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On View : Freshmen, Again : CAN 'SAVED BY THE BELL' AND 'BEVERLY HILLS, 90210' PASS THE TEST AS THEY HEAD OFF TO COLLEGE?

September 26, 1993|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TV's most popular high schoolers have headed off to college this season, hoping their audiences will follow them as their storylines and characters mature.

But don't worry about the revamped shows getting too serious for their fans. Romance and relationships seem the likely focus for the seniors at West Beverly and Bayside who graduated at the end of last season with pomp and prime-time circumstance.

The "90210" teens spent two years in high school--spanned over three years--but it was always the plan to move them on, says Charles Rosin, the show's executive producer.

"Conceptually, we were trying to reinvent the television show, which may be fraught with danger, since it has an appeal to a certain audience. We didn't want to stray from the formula, but we wanted to move them forward," Rosin says.

As Dan McDermott, senior vice president of current programming and specials for Fox says, "This is not going to be a college show, any more than it was originally a high school show." The cast will confront issues just as its audience does, "which is why we feel so confident and are moving so boldly forward. We're absolutely confident it will be a success."

Going to college wasn't originally in the report card for "Saved."

"It's the best wisdom, to send them on to college"--and prime-time now, says Peter Engel, executive producer of "Saved." Few had expected the nighttime graduation exercises to draw so many viewers. When it did, the network thought higher education sounded like a pretty good idea.

So, as the matriculated "Saved by the Bell" enters its sixth season on NBC, it goes up against ABC's powerhouse "Full House," CBS' "Rescue 911" and Fox's "Roc," not an easy challenge. With the switch to college and prime-time, the stories will "change somewhat, but they will always be little morality plays, the 'do-the-right-thing' type of thing," Engel says.

But don't expect "Saved" the sitcom to turn into "90210" the drama in its new prime-time slot.

"It's an 8 p.m. show, but we want to build on what we already have," Engel says. "I don't want parents to say we are trying to be the issue of the week."

"Saved" star Mark-Paul Gosselaar, says the cast is looking forward to tackling more serious issues and notes that "storylines will cover just the things that happened on '90210' but in a lighter way."

"90210," on the other hand, will follow the lives of the privileged and not-so-privileged teen idols "with the same feel the series has always had," says Rosin. Relationships and romance will still be the core of the show.

But, hey, romance won't be a stranger to "Saved" either. The romantic triangle, "always our staple," will play a part in the characters' lives, Engel promises.

Other issues tackled on "Saved" will include Slater (Mario Lopez) getting in touch with his Latino roots and the guys deciding whether to rush a fraternity.

The "90210" producers keep close-mouthed on where they're going with their flock.

However, "90210" cast members let slip that Steve (Ian Ziering) will join a fraternity and try to get Brandon (Jason Priestley) to do the same. Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) will have an interesting love life and change the way she looks--she'll be more mature and less studious. David (Brian Austin Green) will become more serious about his music and get involved with campus radio.

Unlike "Saved," not all the '90210'ers will be attending the same school, but they'll remain in the same zip code, a neat trick.

NBC had originally planned to send only the male cast members of "Saved" off to college unless all the women agreed to join the new show. When only Tiffani Amber-Thiessen wanted to continue, the producers decided to write her in anyway.

"She was the most popular of the girls," Engel says, hoping that popularity will carry over into the evening slot.

What it all comes down to for both teens and TV shows is popularity. Will college sit well with fans, or could "90210" and "College Years" flunk out by midterm? Stay tuned.

"Saved by the Bell: The College Years" airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC; "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" airs Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.; "Beverly Hills, 90210" airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox .

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