Maybe it was only a matter of time.
Nostalgic content is having its moment, as programmers chase ratings and attempt to create conversations around their fare in new and relevant ways. Given the sheer number of reboots and revivals proliferating schedules, reinventing “Beverly Hills, 90210,” which was still averaging eight million viewers an episode when it went off the air following a 10-season run in 2000, seemed inevitable.
But how do you reinvent a series that ran for a decade and spawned a five-season reboot in 2008, while reuniting the original cast and telling a fresh and relevant story nearly 30 years following the original premiere?
“So much of what happens in the show is inspired by what was happening in the cast’s real lives,” says co-showrunner Mike Chessler. “They had all reconnected at a convention and some of them hadn’t seen each other for a long time. And the experience of all being together at this convention and seeing how the fans loved seeing them together — and more than that seeing how they really enjoyed being together — made them think maybe it was time.”
The meta revival sees the original cast of “Beverly Hills, 90210” reunite at an event in Las Vegas, Nev. The actors all portray heightened versions of themselves, who comment on the successes but also the challenges of life post-young adult stardom. And in another piece of art imitating life, Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth decide to spearhead a return to the show, within the show. (The actresses were the driving force behind “BH90210,” too, and are billed as executive producers, as is Shannen Doherty.)
In real life, according to Chessler, the pitch won over their former castmates, who had initially expressed reservations about stepping back into their characters but liked the idea of being self-deprecating about their respective levels of celebrity. That angle was also the one that won over Fox.
They went to the network with the idea in December 2018, and are going to air with the six-episode run eight months later following a whirlwind two-month production schedule in Vancouver.
“We didn’t really have time to think about that pressure,” says co-showrunner Chris Alberghini of the quick turnaround and original fanbase. “I would say it was good because we had to just do it.”
Adds Chessler: “The timeline did not give us a lot of time to worry about things that we can’t control. In terms of the fans and the legacy of the show, all of our cast members are so vigilant about that. They’re all very protective of their fans and the fan base from the legacy of the show. It’s been helpful not having to feel like it’s all on us. It really has been a team effort.”
The duo adds that having the cast relocate to Canada for several weeks while filming helped to create a “summer camp” environment which speaks to the show’s larger themes of the passage of time and what that can mean for friendships. The hope is that those themes will also appeal to younger viewers who didn’t watch the original series when it went off the air 19 years ago.
“It’s less about the show being meta or the mechanics of a reboot and more about the universal thing of what happens when you are suddenly reconnected with a lot of old, very close friends from your past that you’ve maybe fallen out of touch with or that you had a different kind of relationship with than you do now,” says Alberghini as a forklift with a palm tree cruises across the Vancouver lot.
“Anyone that’s ever been to a high school reunion and lived through looking at their former classmates through a different lens and through the lens of what their lives have each become can relate.”
On set, the series was very much akin to a high school reunion not just for the main cast, but for the slew of actors and guest stars too. Chessler and Alberghini note there are small moments of tribute to Luke Perry, who suffered a surprising stroke and died within a week of the revival being announced.
“That obviously had a huge impact on all of the cast because they all just revered him and loved him and people only said the most wonderful things about him, and it was a very big challenge for us in how to address it, Chessler says.
While the show plays in a heightened tone, it does not shy away from emotional moments, and the fact that Perry is not with the rest of the group is one of them. “We knew we could not ignore it,” he continues. “So we are addressing it in a way, and we acknowledge it in a way, that we hope is respectful and poignant. And so far the people that have seen it think or feel that we’ve done a good job. And I know the cast members who all have very strong opinions and were very worried about it, they all feel that it does it in a way that is both honors him respectfully and in good taste.”
The new series also comments on the state of the inclusion in the industry and tackles a touch of stunt casting as it returns to some familiar faces. “What we found when we were casting the show is that almost every actor of a certain age — in their 30s, 40s and 50s — was on the show at one point. It’s pretty amazing that so many people had their first job on the show,” says Chessler.
Writer and producer Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) travelled to set to work for a day as an extra because when he first came to Los Angeles in 1993 he had played a student on the series, and he simply wanted to revisit the world. Meanwhile, Christine Elise, who played Emily Valentine on the original, is back in a recurring role, and Denise Richards — who appeared on both the original Fox series and on the CW reboot — is in the last of the six episodes in an undisclosed part.
“There were instances of actors having played a character, and we wondered if it would be weird to pitch them on our show as a fictional character we created. And then we also had conversations about other people who were on the show playing themselves on the series and that does happen as well. There’s going to be some really fun original cast members playing versions of themselves.”
It certainly sounds very 9021-oh-so meta!
“BH90210” premieres Wednesday, Aug. 7 on Fox.