Spinoff Stories: Beverly Hills, 90210 (Article VIII)

Soapy angst never gleamed as young and restless as FOX's primetime franchises in the 1990's.  After Aaron Spelling's Thursday soap entry gained momentum, 5-year old FOX sought to expand into Monday-Wednesday programming.  To achieve this, they crafted spinoff Melrose Place, geared toward the adults.  This durable franchise lived on well into the 2010's, thanks to continuation series reviving the old premise.  Beverly Hills, 90210 stands as one of the most successful franchises with spinoffs to date. Its 10-year run and 5 spinoffs combined gave viewers 25 seasons of the durable franchise, 19 on FOX and 6 on CW.

The Original Hit Machine 
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000) 

One year after Dynasty folded on ABC, Aaron Spelling desired to get a new primetime franchise going again and formulated teenage soap opera Beverly Hills, 90210.  Following twin teenagers Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestly, Shannon Doherty) as they moved from Minnesota to the affluent Beverly Hills zip code, they struggled to assimilate with their flashier peers.  Its first season delivered tepid, self-contained plots, whereas later seasons accelerated the serialized formats and young drama, catapulting the series to its peak in 41st Place with a 11.3 rating for the 1993-94 season.  Being an ensemble soap, several cast members departed between the 5th and 8th seasons including Doherty and Priestly, with several lively characters populating the flashy and aesthetically-pleasing episodes.  By the time the series ended, Tori Spelling (Donna), Jennie Garth (Kelly), Brian Austin Green (David) and Ian Ziering (Steve) remained the four original cast members among the roster of 10.  Given the series was gaining momentum and critical praise, FOX sought to repopulate its growing schedule and selected Beverly Hills, 90210. 

The First Spinoff 
Melrose Place (1992-99) 

Gen X'ers trying to make their way in the world against a West Hollywood backdrop.  That was the initial premise behind Melrose Place's self-contained episodes featuring the cast renting in adjacent apartments.  Like its parent show, Melrose Place tied in musical acts in the flashy openings, becoming a desirable launch ground for musicians.  The ratings never crackled the first season until Heather Locklear guest-starred as Amanda Woodward in the first season (and never lost that narcissistic billing in the opening intro).  Suddenly, the plots became saucier, more serialized and outrageous.  Melrose Place ignited into a mid-90's firestorm, even helping FOX colonize Monday evenings.  The series blew the shark up in the Season 3 cliffhanger as unhinged Dr. Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross) imploded the building.  MP continued strong in the next season, but dropped off after nearly every tenant in the building had slept with each other.  As frequent cast changes and shallow plotting continued, FOX pulled the plug after 7 seasons.  That is, however, a success story as the series outlived the average series. 

The Second Spinoff 
Models, Inc. (1994-95) 

Saucy, sordid scheming in the modeling world?  A return to the primetime soap world for Linda Grey?  How did this series not succeed?  This Melrose Place spinoff, designed as a companion as FOX moved MP to Mondays in the fall of 1994, received some decent establishment on a (then) grounded Melrose Place.  Amanda Woodward's (Locklear) estranged mother, Hillary Michaels (Grey) makes an attempt to reconnect with her daughter and is shut out.  Also present was aspiring model Sarah Owens (Cassidy Rae), whom Jo Reynolds (Daphne Zuniga) takes under her wing during a photography shoot.  The series launched with a trite whodunit with haughty model Teri Spencer (Stephanie Romanov) being offed early on.  After the mystery resolves, Romanov emerged as a lookalike named Monique Duran.  Soapy?  The ratings never caught on, with the series finishing 113th Place with a 7.1 for the season.  FOX fired the series and ordered in a newer, younger television show to squat on their schedule. 

The Third Spinoff 
90210 (2008-13) 

8 years after the original series ended, CW revived the premise (and was perhaps the culprit in the 2010's trend of reboots and resurrections).  Following the younger connections from the original series, Erin Silver (who simply called herself "Silver"), the younger sister of Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth) and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) held the same trivial drama her siblings did years earlier while attending high school, including an addict mother.  Retooling the original premise, the Wilson family, comprised of husband Harry (Robe Estes, from Melrose Place fame) and his wife Debbie (Lori Loughlin) relocate their teenagers, Annie (Sanae Grimes) and adopted Dixon (Tristan Wilds) from Kansas to California.  The teen drama drew in plenty of viewers, but the greatest headliners were cameos from original stars Jennie Garth, Shannen Doherty, Tori Spelling and Ann Gillespie.  The series performed modestly for CW, with its first season being its strongest with a 1.4 demographic average. 

