rival for the promotion is Roger De Souza (Blair Underwood, "L.A. Law"), her counterpart in running day-to-day operations inside the LAX terminal. Thus, they must work together while also competing for the higher position they both covet. The realities of modern airports keep their attention on everything from enhanced security measures to the comfort of VIPs who are magnets for the public and the paparazzi.
The morning after one of those 16-hour days, a weary but pleasant Locklear confirms she was aware of the network bidding war that erupted over her when her "Spin City" stint ended. "You get a feeling," she says, "then you have to block yourself off from it because it gets to be too much. It's all talk, like believing your own publicity, so you just have to step away from it. Whatever happens is supposed to ... and when it doesn't, you go, 'Hey, what happened to all that talk?'"
Despite her past successes, as she re-enters the series fray, Locklear admits having "great anxiety. I don't even know how else to describe it. Once you get picked up for the first 13 episodes, you say, 'OK. Now, are people going to watch?' There's always the next step, the 'what if ...,' while you're trying to enjoy the process."
Although NBC's first shot at giving Locklear a new show (the proposed comedy "Once Around the Park") didn't pan out, her deal only got sweeter. "They added more money to my pot and said, 'Let's wait for another sitcom.' What the network and I had agreed upon didn't surface, and the idea for what became 'LAX' came around. I loved the character, so I said, 'I'll do this.' They said, 'But we want you in a half-hour show.' And I said, 'I love this character.' And here we are. It's still in their control, but it worked out well."
Locklear is especially glad to have as prominent a co-star as Underwood to share the on-camera load. "He takes it on so gracefully," she says, "everything is just in stride with him. He's so genuine and giving, it's great to have him." Other "LAX" cast regulars include Paul Leyden ("As the World Turns") as the passenger-relations chief, and Frank John Hughes ("Band of Brothers"), Wendy Hoopes (co-creator and voice-cast member of the animated "Daria") and David Paetkau ("Taken") as law enforcers of varying responsibilities.
Having traveled through the real LAX countless times -- often with her rock-star husband, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and their daughter, Ava (who turns 7 next month) -- Locklear thought she knew the airport. But now that she's filming some scenes for the show there, she's getting to know it much better.
"We got to go inside the original control tower," she reports. "The airport looks a lot smaller when you're up on top; it's not so foreboding. Once they take you around, you think, 'Oh, that's easy.' It seems like it would be simple to take care of that 'world' the airport is."
Still, Locklear gives ample credit to those who have the needed skills. "You realize the whole idea is to uphold safety and serve the passengers and keep things rolling." Considering the challenge posed by today's security demands, Locklear notes, "It's part of our lives now, and we just have to accept it. Huge precautions are being taken, more than you or I know. I actually feel safer at LAX than being in my bed."
As a prelude to her TV return in "LAX," Locklear was the subject of a recent "E! True Hollywood Story" profile. When she saw it, she deemed it "beyond flattering, although to my daughter, I had no life before I met my current husband -- so we had to 'bleep' some things at home. In fact, to my husband, I also had no life before him.
"I couldn't believe it was a two-hour show," Locklear adds. "Boy, am I old. All I could think was, 'Wow. People are still talking about these things.' It didn't seem slow, so I guess I've had a somewhat entertaining life."
But how long will she be running LAX? After debuting with decent ratings, the show has lost over a third of its initial viewers. Me included. CSI: Miami rocks.