Thousands of pubescent mall rats are affecting Brenda's sultry bangs and Dylan's killer squint, the one that seems to say: "I'm cool, wusspuss, and that's how I made it with Brenda." They're snapping up the official stuff, too: the "Beverly Hills, 90210" cosmetics and boxer shorts and sleepwear and autographed caps and fanzines and, at last count, nine quickie paperbacks. (The quickest: "LukeMania! Jason-Fever!" which was cranked out in exactly six days.) The Fox network's hit show about high-school angst El Lay style has also inspired a line of fashion dolls, zit-free if not quite anatomically correct. And beginning later this year, "90210"will beget the ultimate knockoff, which is, of course, a spinoff. Maybe three of them, in fact.
Fox's "Melrose Place" shapes up as a sort of twentysomething "90210," which was originally envisioned as a teensomething "thirtysomething." "Teenagers are dying to know what life is like for people in their 20s," says "Melrose Place" creator Darren Star, who also hatched "90210." "They want to know what it's like when you're really on your own." The spinoff follows a group of post-collegians residing in a trendy Los Angeles apartment complex. There's an aerobics instructor, a medical resident and a couple of showbiz wanna-bes, but the main character-and Top Throb-is a construction worker named Jake Hanson (played by Grant Show of the late "Ryan's Hope").
To jump-start our pheromones, Jake will pop up on this season's last two episodes of "90210," where he'll fall for Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), West Bev High's breaker of hearts and other male body parts. Next fall, Kelly and her chums will occasionally hop in their BMWs and buzz over to "Melrose Place," creating the kind of cross-pollination that's traditionally helped spinoffs bloom. Nor is it inconceivable that Kelly will move in, thereby driving Jake's friends to go off and start their own spinoffs.
Lest Fox viewers suffer from an embarrassment of richies, the network is considering a blue-collar "90210" called "Too Young." Currently being readied by Steven Spielberg's production house, Amblin Entertainment, the series will focus on highschool students and dropouts in a Poconosstyle resort town. "All the kids in 'Too Young'work," says Carmen Culver, who is coproducing the pilot show. "One operates a boat dock, another's a hairdresser. Economic realities will be a very big concern." Hmmm, sounds a bit bummerish. What's that, Carmen? " There'll also be lots of rich kids running around the town," she continues. "Kind of an us-versus-them situation." Oh, you mean like the hairdresser refuses to do bangs like Brenda's?
No one plans to downscale the formula farther than former "MacGyver" producer Steve Downing. To explore what he calls "the flip side of'90210'," Downing, an ex-police officer, is conceiving a series about poor teens coming of age in a gang-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood. The stories will be drawn from the files of the Challenger Club for Boys and Girls, which provides L.A.'s inner-city youth with an alternative to the streets. Obviously, we're a long way from the Peach Pit. "These are kids who have real problems," says Downing. "They're not worrying about getting an allowance. They're worrying about making it home from school."
Actually, "90210" has been into so much Heavy Stuff of late-date rape, divorce, addiction, suicide-that once enraptured reviewers are starting to squirm. Remember when a major West Bev trauma meant a melted tube of lip gloss? Of course, to a 16-year-old that is traumatic, which helps explain this show's awesome hold on the young (along with the advertisers who court them). Under all those giggles and glitz, it's always taken its audience's problems, no matter how frivolous, seriously. In any case, Fox promises more of the same lots more. "We have become the prime-time viewing source for today's teenagers and young adults," says Fox vice president Sandy Goshow. "We have found success in '90210' and we will continue to mine that field."
Spoken like a guy who knows exactly how to squint.