LOS ANGELES – Jenny McCarthy (search) was risque even at age 6. Grinning broadly during a recent interview, she recounts how she cracked up the mothers waiting to pick up their kids at her kindergarten with a slightly off-color joke aimed at her teacher.
"I watched all these people laughing and I thought, 'Cool. Right on.'"
She's hoping the same type of raw irreverence will pay dividends in her new sitcom, "The Bad Girl's Guide," (search) based on the best-selling series of books by Cameron Tuttle. It premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT on UPN (search).
McCarthy plays JJ, a low-level advertising executive who shares the joys and woes of modern life in the company of two girlfriends — co-worker Holly (Marcelle Larice) and roommate Sarah (Christina Moore).
"Being a 'bad girl' isn't necessarily breaking the law, it's basically questioning the rules, testing out boundaries," says McCarthy.
The show is "a little bit edgy for network television," she says. In the premiere episode, JJ indulges in romantic fantasies about a man she's met in the elevator at work. There's some sexy language, but it's not as explicit as, say, HBO's retired "Sex and The City."
"This is 'Sex and The City in the Mall,'" McCarthy says. "This is where people can go out and get (the style) for $19.99. We definitely wanted a real girl perspective on it, not a fantasy world."
The Chicago-born McCarthy, 32, was Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1994, then went on to host "Singled Out" and "The Jenny McCarthy Show" on MTV. She also starred in "Jenny," an NBC sitcom that only aired for 10 episodes in 1997.
Married and the mother of a 3-year-old boy, she's authored the explicit books "Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth about Pregnancy and Childbirth" and "Baby Laughs: The Naked Truth About the First Year of Mommyhood."
"The thing I've realized in my 12-year career — I'm glad to say my 15 minutes of fame was a lot longer than people thought — that when it comes to female comediennes who still want to be pretty, people can't write for them," she says, explaining why it was tough to find the right show.
She certainly didn't want a standard sitcom, featuring "the hot wife with the fat, bald guy ... That's why I was so happy when I saw something that made sense and that women could actually relate to."
Nonetheless, the first pilot for "The Bad Girl's Guide" was judged a miss. But Paramount executives had enough faith to try again, bringing in writer Robin Schiff, whose credits include the feature film "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."
What did Schiff add to the project? "In comedy you need flaws," she says.
Says McCarthy: "Robin did a very important thing for me — which was missing in the first pilot — which was give vulnerability to my character. My comedy is shallow without it. I need scars and wounds and to show my pain in order to make an ... out of myself and be funny."
She's hoping the six-episode summer run will spawn a pick-up, especially because the structured working schedule of a sitcom is "the best mom job."
McCarthy met husband John Asher when he directed the movie "Diamonds," in which she had a supporting role. She knew "the moment I met him" she wanted to marry him.
Together they just completed the comedy feature "Dirty Love," which played the Sundance Film Festival and will open later this summer. She wrote the script, which she says outdoes her books when it comes to being "raw."
Working with Asher was "hilarious," she says, because it was his first time directing with "the writer as the star."
"We had it out like cats and dogs ... but I wouldn't have changed it for a million dollars," she says. "It was the greatest experience because we pushed each other to be the best we could be."