TV Article

90210: Their Number's Up

''90210'''s last episode aired May 17th -- Tori Spelling, Shannen Doherty, and the rest of the stars discuss the show's ups and downs

In 1990, the world witnessed several monumental changes: Margaret Thatcher relinquished her post as Britain's prime minister, a reunited Germany held its first free elections, and, of course, supercute twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh relocated from Minnesota to ultra-posh Beverly Hills. But as the history books will show, when Fox premiered Beverly Hills, 90210 on October 4, the Aaron Spelling-produced high school saga got about as much attention as a T.J. Maxx on Rodeo Drive. Fortunately, after a little creative scheduling, some prom-night nookie, and a collection of really bitchin' sideburns, 90210 graduated into a decade-spanning phenomenon. In honor of the gang's final trip to the Peach Pit on May 17, we asked them to help us retrace the ascent of TV's coolest zip code.

New Kids on the Block (Winter 1990)
Looking for innovative programming for the three-year-old Fox network, then Fox chairman-CEO Barry Diller phoned mega-producer Spelling with one request: ''We'd like you to do a high school show.'' After approving a script titled Class of Beverly Hills from 28-year-old newcomer Darren Star, the hunt began for the perfect group of impossibly attractive teens.
Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea): I was living in New York, sleeping in a friend's bed because I didn't have money. It was a gigantic cattle call and I kept going back. I was up for both Andrea and Brenda.
Ian Ziering (Steve): When I went to pick up the script, there was a stack of 50 scripts. I stole them all. Screw everybody else. I needed a job.
Jennie Garth (Kelly): I got a part in Hull High [NBC's short-lived high school musical], then I heard about this. So I passed on Hull, which was the scariest thing in the world. I just knew Aaron Spelling was a great producer.
Brian Austin Green (David): I didn't know who [Spelling] was. I was always the kid who went into auditions like, ''Is this going to cut into my skateboarding time?''
Tori Spelling (Donna): I heard about the show from my agent. She said, ''Your dad is doing it.'' I was like, ''I haven't heard anything about it.'' I popped into his briefcase when he got home, and I was like, cool. I really wanted to play Andrea. I went in under a different name, then I got the part of Donna — which I'm sure had something to do with my dad.

Least Likely to Succeed (Fall 1990)
The show premieres against a slew of other teen-oriented fare (Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Ferris Bueller, Hull High) and soon establishes itself as a ratings geek.
Peter Chernin (then President, Fox Entertainment Group): We had begun to get some real traction with edgy comedies — Married...With Children, The Simpsons, and In Living Color. But at that point, Fox only stood for outrageousness, so 90210 was instrumental in broadening the network.
Charles Rosin (former exec producer): The pilot did not get reviewed well — it was pretty ordinary. Plus, Fox had really shot their wad on The Simpsons. In today's market, our show would have been canceled. But they kind of left us alone.
Sandy Grushow (then Fox Exec VP, Current Programming and Scheduling): I don't think the network had a whole lot of programming in reserve — so as much as people like to rewrite history and say how supportive they were of the show, it was more by default.
Carteris: I remember watching the pilot, thinking, "This show is never going to make it. I guess I'll find a waitressing job."
Green: Nobody watched the first 13 episodes. We were in Bakersfield, Calif., doing promotional s---. I was at the pie-eating contest, and nobody knew about our show.

Summer Lovin' (Spring 1991)
90210 hits its stride thanks to a racy and controversial May cliff-hanger: Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Dylan (Luke Perry) do it at the prom! Seeking to capitalize on that momentum, network execs rush the show back into production for original summer episodes. Inspired by The Flamingo Kid (one of Grushow's favorite films), producers give Brandon (Jason Priestley) a job at the Beverly Hills Beach Club, and viewers flock to watch the gang frolic and flirt in the surf. By the end of season two, 90210 nearly doubles its audience (from 9.5 to 17.4 million viewers), and is pulling in an astonishing 52 share of teen TV-watchers. Then came the hysterical fans, the mall riots, the action figures...
Tori: It happened overnight. We were told we were doing well. It went from that one day to the next day when people started screaming our names.
Garth: They pimped us out everywhere. There was no Dawson's Creek or Buffy. We were the only show teenagers were watching. We were it.
Ziering: I went with Brian to Spain once. There were 14,000 people in the airport. I could lift my feet off the ground and get carried in the wave of humanity.
Green: Our show dubbed in Spanish was the funniest thing I've ever seen. I sounded like Speedy Gonzales. I was like, I'm never gonna be popular in Spain.
Tori: My friend came over and she had the [90210] blow-dryer. It was like, this is ridiculous. I was like, I hope we never get a lunchbox, then we got one. I was like, okay, we're totally cheese. But I'm glad I got a doll.
Ziering: They never had a doll of Steve. I don't know if I'm pissed about that.
Green: It became important not to put anything under your own name. I used "Heywood Jablowmi" at hotels for a while.
Garth: We got a bomb threat once. While we were filming a graduation scene, someone hid a bomb underneath the bleachers. It was like, Ooh! We hit it big!

