Billboards, movie theater ads and the cover of the preview screener sent to critics are all confirming it.
And so is the star herself: This isn’t the Jennifer Love Hewitt that television viewers are used to.
A racier image of the former “Ghost Whisperer” and “Party of Five” star is the big selling point of “The Client List,” a series spinoff of the 2010 cable movie that earned her a Golden Globe Award nomination. Premiering Sunday, April 8, the Lifetime show casts the actress — also one of its executive producers — in the new role of Riley Parks, a Texas wife and mother who finds work as a day spa masseuse, then is left by her husband.
Many of her co-workers “provide other services,” as the network puts it, to customers … but Riley maintains, “I don’t give extras.” However, as her financial situation gets more dire, and the temptation of added profit increases, her internal moral battle grows. Loretta Devine (“Waiting to Exhale”) plays the spa’s pragmatic owner, with Cybill Shepherd and Colin Egglesfield (“Something Borrowed”) as Riley’s mother and brother-in-law.
“I’ve gotten so many text messages from friends, either standing beneath a billboard in L.A. or on a street in New York, standing next to me [on a ‘Client List’ poster] with their thumbs up,’ Hewitt muses of the attention to her newest venture. “It’s been quite fun, and it’s nice to know that we’re all working really hard on something the network is promoting.”
Hewitt recalls that while making the initial movie, “We all joked about the fact that it could be a really interesting series. When you’re filming something, you honestly have no idea how the audience will take it. Then after the movie did so well, it definitely was in the back of my mind: ‘I wonder if there is more of this story to tell.’ We could tell more of the ins and outs of the everyday life of someone who finds herself in this situation, and what that means for her and her family.”
Thus was born the character Riley, but Hewitt believes the series is “enough like the movie that I think people who loved that will be satisfied. At the same time, it’s very different. We have enough time to break down where this woman is, emotionally and psychologically, in the process. Since she’s a single mom, you’ll learn what her marriage was and is, and what the chances are for it to be again.”
Even before its debut, “The Client List” had sparked controversy. The group Licensed Massage Therapists is opposing the telecast of the series, claiming it’s “a huge step backward” in how the profession is depicted. “I feel badly that they feel offended,” Hewitt tells Zap2it, “but I respect that people need to say what they need to say.
“I’m not saying every massage parlor in the world gives ‘happy endings,’ nor do I know which ones do, but it is a part of our society. And even if it wasn’t, it’s just a part of our story. It’s entertainment.”
Also a recurring guest star on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” as Wendie Malick’s daughter, Hewitt is happy to have a major voice on the production side of “The Client List” as well.
“It’s something that I’m sort of used to,” she notes, “but I think that with every new project comes new problems and new excitement. Everything is so different, this comes with its own learning curve, but it’s great. I care about every single second and what the audience thinks. And if we find ourselves with a hit show on our hands, it’ll be that much sweeter.”