Melissa Peterman Tells All on Her Weight Loss! 
Q: The new season of CW's "Reba" has a thin Melissa Peterman (Barbra Jean), who was pregnant last season. How did she make the amazing transformation?

A: She's grateful you noticed and says she got "serious" about diet and exercise. "For the first time in my life, I hired a personal trainer because no one checks if you don't go to the gym." Peterman, 36, tells us her diet is heavy on protein and light on carbs, sugar and fat. There wasn't any pressure from the TV show, Peterman says. "I really did it for Riley [who's 14 months old]. I love having the energy to chase my son."

Second Banana to Hot Tomato!
Melissa Peterman is having an extra martini. She's entitled.

Her sitcom, "Reba," which ends tonight after a solid six-year run, transformed her from a Minnesota improv staple to a national celebrity. She's enjoying a rare break from mommy duties. And she's reveling in her new va-va-voom figure, which may be instrumental in nudging her into a new Hollywood role: leading lady.

"Auditioning has been fun lately," said Peterman, 36, who has shed 60 pounds since giving birth to Riley in October 2005. "I walk into a room and people go, 'Huh? That's different.' It's the first time I'm being considered for leads and not the second bananas."

Not that supporting roles haven't been very good to the Minneapolis native.

As Barbara Jean, she shined as Reba McEntire's main foil, a brassy dental hygienist who stole the star's husband and sounded like an out-of-tune tuba every time she opened her mouth.

"I get a lot of jail mail," she said, sipping cocktails at her favorite watering hole, a converted firehouse just a couple blocks from the house she shares with her husband, Minneapolis actor John Brady, in the L.A. suburb of Silver Lake. "I love the image of prisoners saying, 'Hey, we can rape the new guy later. "Reba" is on!' " Despite finishing as one of the top sitcoms, first on WB and later CW, the show leaves the air with little fanfare, an obvious cue that the sitcom's homespun humor didn't gel with a network's desperate desire to be hip.

"I wish I could understand it more," Peterman said. "You're the No. 1 comedy on a network and that's your reward? I think they're trying to create an identity and they don't want to be associated with us."

Rough words, but Peterman delivered them without a trace of bitterness.

She's much more inclined to engage in a bit of quiet, good-natured ribbing, as she does when a hapless couple at the bar keep trying to pull open the restroom doors, which are clearly marked "Push." It's that sunny quality that first put her on the map as an adorable prostitute in "Fargo" and makes her description of working out next to Stockard Channing sound as riveting as seeing Judy Garland at the Palladium.

She talks about the thrill of performing a bawdy, Bette Midler-ish routine last year at a breast-cancer foundation ("After I was done, David Hyde Pierce said, 'You are a god' "), meeting her idol, Carol Burnett, at a dinner McEntire arranged ("I kept saying to Reba, 'Don't let me drink. I will start to weep' -- and I did a few times during the meal") and doing more than a dozen episodes of "Hollywood Squares" ("I was in an elevator with Phyllis Diller and Sally Struthers!")

Then there's that weight loss. Peterman credits her trainer -- and her baby.

"I started about four months after he was born, because I was exhausted all the time and I needed the energy," she said. "Frankly, he's a large child. I need to be able to lift him."

She knows the success of "Reba" and her new figure may add up to more opportunities. She's currently hosting a stand-up comedy series on CMT and is testing for at least two shows. But she doesn't want to abandon the sensibility that put her on the map.

"I never want to lose the quality of rooting for the underdog," said Peterman, who proved she's still one of us by buying a home in St. Paul last year. (They live there part time.) "I love characters that are super vulnerable and insecure. When I'm invited to, like, a Golden Globe party, I still want to be the person who says, 'What did they pay for that?' If I lose that, I would want to leave the business."