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'90210's teen angst

The CW show was addressed for success, but its new teens haven't had a smooth move. After some cracking, it may have found its voice.

February 03, 2009|By Denise Martin

But arriving at what the show is, exactly, is a bigger challenge when creative hands already have changed three times. The CW announced it was fast-tracking the remake last April, bringing aboard Rob Thomas of "Veronica Mars" fame, but he abandoned it after his first draft because of a commitment with ABC. The network then recruited Sachs and Jeff Judah, known for mining the anxieties of working-class teens in the male-driven dramas "Life as We Know It" and "Freaks and Geeks."

Because of the time crunch, the pair sped through writing the first six episodes without the benefit of evaluating a produced pilot to guide future story lines. Then the clashes with network executives began. The CW wanted "90210" to have a female perspective and focus more on money and glitz, like "Gossip Girl." But Judah and Sachs were more comfortable writing for men -- read: an oral sex scene played for laughs in the pilot -- so they stopped writing. Judah now handles postproduction duties, including editing and music supervision, and Sachs runs the production on set.

"It was sort of like a big, flashing neon sign that we just drove by when we accepted this job," Judah said. "But at the time, we thought we'd give it a shot and see what happens. . . . Ultimately, what the network wanted isn't what we do. I'm not as witty as ['Gossip Girl' executive producer] Josh Schwartz and I never will be. I'm fifth-generation white trash, so I'm not even beginning to be able to write like that."

The tension was not lost on the cast. Dustin Milligan, 23, plays Ethan Ward, a character conceived as a star athlete/outsider with an autistic brother, who has morphed solely into Annie's love interest, a romance that certainly hasn't lighted viewers on fire.

"I don't think the network knew exactly what they wanted," Milligan said. "I know Gabe and Jeff were working really hard and doing a really good job with bringing in the quirky moments and the humor and the realism -- but a lot of that never quite made it into the episodes. We were all pretty upset about it."

With Judah and Sachs out of the writers room in September, the CW hired Kirshner Sinclair, who has built a reputation working on the beloved teen shows "Gilmore Girls" and " Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Among her biggest tasks is figuring out what to do with Annie, the girl with the charmed life, never encountering a problem she can't solve or a boy who doesn't fall for her.

Kirshner Sinclair can relate. She too stayed out of trouble during her teen years. "Annie is probably closer to who I was in high school," she said. "So if [the writers and I] could just dig more, I think we could do some genuine things with her."

What would be best for Annie, it appears, would be for Kirshner Sinclair to stay. The writer-producer would like to be around in some capacity for "90210's" second season, which is a sure bet at this point. The network and studio are pleased with the show's direction now and would like Kirshner Sinclair to continue as show runner. A decision about her role will be made soon. (It seems clear Judah and Sachs will not work on the second season.)

For now, Kirshner Sinclair is feeling optimistic. The remaining 10 episodes will bring Spelling's return (and, yes, Donna's still married to David Silver), the arrival of Dixon's ( Tristan Wilds) estranged mother, Adrianna's ( Jessica Lowndes) baby drama, and the much-needed addition of a Dylan McKay bad-boy type (Matt Lanter).

"Before, working on the show was pretty frantic, like solving puzzles," she said. "But by the end of this season, I think we'll have the right tone down. It's finally getting exciting."

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