John Stamos of <EM>Jake in Progress</EM> John Stamos of Jake in Progress

Seemingly since the day ABC and John Stamos agreed to put on a show together, Jake in Progress has been a work in progress. Originally envisioned as a real-time (i.e., 24-style, probably minus the gunplay) chronicle of a couple's first date, it dropped the gimmick in favor of a traditional single-camera take on hotshot publicist Jake Phillips' wild and woman-filled life. Now entering its second season (premiering Jan. 9 at 9:30 pm/ET), Jake has a new look (sharkskin suits out!), a new pal (Hidden Hills' Dondre Whitfield) and a "new" ex to pine for (NYPD Blue's Charlotte Ross). With those tweaks and others, everything's "jake" more than ever for the series' star, who just yesterday phoned TVGuide.com from Miami.

TVGuide.com: I read on Page Six or somewhere that you'd be among the bold-faced names New Year's Eve-ing in Miami. Is it strange to have your whereabouts monitored so?
John Stamos:
Yeah, it is weird. And it has been horrible here, this is not my scene at all. I don't know what I'm doing here. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Screening the first two episodes of this season, I sense a shift  the more casual wardrobe, the new friend, Mark, the introduction of Charlotte Ross' Annie. What's the overall game plan?
Stamos:
It's all to create a more vulnerable character, someone who's more approachable and somebody you feel for more than this slick guy who last year was getting a different girl each week.

TVGuide.com: But what was wrong with that?! It was fun to watch.
Stamos:
[Laughs] You know, everybody was split on it. We'd do it and everybody hated it, and then we'd put him with one girl and everybody hated that. I just wanted the character to be more approachable and more vulnerable, and I think having that one girl that he can't get gives him that.

TVGuide.com: I can only imagine how many actresses you saw when casting Annie.
Stamos:
You'd be surprised. The show wasn't a big smash last year, so people weren't banging down the door. Then there were some people who wanted to do it, but they wouldn't sign for three or four years, so... it was tough. It's hard to find a girl who's pretty and funny, but we did well with Charlotte. I think [Annie] kind of grounds Jake a bit, too.

TVGuide.com: Yeah, there's definitely more to her than, say, the bimbo Jake has in his bed at the start of the season premiere.
Stamos:
Yeah, right. [Laughs] That's the point. The show's more grounded. It feels more subtle and less gimmicky. The stories are from the universal romantic-comedy theme we've seen a hundred times, but I think they're done pretty well on this show.

TVGuide.com: Jake went in an interesting direction with Mark, who's a tragically unhip black guy versus a smooth operator.
Stamos:
Yeah, we wanted to still have a player who's dating, to take some of the heat off me. And Dondre is so good, he's such a fine actor, we love working with him. He was like, "Wow, this is a fresh, great way to go with this guy."

TVGuide.com: Over the summer, there was much talk of ER wanting to add you to its cast. [The vacancy instead was filled by John Leguizamo.] Was there any point where you could have sat down with ABC and agreed to "call it a day" if you had wanted to?
Stamos:
But I didn't want to; I wanted to do Jake. I've really worked hard on making this show as good as it can be. I'm grateful to ABC for giving me another chance at this show.

TVGuide.com: I guess I just don't understand how ER could have been so gung-ho on hiring you if they knew you were in between Jake seasons.
Stamos:
Well, you know television. It's impossible to have a hit show or have a show stay on the air very long. So I'm sure they were "backing themselves up" by adding me [onto their wish list]. [ER executive producer] John Wells loves Jake in Progress, and I had a great time doing those two [November-sweeps guest-star] episodes, so I think it's more about continuing that relationship with him at some point.

TVGuide.com: Do you still believe Jake's real-time concept could have worked?
Stamos:
I wish they would have given it a shot. But I love the show this year I'm really into it and I've been working nonstop on making it as good as it can be. I feel like there's a place for this type of show on television, whether its mine or one of these other ones, but a good single-camera romantic comedy is needed. It's great that the shows are taking chances on and nurturing shows like mine. They could have dumped it in two seconds.

TVGuide.com: Can we still expect stories about Jake servicing his PR clients?
Stamos:
Yeah, actually we're [filming] one next week where I'm taking care of an "America's sweetheart" type who's in the midst of a sort of Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt breakup, and the girl ends up falling for Jake.

TVGuide.com: Speaking of Jen-Brad, you once indicated that you and Paula Abdul might have dated longer in 1990 were it not for the intrusion of the press.
Stamos:
That got in the way of the relationship, certainly. I mean, she was like the biggest superstar in the world [at the time]. They were knocking me down to get to her.

TVGuide.com: Now look how prescient your observation was, with today's couples living under the tabloids' microscope.
Stamos:
Yeah, it's very strange. I've always considered myself at the bottom or in the middle somewhere, trying to get up there, so I couldn't imagine having to live the way some of these people have to live. Down here in Miami, they're chasing us around the beach! Yesterday, my friend Ryan Seacrest came over and sat down with me. We're sitting there with our shirts off when I see some photographer coming. I just ran! [Laughs] That's the last photo I want out there, me and Ryan Seacrest sitting on a beach topless!

TVGuide.com: Do you find yourself playing your love life close to the vest since your split from Rebecca Romjin? [The couple ended their six-and-a-half-year marriage in March.]
Stamos:
Yeah, I've learned some lessons there, and I've tried to be discreet. You've got to go on some dates before you figure out if it's going to work or not, but if you go out once or twice, all of the sudden you're "dating" this person [according to the press], and it's not fair to her. And if it doesn't work out, what happens then? So yeah, I've been laying low and not dating that much at all. I'm actually realizing that I can't do both. I'm putting all my energy into the show, and it takes a lot of energy to date! I'm an old man now! I'm down here in Miami and there are wild kids staying up all night. Me, I'm the king of "I have to go to the bathroom," and then I'm gone.

TVGuide.com: Did you at least make it to midnight on New Year's Eve?
Stamos:
Barely. Here's a good story: These two young girls came up and asked if they could take a picture with me. All of the sudden the countdown starts, and I couldn't find any of my friends, so I kissed both girls on the cheek and then ran up to my room!