May 30, 2005 12:00 PM

Maybe it’s just as well that Doug Savant’s children don’t watch their father’s hit show, ABC’s Desperate Housewives. After all, there was Dad the other night, parading about in a pair of skimpy leopard-spot briefs in a bedroom seduction scene with TV wife Felicity Huffman. And how did his real-life wife react? “I just feel bad for him because he’s getting nothing but teased,” says actress Laura Leighton. “Somebody’s always presenting him with leopard briefs now. It’s going to take him a long time to live it down.”

Then again, trying to live down their memorable TV alter egos is nothing new for Savant, 40, and J Leighton, 36, who met as costars on FOX’s ’90s water-cooler show Melrose Place. (He played gay social worker Matt; she was scheming call girl Sydney.) With Housewives, Savant is experiencing that rare TV feat: a return trip to the water-cooler. “To be on a hit show at any point in your career is a huge blessing—for it to happen twice is nearly unheard of,” says Savant. (Leighton wasn’t as lucky: Her acclaimed private-detective series Eyes was just dropped by ABC.)

As House-husband Tom Scavo, the harried father of four, Savant has found a role that doesn’t require much of a stretch. “Felicity and I are always trying to ground our onscreen relationship in the reality we both know,” he says. In fact, says Huffman, “Doug is a much better father than Tom. He’s always coming to the set after dropping one kid off or going to the market. He’s so excited about the new baby”—a girl, due to arrive next month. “He’s always saying that Laura is complaining about how huge she is,” says Huffman, “but he says, ‘No, I love it.'”

There’s plenty of love to go around in the couple’s Hollywood household, which includes their son Jack, 4, and Arianna, 13, and Madeline, 11, Savant’s daughters by his first wife, with whom he shares joint custody. “We’ve [already] outsized all normal passenger vehicles,” Savant says of their expanding family. The two oldest kids have weighed in with their own concerns. “They’re like, Are we going to get a nanny? That’s so embarrassing,'” recounts Leighton.

For the record, says Savant, “we’ve never had nannies.” As Leighton explains, “If one of us is working, the other is with the children. We juggle our schedules and cover the gap with babysitters and relatives living nearby.”

It’s a long way to the burbs from Melrose, where the couple worked together for four years before falling in love. The role of Matt, one of TV’s most groundbreaking gay characters, proved hard for Savant to shed. “I took it as a compliment to the work that people believed I was gay,” he says. Besides, he adds with a smile, “I scored the hot babe.” He and Leighton became an item in 1997 after she and Melrose costar Grant Show broke up and Savant and wife Dawn filed for divorce. “I don’t think any of us saw romance coming,” says Charles Pratt Jr., a producer on both Melrose and Housewives. “Now it’s the most natural thing in the world that they’re together. Laura was fascinated with children. When she married Doug [in 1998], he was coming in with a family. So it was perfect.”

These days Leighton and Savant keep busy juggling their kids’ hectic schedules and preparing for baby—even if their saucy former Melrose reps invite curiosity. “There was a softball game last year,” says Savant, “when the parents from the other team looked at us funny and said, ‘You guys were on Melrose?'” Adds Leighton: “Some people find it surprising that we just do normal things—driving to games, sitting on the sidelines. What else do you expect? These are our kids. This is what we do.”

But if their brood is discouraged from watching Housewives—”It’s hard when the other kids at school are allowed to watch it,” says Leighton—Melrose reruns get the green light. “They’ll go, ‘Is that you?'” says Leighton. “They’re sort of appalled because they can’t believe we were ever slightly younger.”

Mike Lipton; Michael Fleeman in Los Angeles

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