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“90210” gets a passing grade, so far, from its target aud

90210annie

With the dawn of “90210,” we are off and running with the 2008-09 television season. It’s been noted a few million times in the past week or so in the preamble coverage that this campaign is a crucial one for the two-year-old CW, but in truth it’s a big one for the netlet’s older sibs as well.

The Big Four have a lot to prove this fall after the strikus interruptus of the ’07-’08 campaign. Let’s not forget that even when the major nets’ big scripted guns returned to the skeds in March and April, viewership was down precipitously for most shows. The biz is holding its collective breath in the hopes that auds will settle back into something like their normal routines as the cycle begins anew this month. Certainly, it is true that long-absent shows like ABC’s “Pushing Daisies” and “Dirty Sexy Money” and NBC’s “Life” and “Lipstick Jungle” are much closer to being newcomers for the vast majority of the aud than sophomore players at this pre-launch moment.

For the sake of Our Town, let’s hope that decent starts in the holiday-light viewing zone of Labor Day for CW’s “Gossip Girl,” Fox’s “Prison Break” and NBC’s “America’s Toughest Jobs” — not to mention TNT’s impressive perf with “Raising the Bar” — are good signs that people are at least paying attention again.

As for CW’s Big Test with “90210,” we’ll know in quantitative terms if America cared or not by the time the Nielsen overnights roll in early Wednesday. The early off-air reviews from critics (who were denied the usual lead time to formulate opinions by CW’s decision to hold back on screeners) have been mixed: Variety’s Laura Fries was not impressed; the AP’s Frazier Moore declared “It didn’t screw up!” 

Among the younger set that matters most to CW, “90210’s” first two hours seemed to generally get a passing grade, judging by the blogosphere chatter. (Here’s a representative sample from Television Without Pity.)

But for a show that’s all about nubile (skeletal for the girls) young things, there’s a delicious irony in the 90210jessica fact that thesp Jessica Walter (a fave of TV aficionados for her role on “Arrested Development”) seems to be garnering the most kind words of any of “90210’s” sprawling cast. Even the text-messaging/blog-worshiping crowd is raving about the comic relief Walter (pictured right) provides in her role as the boozy, over-the-hill actress and BevHills grandma to the recently-relocated-from-Kansas Wilson clan. That’s a casting coup “90210” godfather Aaron Spelling would have loved.

CW deserves a little credit for bravery for being the first into fall’s choppy waters with its big premiere — although the numerological appeal of launching “90210” on 9/02 played a big part in the skedding decision, as did the unpleasant memory of how CW’s preems got trampled last year by going head to head with the big-leaguers.

The parade of new series bows continues next Tuesday with the Sept. 9 two-hour opener of Fox’s biggest bet for the fall, “Fringe.”

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