Hewitt Headlines `Party Of Five' Spinoff On FOX

As Bailey's girlfriend on "Party of Five," Sarah has lived her life largely through his family's experiences.

That changes this week, and Fox gets another series out of it.

Still working for the same producers, Jennifer Love Hewitt transfers her character into the spinoff "Time of Your Life," debuting at 8 p.m. Monday. After turning down his marriage proposal, adoptee Sarah said goodbye to longtime beau Bailey (Scott Wolf) in last Tuesday's "Party" episode. As the new show opens, her flight from San Francisco arrives in New York City, where she intends to seek out her biological father.

Believing him to be a theatrical impresario with whom her late mother had a romance, Sarah wastes little time tracking him down. During the search, Sarah meets musician-turned record-shop clerk Maguire (Johnathon Schaech, of "Houdini" and "That Thing You Do!") and Romy (Jennifer Garner), a would-be actress who lets Sarah share her apartment since Sarah's mom once lived there.

"You can come to this show fresh," co-creator and co-executive producer Christopher Keyser says for the benefit of the "Party of Five" uninitiated. "It will stand on its own, and you don't need to know anything to watch it for the first time."

Indeed, in the first scene, Sarah recaps her situation by telling it to someone at an airport baggage carousel. Bailey is never mentioned by name in the series pilot, though "Party of Five" fans are sure to know he's on the other end of a phone call Sarah makes.

Now that she's the star of a show instead of a supporting player, 20-year-old Hewitt admits, "I'm a little nervous about it, but mostly, I'm really excited. I'm always ready to work with Chris and Amy (Lippman, Keyser's creative partner). I don't ever want to not work with these people. They're amazing, and they've made the last five years of my life absolutely incredible. I've gotten to do the best work, and the chance to do it again in something new and even more fun was a great opportunity for me."

Hewitt isn't without regrets about leaving the familiarity of "Party of Five." She deems that show's cast and crew "a family for me. Scott (Wolf) and I have worked together for a really, really long time, and it will be very different not to see him every day. Very much like what Sarah is doing, growing up sometimes means moving on and doing things that are hard at the time. It teaches you something new and makes you a better person, so I guess I'm learning from my character in that way."

Since several other new series focus on groups of young friends ("Wasteland," "Popular," "Jack and Jill," etc.), the makers of "Time of Your Life" want it to stand out from what Lippman calls "a glut of ensemble shows. We're interested in telling stories about people who are at different stages of their lives. They're not coming to these situations from the same perspective, so we have characters like Sarah who think everything lies ahead for them, and characters who have already had their first failures and disappointments."

Though fictional, Sarah is Hewitt's role model. The actress says, "I think it's really important for young women to understand that being on your own and making mistakes and not having everything go great all the time is OK. I love the fact that I have become a better adult because I've grown up feeling like I had a friend in Sarah."