Oct. 4, 1990: Fox launches teen-drama pioneer ''90210''
Until Oct. 4, 1990, no one had thought to create a serious, hour-long drama about teenagers who had real problems. But when Fox launched ”Beverly Hills 90210,” a series about the social, sexual, and style dilemmas of rich high schoolers, it spawned a titillating new genre in television: the teen drama.
Created by Darren Star and nurtured by TV mastermind Aaron Spelling, ”90210” started out with poor reviews and bottom-10 ratings. But thanks to a racy May cliff-hanger and the consequent airing of new episodes in the summer of ’91 (while other shows were in reruns), teens got hooked. Every week, they tuned in to the hormonally charged lives of Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Brandon (Jason Priestley) Walsh, twins who had moved from Minnesota to Beverly Hills, and their circle of friends, including spoiled princess Kelly (Jennie Garth), rebel-without-a-cause Dylan (Luke Perry), and virgin-without-a-clue Donna (Tori ”daughter of Aaron” Spelling).
”Beverly Hills 90210” was unique in its mix of the serious and the trivial — breast cancer and BMWs — and its focus on kids solving their own problems. And a lot of those problems revolved around sex. The show ”looked at [teen] sexuality in a way you hadn’t seen,” says Star, who would later marshal his amorous expertise to create HBO’s ”Sex and the City.” ”The characters didn’t apologize for being sexual, because the show wasn’t moralistic about sex.”
At the same time, the show got criticized for its unrealistic portrayal of teenagers. Some grew weary of the mini-morality tales that offered simple solutions to big problems. As a result, producers mandated that the plots deal with more interpersonal issues, and ”90210” became a standard nighttime adult soap, with exhausted relationship do-si-dos among a constant stream of departing and arriving characters.
But throughout its 10-season run, ”90210” remained a barometer of mainstream youth culture — from its prescient choices of guest stars (including Hilary Swank and Denise Richards) to its influence on style trends (Priestley shepherded the return of sideburns) — and was also pivotal in Fox’s newfound success as a growing network.
Even before its last show on May 17, 2000, ”90210” had paved the way for future teen dramas like ”My So-Called Life” and ”Dawson’s Creek.” A sequel, ”90210: The New Class,” is rumored, but Spelling doesn’t want to be involved. ”The old audience would say, ‘You’ve done this before and you did it better last time,”’ he says. ”Also…they’d think I’m money hungry; [that] I’d do anything to do a show. And I would, by the way.”