It was conceived as takeoff on The Sound of Music. "Only instead of Julie Andrews," says series creator and star Fran Dreseher, "I came to the door!" At first, corporate America was nervous about Drescher's "Noo Yawk" accent and over-the-ton style. "They didn't know if it would fly," she says. "But the heartland just loved that little Jewish girl in the short skirts."

Fran Drescher

FRAN FINE
When The Nanny came to an end, Fran Drescher took home some of Fran Fine's flashy clothes. "Then I realized I'll probably never wear them!" says Drescher, 42, who worried that the wardrobe would continue to associate her with the character. Unfortunately, most producers and directors are still doing just that. "I hear, 'They know me, they love me—but I'm not right for this part,' " she says. "One director said, 'I don't think she's vulnerable enough,' which is unbelievable because I've been through a lot of serious things in my life." That includes the breakup, during the show's fifth season, of Drescher's marriage to her high school sweetheart and Nanny co-creator Peter Marc Jacobson, 42, whom she wed in 1978. "We needed to find out who we were as separate individuals," she explains. The pair kept a unified front on the set ("They remained on a remarkably even keel. I don't know how they did it," says Daniel Davis, who played the show's butler), but their split took its toll on the cast. "It was painful to see her and Peter breaking up," says Drescher's TV mom, Renée Taylor. The couple filed for divorce last October, and Drescher is adjusting to living alone with her Pomeranian pooch Chester, now 18. "I'm busy making my home my home," she says of the two-bedroom Malibu beach house she bought in 1997. "But I do have moments where my old self grabs me and I begin to get scared—what have I done? And then I have to talk myself down and see myself as the adult that I am and be in control of my life." For now, that means moving behind the Camera. Drescher is working on a screenplay based on a 1998 article she wrote about dating for Harper's Bazaar. (She is now involved with a director she declines to name.) She also is developing a sitcom pilot for MTV that she would produce and possibly direct. "The question I get asked most often is, 'When are you coming back to TV?' " says Drescher. "I think I need to give myself a little more time—and the audience a little more breathing room to accept me being someone else."

Charles Shaughnessy

MAXWELL SHEFFIELD
What with driving his daughter Maddy, 5, to karate classes and coaching the soccer and basketball teams that his daughter Jenny, 10, belongs to, Charles Shaughnessy seems like any other stay-at-home dad. It's a role that suits this actor—who played debonair Shane Donovan on Days of Our Lives before landing on The Nanny—just fine. "It's been a real luxury to stick around home and be part of that whole scene," says Shaughnessy, 45, who shares parenting duties with his actress wife, Susan, 42, at their Tuscan-style Santa Monica house. And it's hardly a stretch. "He was the best surrogate father a girl could ever have," says his TV daughter Madeline Zima. "He was the most wonderful, laid-back person." Those qualities made Shaughnessy the perfect complement to his spunky leading lady Fran Drescher. "He was such a terrific costar, not intimidated by the power I had on the set," she says. But Shaughnessy will be baring his fangs as the star of the Disney Channel movie Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire, slated to air in October. "I've been walking around the house," he says, "practicing my vampire accent."

Daniel Davis

NILES
How good was Daniel Davis at portraying this show's crusty British butler? So good that, at first, none of his costars had any idea he'd been born and raised in Little Rock. "At the audition I pulled out English Accent No. 2, and they bought it," says Davis, who has had more than two decades of classical theater training. "We had finished the pilot before I told anyone I wasn't British." While the accent was fake, Davis's comedy skills were the real deal. "We used to say in rehearsal, 'If Danny doesn't get a laugh with a line, it's not funny,' " recalls series co-creator Peter Marc Jacobson. And the actor didn't mind getting into a sticky situation for the sake of humor, as he did for an episode that had Niles returning from a party where he Jell-O-wrestled two women. "I had to stand in a tub of lime Jell-O so I'd be covered when I made my entrance," he recalls. "It took two hours in the shower to get it off!" His favorite scene had C.C. Babcock(played by Lauren Lane) catching him dancing in his underwear. "Our characters were so connected," says Lane. "That relationship carried over." The never-married Davis, 54, who lives in Westwood, Calif., recently spent six months in New York City in the Broadway drama Wrong Mountain, which earned him a Tony nomination for his portrayal of a hammy actor. But Davis is eager to return to prime time—if only someone would let him. "Before I did The Nanny, everybody said, 'He's a serious theater actor, can he be funny?' " Davis notes. "Now it's, 'He's a comic actor? Can he be serious?' "

Lauren Lane

C.C. BABCOCK
In 1997, Lauren Lane faced a dreaded acting challenge: pretending she wasn't pregnant even though she was. "I was as big as a house," says Lane, 39, whose character on the show was unattached. "I thought the writers should deal with it in some way, but they tried to hide it, which was laughable." The show's crew, however, "did nothing but bend over backward to make it easy for me," recalls Lane. After she had the baby, "they'd even stop production sometimes for what was basically a breast-feeding break." Today, Lane—who is separated from her husband, businessman David Wilkins, 44, and lives with their daughter Kate, 2, in a rented L.A. home—can still count on her former coworkers for support. "We made a pact to get together for lunch at least once a month," says Daniel Davis, who played her nemesis Niles. "And we've pretty much kept it." Lane has also been meeting with L.A.-based handbag designer Ben Shepard to work on a line of reversible handbags. One side is casual, the other is elegant: "He and I were talking about how there weren't bags that were both practical and stylish," Lane explains. "It was one of those spur-of-the-moment inspiration things." Not that she's shopping for a new profession. "I like having a lot of creative outlets," she says. "But acting remains my primary career."

