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PRIME-TIME TV

Some new zip in the '90210'

The phenom returns with new characters (from Kansas!) and a lot more use of personal technology.

August 31, 2008|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

There's A ginormous silver "N" on the wall behind the center bar at Boulevard3 in Hollywood, which isn't usually there. A blond, pretty adolescent girl vogues for her guests on 15 plasma screens spread throughout the chic two-tier nightclub. Indie pop band Tilly and the Wall has never performed here before, but it does fit in. One hundred or so dolled-up teenagers who wouldn't normally be allowed anywhere near this Sunset Boulevard venue bop to the band.

But tonight Boulevard3 is a set, and this extravaganza of millionaire proportions is a Sweet 16 celebration for Beverly Hills queen bee Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord). As the band grooves, Naomi greets Internet celebrity-party girl Cory Kennedy and her photographer pal, the Cobrasnake (who play themselves), and the truth is revealed: This is not your mama's drama.

This is “90210," the CW spinoff, and, boy, is it au courant: The pivotal moment in this scene involves a betrayal exposed by Sidekick, captured on video by TMZish high school journalist Navid Shirazi (Michael Steger). The party's decadence is one thing, but Cory and Tilly and the Wall in the same room? Ridiculous! (And we thought Dylan McKay was cool.)

Only eight years have passed since "Beverly Hills, 90210" went off the air, but, thanks to technology, the world has shrunk in the time it takes two classes to graduate from high school. Back in the day, Kelly (Jennie Garth) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) would never have blabbed about a cheating boyfriend in a text message or vlogged their secrets. Nat (Joe E. Tata) didn't serve cappuccinos to teens at the Peach Pit, like he does in the spinoff's first episode.

"Not everyone was texting each other and taking their phones everywhere and IMing," said co-creator and executive producer Gabe Sachs. "What e-mail has done to relationships, I think, it has ruined high school. You used to have to go to a girl and talk to her. They text now. It's a different world, and all of that stuff is great for stories."

Nostalgia over the older version has been palpable, albeit virtually, with every stage of development of the series enthusiastically dissected on the Internet. (For the record: Garth and Doherty are in; Tori Spelling is out.) But a spinoff of a pop-culture phenomenon is tricky business, and the new show's success might depend on its ability to both depict and comment on the global culture in which the new West Beverly High crew is growing up, while balancing the beloved elements of the first series. It premieres Tuesday.

'All the same emotions'

"We're trying to make it reflective of what kids really do and what it's really like," said co-creator and executive producer Jeff Judah. "Our version is a little dirtier and edgier. But it's also going to show that, despite how much money these kids come from, essentially they want to be popular and liked. It's all the same emotions, whether you grew up working class in Michigan or upper class in Beverly Hills."

Sachs and Judah, of the Judd Apatow empire, are not the names that pop into mind for a spinoff of an Aaron Spelling show that managed to be both groundbreaking yet wholesome and turned its young cast into household names. The CW contacted the producers of “Freaks and Geeks" and "Life as We Know It" after Rob Thomas ("Veronica Mars"), who wrote the first draft of the pilot, had to resign.

"Trust me, your concerns about Sachs-Judah doing '90210' are the same concerns everyone's having, including Jeff and I," Sachs said. "We were the first ones to go: Can we pull this off?"

Revisiting Spelling's idea

In THIS era of buying foreign formats to produce in American versions, Creative Artists Agency, which manages the Spelling estate, approached the CW about staying closer to home and developing new versions of "Beverly Hills, 90210" or its first spinoff, "Melrose Place." CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff perked up at the prospect of a new West Beverly High gang, thinking it would appeal to the network's core 18- to 34-year-old audience, as well as teenagers and older fans of the original, which aired on Fox from 1990 to 2000. Repeats of the original air on SoapNet, which is presenting a 24-hour marathon of 24 episodes on Monday. The series also is available on DVD.

"There are so many things that are very important now that didn't exist eight years ago," said Ostroff. "When you look at the old show, the characters look very outdated and the fashion is outdated, so there's a new version to do. But what I loved the most about redeveloping the show was having people from a different part of the country move to Beverly Hills and contemporizing that point of view."

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