When Fox’s Beverly Hills, 90210 launched in 1990, that zip code didn’t seem too promising. “The new show with the least memorable title,” wrote EW TV critic Ken Tucker, ”is also one of the fall’s most forgettable series.” Viewers agreed — early episodes were among the season’s lowest-rated.
The producers soon switched to an issue-of-the-week format that addressed topics like date rape and suicide while also celebrating sideburns and cool cars. “We thought about what teenagers were thinking about,” recalls creator Darren Star. “Sometimes we were a little melodramatic, but I think we gave it a bit more weight so it wasn’t just a soap opera.”
90210‘s fortunes soared after Fox took a gamble by starting season 2 in the middle of summer, when its younger audience was out of school. The series became a phenomenon (even Tucker eventually came around), turning its stars — including Jennie Garth, Jason Priestley, Luke Perry, and exec producer Aaron Spelling’s daughter, Tori — into teen idols. “I remember Luke Perry opening a shopping mall,” Star says, “and he had to be whisked out. It was an absolute mob scene!”
The original series ended in 2000, but a next-gen spin-off, 90210, currently airs on The CW, and reruns are a big presence on cable. “When I see all the shows come out, there are lots that follow in the footsteps of 90210,” says Star. “It sort of laid out the template of the modern teen show.”