As vengeful Beverly Hills businesswoman Alexandra Hudson, Shannen Doherty is having a ball making life miserable for most of the other characters on "North Shore," the nighttime soap that returns to the Fox lineup at 9 p.m. Thursday.
But the actress says she is determined to keep all the melodrama in front of the cameras and out of her personal life.
"We sort of take it three episodes at a time," Doherty says of her open-ended guest-starring role. "We talk a lot, you know: Am I enjoying playing the character? Are they still enjoying me playing her? Obviously they have stories in mind for the character through the end of the season, so I may wind up here in Hawaii through the end of January.
"But I don't want to be anywhere I am not wanted. I am very big on that. Life is just too short. If I feel that is starting to happen here on 'North Shore,' then I want to make a quick but graceful exit, because I have a lot of other things happening in my career. I am just too old for drama."
But not too old to add some much-needed spice to a series that has struggled to find a clear identity since its premiere in June. Doherty's arrival two episodes ago - before the show took October off, as some Fox shows do, to make way for baseball coverage - immediately gave "North Shore" the same sort of bracing celebrity jolt that Joan Collins brought to "Dynasty" or Heather Locklear added to "Melrose Place."
"People feel very emotional and connected to Shannen," says Bert Salke, one of the show's executive producers. "They have grown up very loyal and invested in her as an actress and in the roles she plays."
Alexandra, Doherty's character, recently arrived in Hawaii with the stunning news that she is the half-sister of Nicole Booth (Brooke Burns). Their father, Walter (recurring guest star Christopher MacDonald), virtually abandoned Alexandra and her mother, now dead. The guileless Nicole was sympathetic at first, but with breathtaking speed Alexandra played her and Walter against each other and came out holding the controlling ownership in the posh Grand Waimea Hotel.
In Thursday's episode, Alexandra moves to solidify her power base further by breaking up Nicole and her handsome boyfriend, Jason (Kristoffer Polaha).
"When I agreed to play Alexandra, it was very important that the audience get to see where she was coming from," Doherty says. "She isn't a straight-out soap opera bitch. You have to be able to grasp the amount of pain she was in, growing up without a father, and knowing that he didn't want her, and that her mother is now dead.
"Now, she's pretty much alone. She has struggled and achieved success on her own, but for Alexandra, that's not enough. She wants her dad, wants his approval. If that means doing what she has to do to get it, then she's gonna. But what she does comes from a lot of pain and vulnerability."
Alexandra must have been taken aback, Doherty adds, to arrive and find "golden girl" sister Nicole already at odds with their father over some of his other dirty dealings, ultimately allying herself with Jason instead of Walter.
"Family is everything to her, and when Nicole turns her back on their father, Alexandra loses any respect she had for her. She thinks, 'How could you trade your father for a guy? Blood is thicker than water! He's your dad!'
"Look at how casually Brooke says, basically, 'You're done, Dad,' " Doherty says, her own voice taking on some of her character's outrage.
"For Alexandra, that's just 'Whoa! How could you do that?' She can't believe that Nicole has had 26 years of their father's love and she still is ready to just toss that away. So now Alexandra wants and hopes to prove to her father that she can become the daughter he can trust, who would never betray him in a million years."
Doherty pooh-poohs stories that she was recruited to help "save" her current Fox series.
"If I were the sort of person who actually believed that I was going in to save 'North Shore,' then there would be friction, obviously, but I don't think I can singlehandedly save this show," she says. "For one actor to go into an established show and profoundly change it or save it is close to impossible. That requires a joint effort: the right publicity, the right scripts from the writers, the right chemistry with the other actors.
"All of us have to pitch in and give 100 percent in order to save this show, and I think all of us are doing that now. This show will fail or succeed based on whether the audience likes it or not. Personally, I think it is becoming more intriguing, and I think our audience will grow now that we are re-launching."