Scott Elrod and Anne Heche, <EM>Men in Trees</EM> Scott Elrod and Anne Heche, Men in Trees

It's the kind of blue-skied mountains-meet-the-ocean day that Vancouver was made for. And the cast of Men in Trees (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET ABC) is spending the whole day in a bar.

OK, so the Chieftain is not a real bar. It's a copy of a nearby bar, right down to the posters offering expert rifle cleaning and bear repellent, and it's where the fictional citizens of the fictional town of Elmo, Alaska, fictionally hang out.

But according to star Anne Heche, the friendly you-scratch-my-back-I-loan-you-my-sled-dog atmosphere that makes the ABC drama such heartwarming fun is anything but fictional.

"The cast and crew of this show really do comprise a real-life Elmo," says Heche, who plays Marin Frist, a New York City writer who finds solace, community and even love in Elmo. "We're all great friends with lots of humor and warmth between us, and it comes through."

At one end of the bar, Abraham Benrubi, who plays burly bar owner Ben, discusses fishing with Timothy Webber (who plays ubiquitous barfly Jerome). "Look," Benrubi bargains, "I'll go fishing, but only if you promise to start reading science fiction."

Benrubi blushes when asked about his Theresa-Ben-Sara love triangle. "I am so used to playing a pirate or a monster, so it's weird being 'the romantic guy,'" he says. "But the competition for my affections will continue [this season]!"

Emily Bergl, who costars as hopeless romantic Annie, enters the bar bearing a pot of tea — a Ceylon blend bought on furlough to Seattle — which she pours for her Chieftain pals. Season 1 ended with the stepmother (Lauren Tom) of fiancé Patrick (Derek Richardson) consulting Chinese astrology for a wedding date, only to discover that the two are a bad match. "I can promise a wedding," Bergl hints, "but I can't promise a marriage."

The biggest cliff-hanger of all was whether Men in Trees would be renewed. The show was moved midseason from Friday nights to the coveted post-Grey's Anatomy time slot on Thursdays. Turns out Grey's lovers weren't necessarily Trees huggers. But enough loyal fans followed the show to convince ABC to renew the series. Then it was mysteriously yanked from the schedule altogether in the spring. The good news: Those unaired episodes will be tacked on for a supersized 27-episode Season 2.

The cast is celebrating in grand style. Bergl bought a home across the street from Seana Kofoed, who plays Marin's quirky editor, Jane. Cynthia Stevenson, who plays Patrick's police-chief mom, lives down the street from Tom. "I made Lauren move there," Stevenson says, "And now she walks around the neighborhood in a bathrobe."

The show's most talked-about Vancouverites, however, are Heche and costar James Tupper. The duo caused a media frenzy earlier this year when they split with their respective spouses to be together, and while the media attention has faded, their relationship has not. In fact, the couple's new house is the cast's favorite hangout. "Last weekend, everyone came over to play softball," Heche says. "It was the Geminis versus the Leos. I think the Leos won."

"I think the Geminis were cheating!" says Tupper, who appears holding a bunch of red and yellow flowers for Heche. "Thank you!" she exclaims. The look that passes between them could light up the dim Chieftain, and maybe all of Vancouver.

The heart of the show, of course, is the hot-and-cold relationship between their characters, Jack and Marin. Judging from the visible absence on set of Justine Bateman (who plays Jack's pregnant fiancée, Lynn), viewers just might get the reconciliation they've been waiting for. But first, Jack will have to fight Marin's suave publisher, Stuart, and hot handyman, Cash (Scott Elrod), for her affections. And there's that pesky expedition Jack takes on the Bering Sea....

For today, Heche is getting a last-minute touch-up on her already luminescent face. "I just want to point out that this plaid shirt I am wearing is for the plot!" she says. "Although I am getting more compliments than I do on the Gucci and Prada they usually have me in." What can we say? Alaska looks good on her.

Feel the Alaskan heat with all the Men in Trees clips in our Online Video Guide.

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