‘Beverly Hills 90210’ Success Revolved Around 1 Key Strategy Other Shows Weren’t Doing at the Time
A good TV show needs a little luck and a lot of planning to go the distance. Tight writing helps but there’s more to it than that. In the 1990s, Beverly Hills 90210 left audiences wanting more at the end of every episode. It turns out, the show’s strategy had something to do with that.
Darren Star created a few ever-lasting TV shows after ‘Beverly Hills 90210’
As one of the powerhouses in Hollywood, Star is behind many successful TV shows throughout the years. For starters, 90210 launched in 1990 and lasted until 2000 with almost 300 episodes.
Two years after the BH crew hit the airwaves, Star went on to create Melrose Place where he cast fellow UCLA student, Daphne Zuniga. Add in Sex and the City, Younger, and both 90210 and BH90210 reboots, and it’s clear why Star has the staying power.
The original 90210, which was originally called Class of Beverly Hills, was loosely based on Star’s Potomac, Maryland high school experiences. Before Class of Beverly Hills, Star titled the project Potomac 20854.
“I think if you look at Beverly Hills 90210, Beverly Hills is a fantasy, but the experiences of those characters were real,” Star told Vulture. “That’s why the show lasted for 300 episodes. Because people cared about the characters.”
The show became a cult classic, but it didn’t start off that way. The debut bombed at first — until Star figured out a new formula for the teen drama series.
The ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ formula in a nutshell
Once ratings gave Star a barometer to measure against, he and the teams created a strategic plan to put 90210 on the map. The season 1 finale featured Brenda (Shannen Doherty) and Dylan’s (Luke Perry) “first time,” the show didn’t follow the usual path of taking hiatus until the fall.
Instead, Fox ordered new episodes for the summer, which is typically an season for primetime TV.
“We filmed all of our risqué summer episodes at the beach and aired those at the time when the other shows were in reruns,” star Jennie Garth said in a 2008 New York Times interview. “So we caught a huge teen audience, kids that were home from school. And then it just went crazy.”
That move put the show well ahead of the rest by the time the fall lineup came around. In Garth’s memoir, Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde, she wrote (per E! News), “in just a matter of weeks, we went from being just another generic ensemble cast of any old prime-time drama to being…superstars. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the stardom that was thrust upon us in this way.”
She continued: “Thank God we had one another, because we were able to protect each other from the harm this kind of sudden fame can bring with it by staying close and huddling up and focusing on getting the job done…And it bonded us for life.”
A little off-set drama didn’t hurt the ratings
You can’t look back at a hit show like 90210 without referencing some of the controversial happenings behind the cameras. As fans know, Doherty didn’t exactly get along with all of her castmates.
“Her lateness was appalling, and she had a callous attitude and an indifference,” former executive producer Charles Rosin told Entertainment Weekly. Producer Aaron Spelling added, “It wasn’t like she ruined the show or anything. It just upset the cast members tremendously.”
The on-screen rivalry between Doherty and Garth’s characters didn’t compare to what happened behind the scenes.
“I don’t know why it is, but there is a universal truth that when you put three teenage girls together, some serious s**t is going to go down,” Garth wrote in the same memoir, “even if it meant sounding like a complete and utter b***h.”
She continued: “Poor Tori [Spelling], the youngest of the three of us was, inevitably, often caught in the middle and she was always trying to smooth things over, trying to get Shan and me off each other’s backs and get along, but her efforts usually failed.”
Fistfights nearly ensued between Doherty and Garth, if not for the male costars breaking things up, and Doherty made her unhappiness on the job obvious. In the middle of filming the season 4 finale, Doherty cut her hair, leaving writers to scramble.
All of that to only led to higher ratings, cementing 90210 in TV history forevermore.