When the reboot of "90210" premiered last year on The CW, fans of the original "Beverly Hills 90210" were naturally skeptical that the high school drama would carry the same cred that the Aaron Spelling prime time soap had during its successful 10-year run on FOX. While the first season boasted strong ratings for the CW as well as on-screen drama for original series stars Jennie Garth, Shannen Doherty and Tori Spelling, there was apparently enough drama happening off-screen to warrant replacing the original showrunners with Rebecca Sinclair ("Gilmore Girls") towards the end of last season. Now comfortably in the driver's seat, Sinclair recently talked to Jim Halterman about how she went about revamping the show, the new characters brought in to stir the pot and which of the original West Beverly cast members will be popping up once again in future episodes.
Jim Halterman: In taking over the showrunning duties, what worked and didn't work for you during the first year?
Rebecca Sinclair: When I came in at the tail end of last year I was running the writers' room but I wasn't in charge of the sets or the edits. I had a limited point of view and I was pretty hesitant when I took over the show because I felt like it needed a pretty big overhaul. It wasn't until I was assured that I would have that creative control that basically I hired an all new writing staff, a new producing director, a new DP, I built new sets and I hired new wardrobe so from the production standpoint I did a real overhaul. Storywise the weird thing about the first season of "90210" was the original showrunners were so slammed immediately that they kind of got underwater immediately and the characters had never been fully developed. The first thing that we really did was to talk about who the characters were before we started breaking story arcs. Who is Adriana (played by Jessica Lowndes)? What is she all about? We kind of reconciled all the facts from her life and had them resonate as a real character and we did that for each of the characters. I think that was the most essential thing other than all the style stuff, which was huge too. I think just taking the time to really figure out who the characters and the story arcs are so we know where we're going, which I think is invaluable in your writing.
JH: Do you feel that the ghost of the original series is still with you and the show?
RS: Last year, I definitely felt like we were being haunted by a ghost but I feel a more healthy resonance because I think what really was appealing about the original series is that the characters were identifiable or you could identify with them and empathize with them and there was this sort of wackiness that the show took to heart and that's I guess what I wanted to do. If we're going to do a modern "90210" it's not so much about a literal nod to the mythology of the old show but rather a more spiritual connection. The spirit of the show is more similar to the old show or at least to what I understand. I feel less haunted this year but I hope that, like the original show, it will be a show that teenagers will respond to and it resonates with the times and what it feels like to be young. I'd like it to be more like the old show in a general sense but not so much going back in time.
JH: Can you talk about the new characters that you brought in to mix things up a bit with the group?
RS: I had two contrary impulses and one was to show the real friendship between the kids because I felt like there hadn't been a clear description of who was friends with whom and what was the sort-of alliances so I wanted to show that first and build the bonds between Silver (Jessica Stroup) and Adrianna and Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) and create a sense of a group there and Annie (Shenae Grimes) beyond that. And the guys, I really wanted to build a friendship with them which I felt wouldn't be purely antagonistic but healthy trouble. For me, Jen (Sara Foster) is fascinating. She is every bad impulse that I've ever had. I feel like she's a dark side of myself that I don't share with other people. She's totally manipulative and completely self-centered and almost sociopathic but charming and sort of elegant about it and I think that's a pleasure to watch. The arc with her will be the slow evolution of the humanity of Jen. Teddy (Trevor Donovan)... he's not bad, he's just trouble. He's a ladies' man, a charmer, a playboy, a scamp and he's trouble for the girls.
JH: How did Rumer Willis come to the show as Gia?
RS: We wrote the character first, Rumer auditioned and she was fantastic and she had a kind of eccentricity, which I really liked. Her hair is great and her glasses are cute. We kind of wanted to integrate that character for a while and her story will pick up around episode 12 or 13 and that's when she starts getting main storylines. In the earlier part, she's at the Blaze and she's part of the world of West Beverly until she becomes more of a focus later on. We also have a new girl coming in at episode seen, Ivy (Gillian Zinser), who is a surfer girl and she's a less girly girl who will be there, too. I adore her. She's gorgeous, blonde and she really is a tomboy.
JH: In the original "90210" and during the first season, it often seemed that the adult characters were often just plugged into stories to keep them busy. Are they difficult to integrate into the teen landscape effectively?
RS: I think my basic philosophy is not to service them just to service them but to give them real storylines and ground their characters with real problems and real issues so when we go to them I don't really want them to be the parents who arrive to dispense metaphorical wisdom and sort of annoying anecdotes about their past. Basically I just want them to be more real and to have more interesting stuff for themselves. Rob [Estes] is hilarious, actually, and there's some stuff coming up that is so funny. He's kind of a hilarious team with Ryan, actually, and seeing them together is great. And Lori [Loughlin] plays some fantastic dramatic stuff so we have some real dramatic storylines with her.
JH: And from what I've seen, you seem to be dirtying up the characters who were just too nice last year. For example, goody two shoes Annie is drinking, having sex and seems kind of lost. What are your plans with her? Is there an alcoholic storyline brewing?
RS: Well, she's not going to be a drinker but she's definitely going into a darker place but we're not telling an alcoholic storyline. Originally, it was more the way her insecurities and alienation manifest and lead her to more of a place of promiscuity. I'm interested in the reality of how teenage girls, particularly, can use sex and their sexuality to not feel so alone so that's where that's going more than the drinking, which is more of something that facilitates promiscuity.
JH: And I know the readers will want to know who of the original "Beverly Hills 90210" cast will return in the second season?
RS: Jennie Garth (Kelly) and Tori Spelling (Donna) will be back sometime; I'm not sure which episode and that's all I know for now. And Ann Gillespie (who plays Kelly's mother, Jackie Taylor), too.
JH: We all love our boozy Jackie Taylor!
RS: She's back and for old fans there will be some big problems between Kelly and her mother that will be some good stuff.
The new season of "90210" airs every Tuesday night at 8:00/7:00c on The CW.