BEVERLY HILLS, 90210

U.S. Serial Drama

Despite a slow start in its inaugural season on FOX in fall, 1990, Beverly Hills 90210 quickly became an important fixture on the network and in the popular discourse of adolescents and young adults. In that first season the show's main characters, Dylan, Kelly, Donna, Steve, David, Andrea and twins Brandon and Brenda all attended West Beverly Hills High School (zip code 90210). Brandon and Brenda Walsh and their parents, transplants from Minneapolis were the stable nuclear family with strong values; their home was a safe haven for the whole gang and the center of much of the drama. By its third season the show's popularity had soared, and in 1993 it became available in syndication both in the United States and internationally. In 1996 the show's ratings were still high, the teens had graduated from high school, and some were attending California University. A number of the original characters had literally graduated from the show by then, and new characters introduced. But despite those changes, Beverly Hills 90210 -continually attracted a loyal viewership.

Produced by Aaron Spelling, who has seemed to have his finger on the pulse of popular television taste since the 1960s, Beverly Hills 90210, was the first in a string of programs on FOX geared toward adolescent and young adult audiences who were attracted to glamour and attention to certain issues. For both reasons 90210's popularity catapulted. Not long after the first season, cast members were interviewed regularly on other television programs and in magazines from TV Guide to Seventeen to Rolling Stone to Ladie's Home Journal. Soon Beverly Hills 90210 dolls, books and fan clubs were everywhere. The show set clothing and hairstyle trends for both male and female youth. Young women regularly sent letters to the character Brenda Walsh, asking her advice on their dating and other personal problems. Because the show dealt with topics of concern to adolescents in a way unlike any other teen drama to date, it was soon taken seriously by parents, educators and scholars as well. Some of the issues dealt with on the program included learning disabilities, prejudice, divorce, date rape, sexuality, alcoholism and drug use. One of the main characters, Dylan, had recurring drug and alcohol problems; another, Kelly, had a drug and alcohol abusing mother in recovery. Donna learned to overcome a learning disability, and several others struggled through parental divorce and remarriage. Many of the show's main characters were sexually active, and issues concerning safe sex and contraception were openly discussed on the program. Because it dealt with these realistic issues, the show was attractive to youth.

But not everyone considered it realistic. Some criticisms aimed at the show centered on unreal or stereotypical representations. The cast and the setting of the show were almost completely white, upper income. Non-whites appeared almost exclusively in episodes dealing with prejudice or difference. They were also almost always lower income, from a zip code outside Beverly Hills. Of the main characters, Andrea was the only Jewish female. She was portrayed as the brainy, less attractive female compared to Kelly, Donna and Brenda, who were sexier and less intellectual. Most viewers could not identify with the high income, WASP background of the Beverly Hills teens. Yet in spite of criticisms and differences, Beverly Hills 90210 retained a diverse youth audience.

Hoping to capitalize on the early success of 90210 other FOX-Spelling collaborations followed. The first, The Heights, which was less glamorous but featured the same age group, did not last. Neither did the later Models, Inc., set in the fashion industry. Melrose Place, however, did become a hit. That program, also set in southern California, featured a cast in their twenties, working on careers and later life issues like marriage and divorce. Melrose Place differed from Beverly Hills 90210 in that it was far less sincere or moralistic in treating issues. Melrose Place relationships and plots were more sensationalized in a manner reminiscent of early 1980s prime time serials, Dynasty and Dallas. In early 1996 Aaron Spelling introduced another crowd of rich adolescents in the program Malibu Shores.

The rise of Beverly Hills 90210 and its ilk coincided with changes in the broadcast network television in an era of increased competition from cable television. Network program narrowcasting to the youth market represented an attempt to remain competitive with other television distribution outlets. It also signaled a renewed effort to take seriously issues of importance to young people, a large and lucrative niche market.

-Katherine Fry


Beverly Hills 90210

CAST

Brandon Walsh...................................Jason Priestley Nikki Witt (1992).....................................Dana Barron Brenda Walsh (1990-94)....................Shannen Doherty Iris McKay...................................Stephanie Beacham Valerie Malone (1994-)...............Tiffani-Amber Thiessen Samantha Sanders............................Christina Belford Kelly Taylor.............................................Jennie Garth Dylan McKay (1990-95)..............................Luke Perry Rick (1992-93)............................................Dean Cain Clare Arnold (1993-).......................Kathleen Robertson Donna Martin...........................................Tori Spelling Steve Sanders............................................Ian Ziering Andrea Zuckermann (1990-95)...........Gabrielle Carteris Mrs. Teasley (1992-93)..........................Denise Dowse Jesse Vasquez (1994-95).................Mark D. Espinoza Emily Valentine (1991-).........................Christine Elise David Silver...................................Brian Austin Green Ray Pruit (1994-)...................................Jamie Walters Stuart Carson (1993-94)...............................David Gail Scott Scanlon (1990-91)...................Douglas Emerson Jim Walsh (1990-95).........................James Eckhouse Cindy Walsh (1990-95)..............................Carol Potter Jackie Taylor.........................................Ann Gillespie John Sears (1993-94)..........................Paul Johansson Mel Silver.......................................Matthew Laurance Nataniel 'Nat' Basigio.................................Joe E. Tata Sue Scanlon (1992).................................Nicholle Tom Rush Sanders..............................................Jed Allen Joe Bradley (1995-)..........................Cameron Bancroft Felice Martin (1991-)........................Katherine Cannon Susan Keates.....................................Emma Caulfield Mr. Martin............................................Michael Durrell
Antonia Marchette (1995).................Rebecca Gayheart Celeste Lundy (1993-94).........................Jennifer Grant Suzanne Steele (1993-94)........................Kerrie Keane LuAnn Pruit.................................Caroline McWilliams Chancellor Arnold (1993-)......................Nicholas Pryor Jake Hanson (1992)..................................Grant Show Ryan Sanders (1996-)...........................Randy Spelling Mr. McKay...............................................Josh Taylor Alpha Sorority Alumni person.................Brooke Theiss Erica Steele (1993-94)..........................Noley Thornton Colin (1995-)............................................Jason Wiles D'Shawn Hardell (1993-1994)................Cress Williams

PRODUCERS

Jessica Klein, Larry Mollin Jason Priestley, Aaron Spelling, E. Duke Vincent, Paul Waigner, Steve Wasserman

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

FOX

October 1990-August 1992............ Thursday 9:00-10:00
July 1992-May 1993................... Wednesday 8:00-9:00
June 1993-August 1993................... Tuesday 8:00-9:00
September 1993-May 2000......... Wednesday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Fitzgerald, Kate. "90210 promo ZIP: Marketers Hitch a Ride as Show Goes Worldwide." Advertising Age (New York), 6 September, 1993.

Freeman, Mike. "Worldvision Pitches Reps on Strength of 90210." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.), 22 March 1993.

Rapping, Elayne. "The Year of the Young." The Progressive (Madison, Wisconsin), February 1993.

Roberts, Donald F. "Adolescents and the Mass Media: From Leave it to Beaver to Beverly Hills 90210." Teachers College Record (New York), Spring 1993.

Simonetti, Marie-Claire. "Degrassi Junior High and Beverly Hills 90210." Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1994.