When Melrose Place debuted on 25 years ago on July 8, 1992, it was—well, it was boring.
The Aaron Spelling-produced Beverly Hills, 90210 spin-off, created by Darren Star, didn’t quite know what it wanted to be and its initial stab at being a soap about the issues of the day (racism, homophobia, domestic violence, etc.) wasn’t exactly what summer audiences were looking for. It turned out Fox’s audience didn’t want to follow a storyline about student debt. (Yes, that really happened. See Billy’s story in episode 12 “Polluted Affairs.” Or better yet, don’t.)
While Heather Locklear‘s arrival in the season’s 21st episode as the deliciously bitchy Amanda Woodward is rightly credited with rescuing the struggling series, injecting the proceedings with some sorely needed villainy, one could argue that Melrose Place didn’t truly unlock its full potential until the season two episode “The Bitch Is Back,” when a return from the dead, a wig, and a killer scar all combined to deliver one of TV’s most unforgettable moments.
When Marcia Cross was first introduced in the show’s 11th episode as Dr. Kimberly Shaw, there were no plans for her to become as central to Melrose Place’s legacy as she wound up being. Introduced as a fellow intern of Dr. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro), Kimberly went from work friend to secret lover over the course of the first season, but it wasn’t until her death following a devastating car accident in season two that the character truly came to life.
15 episodes after Michael was informed his coma-stricken fiance had succumbed to her injuries, she was back and in the flesh, spying on him and Sydney (Laura Leighton) from the beach and dropping by for late-night visits. And while her surprising resurrection would have been enough of a record-scratch plot twist for lesser shows, Melrose Place didn’t stop there. When this new Kimberly, suffering from an awful migraine, visited the bathroom in the middle of the night for some relief, she left viewers stunned as she pulled off her luscious locks in a move that looked like she was unlocking the wig from her head, dramatically revealing a patchy, close-cropped ‘do and one massive scar. As the shocking sight gave way to the episode’s closing credits, the 17.5 million people watching we left asking themselves, “What the f–k just happened?!”
“I was doing Twelfth Night at the Old Globe in San Diego at the time they said Kimberly was coming back. I enjoyed doing Melrose but didn’t want to give up the play. I decided to do both at the same time. My agent even said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I just said, ‘Watch me.’ I remember flying up from San Diego to the set in Oxnard, going from Shakespeare to pulling off a wig to show a scar,” Cross told THR about the big moment. “After that twist, and seeing how people went a kooky for it, I realized, ‘Oh god, this is real!’ I didn’t really understand what was going on for a long while until then.”
For some of her co-stars stuck in considerably less insane plotlines, the moment was one that signaled a seismic shift in the show’s direction. “Marcia pulling that wig off and exposing her scar was the quintessential Melrose moment,” Doug Savant, who starred as openly-gay Matt Fielding for six seasons, told the publication. “At that point, I was [a] tangential part of the show.”
Star has admitted that he had no idea the scene would come to be such an iconic moment in TV history. “It was making us laugh,” he told TVLine. “As a writer, you have to please yourself. We loved it, but we had no clue how it was going to be received.”
The show would go on to have bigger and crazier moments, some involving Cross’ Kimberly (like the time she breastfed Jo’s (Daphne Zuniga) baby that had already been kidnapped by her dead lover’s parents) and some involving the entire cast (like the time Sydney blew up the apartment complex in the season four premiere while everyone was in it), but chances are if you ask any fan of ’90s television what they remember most about Melrose Place, it’s Kimberly and that wig.
Relive the madness above and let us know, what was your favorite moment from Melrose Place‘s seven gloriously insane seasons? Sound off in the comments below!