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While there are changes afoot in the swanky zip code of "90210" as the cast is now out of high school and college-bound, there have been major alterations behind the scenes as new showrunners Patti Carr and Lara Olsen ("Life Unexpected") have taken over the show's fourth season, which is set to premiere tonight on The CW. Our Jim Halterman rang up the duo last week to talk the new challenges (and freedoms) of the cast no longer having their parents to fall back on and, more specifically, will Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) make more enemies than friends at California University? Was that an engagement ring Liam (Matt Lanter) offered to Annie (Shenae Grimes) in the promo for the season opener? And can bad girl Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) ever redeem herself? Brace yourself because for our "90210"-ers, it's going to be a bumpy ride!
Jim Halterman: How daunting of a task was it to take the reigns of the show?
Lara Olsen: It wasn't that daunting because we thought the show was in really good shape. The biggest challenge was knowing that the kids were going to graduate from high school and go to college so we had to figure out how to make that transition smoothly without losing the sense of this group and without seeming like college was just the new Beverly High.
Patti Carr: It was actually a great creative opportunity because you get to take over something that, like Lara said, is working and add to it and do something different as opposed to, 'Oh, now it's the senior year of high school but they've done every high school story and we have to make it seem fresh.' So it actually worked out really well. It's a really good time for a little new direction in the show.
JH: This is the fourth season of the show and you're the third set of showrunners to come in. Does that add additional pressure to doing your job?
LO: [Laughs.] No, but we're don't tend to pay attention to any of that. We're pretty mellow.
JH: Even though the high school years hit on a lot of adult problems, is there a lot more you can get into now that they're in college?
LO: Yes! Our purpose this year include the transition from high school when you're still a kid and your parents are still around so you have that safety net. When you go off to college, it's about becoming an adult and finding out who you are and also redefining what you think you do versus what you actually do.
PC: And I think we really represent the idea with the sets this year. We had to get rid of practically all of our sets and create their new world. Our approach to that was that these kids had existed in their parents' world - the beach club they hung out at was their parents' club and the houses were their parents' houses and now that they are off at college and all the parents are gone; they're creating their own world.
JH: The fact that we are losing some of the adults like Lori Loughlin and Ryan Eggold... will they still pop up once in awhile or are they off the map altogether?
LO: For now, they're off the map but we have no idea what will happen in the future. These kids have to exist on their own without that safety net.
JH: Let's talk about some of the storylines coming up. The girls on the show all had their cliffhangers. Where do we find them in the season premiere?
PC: For Naomi, she is coming off a pretty good cliffhanger between her and Max and the repercussions of that send her forward in this season. She's going to CU and that's something that she's always wanted to do and she really wants to launch herself there in a big way and kind of immediately gets involved making friends and enemies at CU, which we've been having a lot of fun with.
LO: And Annie from last season was headed off to Carnegie Mellon and something unexpected happens to her so that makes her have to rethink her plan and if she's going to be able to do that. We have a really great storyline coming up for her.
PC: It might be the one that hasn't leaked yet so we're not going to talk about it!
JH: I did see in the preview that Liam gives her a ring! What's up with that?
PC: That's a big part of episode one, which was a lot of fun and something that I think is really fun to watch. I can watch those scenes over and over. For all the characters, episode one, they've all got plans. The summer is over and they're all ready to move on with their lives and every single one of them see their plans go horribly awry! They all kind of get into new situations and overall we look at every one of the characters and think 'What does this character think they would never do or have happen to them and how can we get them in that situation?' Also, Silver (Jessica Stroup) and Navid (Michael Steger) were looking forward to a relationship and getting rid of Adrianna and moving on together and that doesn't work out. We do have Adrianna back and she's really on the outs with everyone, especially Silver, so it's going to be a long road.
JH: I think Adrianna is just misunderstood. Changing Silver's bi-polar meds so she flips out is not that big of a deal, right?
LO: [Laughs.] People make mistakes!
JH: Can we expect Adrianna to be the bad girl that we all love to hate?
PC: Adrianna is really going to be trying to redeem herself and what's interesting for us is to take someone who has done so many bad things and, like we said, I don't think any of the bad things she did were intentionally bad. Some of them were emotional and misguided but I think taking a character like that who has really hit a rock bottom and saying 'Look, how can you redeem yourself? What would you have to do?' We've been enjoying seeing her in a different light but also seeing her struggle.
JH: OK, so that covers the girls. What are the guys up to?
LO: What aren't they up to [Laughs.] We know Liam went away at the end of last season on a boat and we come back in the first episode and find out what he's done and you saw the previews with the ring. You'll find out what that's about in the first episode. He also does some things completely unexpected even to himself in the premiere, which we think will launch him into a situation that is very interesting.
PC: I think we can say that he winds up buying a bar, which becomes one of our sets but that is just a portion of his journey. Really, we feel like Liam's character has spent a lot of time running away from things and he's come back really determined not to do that anymore and find out who he is and build a life for himself. We get to see him do that and see him do some things that Liam never wanted to do but has to do in order to build a future for himself.
LO: Dixon also expected to go to Pepperdine and then something happens in the premiere where that doesn't work out and he ends up becoming roommates with one of our new characters that we're introducing in the premiere named Austin (Justin Deeley), who is a cowboy type. He comes from money but a very different kind of money than these Beverly Hills kids. We wanted to mix things up.
JH: You also have a new character in Holly (Megalyn Echikunwoke), who comes in as an adversary for Naomi, right?
LO: Yes. Holly is one of the people that Naomi inadvertently pisses off in episode one and has to deal with in many subsequent episodes. She's a rival. Naomi was the Queen Bee in high school but when you go to college it's full of Queen Bees and suddenly you're in a hive. It can be a difficult situation to navigate with all these alpha girls so that becomes one of the difficulties for Naomi
PC: Then we have Navid, who is sort of in the same place as Silver. He was looking forward to an easy, stress free relationship and pretty immediately in the premiere something comes in that changes that plan. He continues to deal with problems that he thought he had put to rest with his family.
JH: DVR ratings are becoming such a big deal as we're all watching television in different ways. How important are DVR ratings now in a show's future?
PC: I hope they're being considered by the network. I know they've had a hard time determining what those numbers are and monetizing them, which is what works for them, but, absolutely, a large part of the audience, myself included, is not watching TV at the time that it's broadcast. You either watch it on the DVR or on the Internet.
LO: I think the reason for that is people are busy and for a show like '90210' there is a group enjoyment factor to watching the show so you can record it on the DVR and watch it together on the weekend with your friends.
PC: I also think that, for us creatively, it means that our episodes have to be destinations. People have to want to watch it because they don't want to flip through the channels. It has to be something they can schedule their time for and say 'Oh, I have an episode of '90210' that I want to watch.' It does make you focus a little bit more on making every episode count and you can't just wait for through traffic to have people just wander in and watch. You have to give them a reason to watch every episode. Hopefully they'll read about it on Futon Critic! [Laughs.]
Season four of "90210" premieres tonight in its regular Tuesday timeslot of 8:00/7:00c on The CW.