Teen Angst (Fall 1991-Spring 1994)
As 90210-mania grew, tales of cast unrest begin to emerge, primarily centering around Doherty's on- and off-the-set antics. The tabloids latch on to her bad-girl image, fans form "I Hate Brenda" clubs, and in the spring of 1994 Miss Walsh conveniently decides to pursue an acting career in London. The following fall, producers recruit Saved by the Bell alum Tiffani-Amber Thiessen to fill the brunette troublemaker slot.
Green: Thank God for Shannen — she got us press. But I think she was just the unfortunate victim. I'll never forget, we were at Roxbury [an L.A. nightclub where Doherty was involved in a 1992 altercation with another patron] — Shannen did nothing and she was the bad girl. The other person totally started it. Certain people got along with her and certain people didn't, and the people that didn't won.
Rosin: She had habitual lateness. Her lateness was appalling, and she had a callous attitude and an indifference. She was clearly not very happy on this show anymore.
Shannen Doherty: There was definitely a time that I did not want to be there. I was unhappy. It sounds odd to say that I was on a hit show making a lot of money and I was unhappy, because it makes me sound unappreciative — I wasn't. It's just that the sacrifice at the time seemed too large to me. The sacrifice of a camera pointed in my face 24 hours a day while I was desperately trying to grow up, to figure out my spirituality, to figure out my boyfriends. I mean, I was a teenager.
Aaron Spelling: It wasn't like she ruined the show or anything. It just upset the cast members tremendously. I remember them calling me and saying, ''Please, can't you get her here on time?''
Rosin: She had showed up late two days before, so they were remaking a shot at 7:45 in the morning. Everybody was there, and she didn't show up until 9:45. Once Jason Priestley said, ''I've had it,'' it was the beginning of the end.
Doherty: There are things that I would call bulls---, and [the lateness charge] is probably one of them. I was late maybe four times in four years. A bunch of times [other cast members] were extremely late. I don't think that lateness had anything to do with it.... There were a lot of petty jealousies on that show, and I had never dealt with that before.
Spelling: She thought it was time to go. And the cast did too.
Thiessen: At first, I did all my interviews, and it was always, ''How do you feel about replacing Shannen Doherty?'' It was hard. I wasn't replacing anybody.
Rosin: We wanted a baaad girl. There was really an edge with Tiffani because she was so sexual. In her first episode, she [smoked] some pot. We were making a statement there.
Thiessen: They wanted me to roll a joint with one hand so I looked like some kind of pro. I couldn't do it. The person you see is actually somebody else's hand rolling a joint.

The (Almost) Never-Ending Story (Fall 1994-Spring 2000)
Despite numerous cast changes (Perry departs in 1995, only to return in 1998, when Priestley and Thiessen take their leave), declining ratings (this season, the show is averaging a lowest-ever 8 million viewers), and creative roadblocks (what, are they gonna go to graduate school now?), the series manages to remain a Fox Wednesday-night staple.
Tori: Every year I was like, it probably won't go another year. I was going to go to USC, so I deferred a year. Then the show went again. It was like, ''I'll go when I'm done.'' Now it's 10 years later and I'm 26.
Thiessen: Once Jennie and I went to Vegas, and this girl who'd been drinking a heapload of alcohol attacked us and said we had the worst show and she hated us. We said, "You must be watching it because you know who we are." She actually apologized: "Yeah, I do love you, I'm sorry!" She was just embarrassed that she actually watched the show for so many years.
Spelling: It wasn't until the 8th year that I wondered if the show would be picked up, and if the cast would come back. We went through the same thing in the 9th and 10th years. We had only two more episodes to shoot this season when I got a call from Sandy Grushow asking would I please do a two-hour closer.
Grushow: A lot of the cast members were ready to move on. And obviously the ratings had finally begun to slip to levels that made the costs seem excessive.
Tori: Before the cancellation, Brian and I said we were leaving.
Garth: I had already decided I wasn't coming back. But they were like, please, one more year. I decided to be a team player — but then the show wasn't coming back.
Spelling: I came home and told my wife Candy and my son Randy. Randy walked out of the room. Candy said, "Where are you going, honey?" He said, "To get dad a drink."
Ziering: Hopefully, I won't be short and fat when you see me on the E! True Hollywood Story in 20 years.
Tori: I was thinking about leaving Donna and I had a mini-anxiety attack. I'm such a sap. I watch the reruns on FX. In my building we have a gym with a TV. I'll be on the StairMaster and I'll be like, "Oh, that's so cute, I love that scene with Donna and David." Then someone will walk in and I'll be so embarrassed. They'll be like, "She's watching the show while she's working out. That's really sick."

Originally posted May 19, 2000 Published in issue #541 May 19, 2000 Order article reprints