Madeline Zima

GRACE SHEFFIELD
To Madeline Zima, who had been acting since age 2, becoming a TV star was a lot easier than making friends at her Burbank junior high school. "I'm a huge dork, trying to please all the wrong people," says Zima, 14. "I just did not get along with those girls." In 1997 she asked her parents, Dennis, 45, a computer programmer, and Marie, 46, a writer, if she could be home-schooled. They agreed. "The kids in school were not very kind to Madeline," her mother explains. "She was never beaten up, but there were threats." Zima now conducts her classes via correspondence courses offered by the Laurel Springs Home School program, communicating with her teachers by phone or e-mail. "People think it's weird," says Zima, whose two sisters, Vanessa, 13, and Yvonne, 11, attend regular school. "They think I have no friends because I'm not around other kids." That's not the case: In addition to pals from her Santa Clarita, Calif., neighborhood, the actress remains close to her Nanny costars. "Talking to her is like talking to someone much older," says Benjamin Salisbury. Studying at home also allows Zima to combine school and her still-flourishing career. In the past year she has starred in two TV movies—as a downtrodden southern girl in CBS's The Secret Path, which ran in April, and a gifted violinist in Showtime's The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, slated to air in August.

Nicholle Tom

MAGGIE SHEFFIELD
From the "rock star" clothes she wears to the "fun disco room" she has created in the den of her Toluca Lake, Calif., home, Nicholle Tom admits that she has decorated her life with an eye to the outrageous tastes of her former Nanny costar Fran Drescher. "I guess Fran's style sort of rubbed off on me," she says. Tom also turned to her onscreen caretaker for more than fashion tips. "She was getting to an age where she had boyfriends," Drescher recalls. "So we talked about what it was like dating guys." Right now, Tom, 22, wouldn't have much to share: For the past seven months she has been involved with Jeff Mosbrucker, 24, an aspiring screenwriter. Her career has also been on a steady track. This spring, Tom—whose twin brother David, 22, and sister Heather, 24, are regulars on The Young and the Restless—starred as a figure skater in the made-for-TV movie Ice Angel. The shoot proved challenging for the actress, who says, "I was never very athletic." In fact, her favorite Nanny episode found her vying for a spot on the school gymnastics team. "I had to fly over a horse, walk on the balance beam, climb a rope," she notes. "It was actually me trying to do those things!" Lately, Tom has been stretching her talent. In the upcoming film Panic, she's cast as a hairdresser opposite Neve Campbell. But she'll spend this summer studying painting and is thinking about becoming an animal trainer. "Really," she says, "I have a million different interests."

Benjamin Salisbury

BRIGHTON SHEFFIELD
The closest Benjamin Salisbury gets to show business these days is as events coordinator for Slapshot the Eagle, the Washington Capitals' team mascot. But the decision to put his acting career on ice was a deliberate one. "I want to make sure most of my time is for school," says Salisbury, who just completed his freshman year at American University in Washington, D.C. That approach seems to be paying off: Not only is Salisbury, 19, a dean's list student, he's also an intern for House minority leader Richard Gephardt and dreams of a career in either politics or sportscasting. However, Salisbury says, "I expect to do acting projects from time to time." In fact, he's auditioning for movie and TV roles before taking a London vacation next month. Wherever he goes, Salisbury stays in touch—via e-mail—with most of his former Nanny costars. "We talk on the Internet almost every day," says his TV kid sis Madeline Zima. "Mostly stuff like, 'How's college?' " Adds Nicholle Tom: "He's really become like one of my true brothers." Now if only he could find a girl who thinks of him in a less fraternal way. "I'm sadly single," says the Minneapolis native with a sigh. His mom, homemaker Mindy Peterson, 46, isn't worried. "He's got some good pickup lines," she says. "He sent the Rose Bowl queen a bouquet of wildflowers with a note that read, 'You must be sick of roses.' "

Renée Taylor

SYLVIA FINE
One day, when she was bored between takes, Renée Taylor, who played Fran Drescher's pushy mother, stayed in character and began picking at her costars' food. "I just started eating from everybody's plates," she recalls. "Somebody said, 'Hey, let's use that,' and it became a running thing." Only it ran a little too often, and Taylor—who "could just pick up a fork and make you laugh," says series co-creator Peter Marc Jacobson—ended up gaining 50 lbs. from her onscreen nibbling. "I finally had to bring in a note from the doctor saying I could only eat low-fat foods!" says Taylor. But the heavy eating was about the only aspect of her character that Taylor, 67, didn't embrace. "She loved her part, she had a total understanding of it, she knew exactly how to deliver the lines," marvels Drescher. These days, the actress is delivering lines that she wrote with her husband of 34 years, actor Joseph Bologna, 65, in a North American tour of their show If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going with You. No matter where Taylor goes, however, Sylvia Fine isn't far behind. "There are a lot of women in the world like that character," she says. "They want to know where I got my corsets—and whether or not they raised my tush!"