The Fourth Spinoff 
Melrose Place (2009-10) 

If ripping off an old show worked well the last season, why not do it again!?  That seemed to be the rationale CW had when they continued on Melrose Place 10 years after the original ended.  While it received favorable reviews for toning down the vapid, shallow plots, criticisms arose for toning the original series' vets into vile shells of their former glory.  MP 2.0 started the series with a whodunit (because it worked so well for Models, Inc 15 years earlier?) by murdering Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton).  Wait, didn't Sydney die in 1997?  That's what everyone thought, as this plot twist was as pointless as bringing back a former veteran, just to insultingly kill her again.  Jane (Josie Bissett) and Jo (Daphne Zuniga) were rewritten as unlikeable opportunists.  Michael (Thomas Calabro) regained some of his composure from the silly antics of the series' end, yet came across as weakened in this reboot.  Same goes for Heather Locklear's Amanda, whom apparently menopause had affected negatively as she lost her bite.  After one dismal season, Melrose Place scored a 0.7 season average in 138th Place, guaranteeing a ticket to eviction. 

The Fifth Spinoff 
BH90210 (2019)

Seeing a golden opportunity to reunite a landmark cast, FOX decided to relive the magic of the 90’s series with a summer revival.  A limited six-episode mocumentary style show featuring Gabrielle Carteris, Ian Ziering, Shannon Doherty, Jennie Garth, Jason Priestly, Brian Austin Green and Tori Spelling all playing fictionalized versions of themselves.  Bordering on fictious and inspired by the actors’ post-90210 advendures, some authenticity came about.  Spelling played a broke actor with multiple children, Green a stay at home dad, Ziering an entrepreneur, and Doherty a not-so-bitchy lone wolf whose pet cause is animals.  Where perhaps the fiction came about was Priestly being a player and Carteris questioning her sexuality.  Where the series gained praise was infusions of comedy and mock-reality TV.  But even ppunchy lines like Garth saying "[Tori's not normal.  Expecting her to function in the real world would be like letting a zoo animal out into the wild]" couldn't save this gimmicked revival.  A fun reunion in the first episode registering a massive 1.5 demo, it chased off 60% of its fans inside 5 episodes after being pummeled to a 0.6.  Always designated as a limited series with a potential for additional season, BH90210 was discontinued as the revival fad clearly died down. 


Crossovers and tie-ins were done sparingly amongst these series.  A handful of 90210 regulars crossed over to MP's first two episodes as Kelly (Garth) and Jake (Grant Show) broke off their fling.  Beyond that, the crossover action happened between the original shows and their continuations.  Between 2008-10, several alumni from original series Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place dropped into their continuations.  Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling and Shannon Doherty played integral roles in 90210, with Garth being a primary billed cast member.  Melrose Place did the same with Thomas Calabro, as well as spritzings of Melrose ladies Heather Locklear, Josie Bissett, Laura Leighton and Daphne Zuniga.

Why Most of These Franchises Worked 

What made Melrose Place and (Continuation) 90210 more successful than Models, Inc., BH 90210 and (Continuation) Melrose Place?  The common denominator is character development, which the winners invested in to hook viewers.  Melrose Place was often viewed as sensationalist and vapid, yet the first two seasons invested heavily in developing a likeable cast the viewers could watch behave badly.  As did 90210, which fleshed out a realistic portrait of teens in the 2000's and perked interest as original cast member Jennie Garth held relevant stories as a grown-up Kelly.  Melrose Place in 2009, however, lacked the heart the original had during its run.  Both Models Inc and Melrose 2009 sought to launch their premises with a "shocking" murder early out of the gate.  A bad idea, as viewers have little to no reason to be shocked to a senseless murder.  And BH 90210 was a fun reunion like running into old classmates for a meal, but little was left to talk about as the actors have all remained in the spotlight years after their series ended. Regardless, the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise is one of the most successful to date with 24 stacked seasons of programming. 

To check out how Beverly Hills, 90210 and its 5 spinoff performed in the ratings, check out TVRG's Ratings Library as the site has the complete ratings History from 1950-present, capturing the years these spinoffs dotted the charts from 1990-2000 and 2008-13.

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