CW Retools Fabled Teen Show 'Beverly Hills, 90210'
“Gutter balls only, please!” someone yells during a rehearsal at the Lucky Strike bowling alley for the CW’s new series “90210.” So co-stars Jessica Stroup and Shenae Grimes downplay their bowling skills.
The spin-off on the fabled ‘90s teen drama premieres Sept. 2 (8 p.m. EDT). If the show mimics the hot bodies, hip fashion and angst-ridden affluence of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” it will also play edgier and less preachy, says co-executive producer Gabe Sachs.
“Look, we’re not stupid,” Sachs says. “We know people are probably expecting a cheese fest and that’s just not what we do.”
Sachs and partner Jeff Judah cut their teeth as producers on the quirky yet short-lived teen series “Freaks and Geeks” and “Life as We Know It.”
CW tapped the duo to produce its rich-kids reprise after Rob Thomas, creator of moody teen drama “Veronica Mars,” dropped the project.
“The truth is, Jeff and I write how we write,” Sachs says. “Everything’s got to come out of real emotion. We want to deal with issues and show consequences, but not the issue of the week and pound you over the head.”
“But I can never ever knock the original ‘90210,”’ Sachs says of the series that ran from 1990-2000, trading on youth issues from addiction to pregnancy and amping the fortunes of the fledgling Fox network.
The original hooked a generation of viewers on trendy teen melodrama honed by creator Darren Star and executive producer Aaron Spelling.
“They were able to develop such a loyal fan base,” Sachs says. “Jeff and I can only wish for that.”
Heading into its third year, CW is aiming “90210” straight at its advertiser-coveted target audience, cool-conscious female viewers from 18 to 34 who buzz about CW’s “Gossip Girl.”
Like the original, “90210” is a fish-out-of-water tale about a Midwestern family transplanted to Los Angeles, the land of freeway jams and perpetual tans.
Although the original series’ core family, the Walshes, were from Minnesota, the Wilson clan hails — with shades of Wizard of Ozian irony — from Kansas. Like siblings Brenda and Brandon Walsh (Shannen Doherty and Jason Priestley), Annie Wilson (Grimes) and adopted brother Dixon (Tristan Wilds of “The Wire”) are gorgeous, yet more grounded than their classmates at West Beverly Hills High School.
Among Annie and Dixon’s new best friends are bad little rich girl Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord of “Nip/Tuck”) and top jock Ethan (Dustin Milligan). There’s Silver, a “Gossip Girl” type (Stroup), who produces her own tell-all video series on YouTube, and dirt-dishing, high-school newscaster Navid Shirazi (Michael Steger).
The Wilson parents (Rob Estes and Lori Laughlin) seem hip and handsome in ways the Walsh parents (Carol Potter and James Eckhouse) were not.
“This has the glitz of an Aaron (Spelling) show, but at the same time Gabe and Jeff have taken it and given it a sense of humor — they really flip it on its ear sometimes,” says Estes, who starred on Spelling’s “Melrose Place” from 1993-1999.
“And they’re also like 12-year-olds, you know?” Estes says. “They completely understand the electronic world, like texting.”
To help spin the spin-off, and snag young viewers hooked on original series encores on SoapNet and YouTube, Doherty and original cast members Jennie Garth and Tori Spelling will reprise their roles as special guest stars on “90210.” Joe E. Tata will return as Peach Pit cafe owner Nat.
The “90210” formula will also include product placement “as long as it doesn’t hit you over the head,” Sachs says. “I think it’s important to show what kids really use.”
But at the core of “90210,” it’s all about fresh faces, and who will break big.
“Things can take a turn, and you can get a big head, or get jaded,” says Stroup of the fame game. “The next two weeks, we’re going to be unveiling more and more ads and everybody that we talk to is saying, ‘Get ready, get ready.’ And we’re all like, ‘Where are we going to hide?”’
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