Whoa, boy. This is a big one. You know that name that pops up on the last frame of every episode; the name we dread because it means the episode is over? Yep. That guy. Charles Rosin, the Executive Producer of Beverly Hills, 90210 Seasons 1-5. Not only did he write and produce one of my favorite shows, but he also cast Luke Perry. Now that’s quite the man.
Charles Rosin, Executive Producer & Writer of Beverly Hills, 90210
Charles was kind enough to talk shop about working on Beverly Hills, 90210. Read all about it here:
LeeAnn: Can you tell me about your day-to-day activities working on Beverly Hills, 90210 and how it came about?
Charles: I had never run a show before. Beverly Hills, 90210 was my first time as an Executive Producer having fiscal responsibilities, hiring directors, casting, etc. It was a “learn while you earn” process.
I was working for Northern Exposure when I was asked to write and produce The Class of Beverly Hills, as it was then called. Truthfully, no established showrunner wanted to be involved. You have to remember that at the time there were three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. FOX Broadcasting had only 2-3 nights of programming and considered themselves more of a “Broadcast Service”. And to make matters worse, 1990 saw five, count ‘em, five high school shows on the fall schedule; all of which had a better chance of survival than us. There was Ferris Bueller, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Hull High which was a precursor to High School Musical and us.
The pilot was written by Darren Star who had one movie credit at the time, but quickly developed the knack for clever/purposeful/teenage banter. It was directed by Tim Hunter, who was known for edgy stuff. It was produced by a very hip commercial production company called Propaganda. It was 2 hours long and kind of dragged, with music videos and a tone of alienation that didn’t reflect the upscale soap opera/ titillating escapist entertainment sensibilities of the legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling, aka Tori’s Dad. Known for such classic shows like Dynasty and Love Boat on ABC back when it was known as “Aaron’s BroadCasting Network. But that was in the 70s and 80s, and when the pilot went into production in February/March 1990, Mr. Spelling had no shows on the air.
When I first watched the pilot I fell asleep, mostly because I was exhausted from long days on Northern Exposure, but also because the pilot needed a lot of work and wasn’t as fresh as Northern. Even though I initially passed, Aaron Spelling asked to meet and I wasn’t going to pass up a meeting with a legend.
The legendary Aaron Spelling
Aaron knew TV and had cut 30 minutes of the pilot by the time we met in his absurdly big office. Aaron said he wanted to create a show for his daughter’s generation about issues that teenagers face, and felt that with my background in social drama and movies for television, we could deliver a show vastly different than the other teen shows. And he was offering me vastly more per week than what I had ever made before. With two young kids and a wife to look after I jumped on. It was a huge opportunity, and I figured my goal was to get through the first 12 episodes without being fired, so some desperate studio/network would hire me again. Besides, no one assumed that this show was going to become the cultural phenomenon it has or even make it through the first year. Critics thought it was going to be the first show cancelled of the new fall shows.
The budget was small, it had the lowest license fee in prime time. We had to pull out the bells and whistles, couldn’t afford them. We couldn’t go from location to location so a lot was filmed in the same areas, either the high school or outside of the Walsh house. There was no margin for error.
In the beginning, no one was watching. There were a few early episodes, Green Room and the shoplifting one where the characters had trouble finding themselves. We battled having a serializing show versus a stand-alone show. We would write an episode for Brandon and then an episode for Brenda and introduce new characters.
The Walsh Twins: Brandon & Brenda played by Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty
We were greenlit on July 3rd and had 2 ½ weeks to put all the stories together because we were given an October air date. I would pitch the network the stories. FOX was not the easiest company to work for. We battled over every episode. We didn’t feel it was groundbreaking or fresh. We would go around and around until the next episode. There was a miscommunication where FOX said “Let’s go on” and I took that as an approval when they hadn’t actually approved it. We continued to shoot the episodes we wrote based on the accidental approval.
The show gained viewers because the Gulf War broke out. All networks suspended advertising and only aired the news. FOX suspended advertising, but didn’t have a news department at the time so they ran new episodes. As luck would have it some of our best episodes ran on during that time for 2 ½ weeks. We increased 750,000 viewers in a week and were no longer in the bottom 5. The first season caught on with social issues shown in the Slumber Party episode and “Isn’t It Romantic?” (which was written by Charles’ wife, Karen Rosin) with AIDS. There was a 400-pound gorilla in the room, Aaron Spelling and he wasn’t sure that we could talk about it on a teenage show, but we were dealing with sexuality in a way other shows wouldn’t. When the Spring Dance episode aired, we didn’t know that we would be doing summer episodes, but wanted a cliffhanger and the best one we came up with was Brenda worrying that she was “late.” At the time, Darren was in his 20s and I was in my 30s, but I remembered one of my classmates having to tell her dad that she was sexually active and that was the inspiration.
Critics started listening at this point. People would turn on the TV and saw Brenda was having sex. Some people flipped out thinking she was moving too fast. It was another way to talk about sexuality and the importance of condoms.
LeeAnn: On the Lifetime movie, they implied that Shannen Doherty thought Brenda was moving too fast.
Charles: There is no truth in the Lifetime movie. It was never run past me. Shannen told us that she thought the writing (on Beverly Hills, 90210, not the Lifetime movie) was ahead of its time. She was great with the script. We would give her a line and she would memorize it quickly and never improvised. The biggest critic of the script was Luke Perry. He wanted changes. We would meet halfway and shoot it our way and his way. Nobody cared more than Luke.
Luke Perry as Dylan McKay
The show was often the brunt of jokes, that there wasn’t enough diversity. In the early seasons, we would racially compensate with Mrs. Teasley, Henry from The Beach Club, the basketball team. Early on, the show was culturally behind the 8 ball. It wasn’t considered a “cool” show.
LeeAnn: Can we talk about Donna’s virginity and why it lasted so long?
Charles: It was important to have Donna stay a virgin on the show, not only for Aaron Spelling, but virgins weren’t on TV. It was worked into the storylines. We were writing 32 episodes a season, form follows function.
LeeAnn: I heard that they were Juniors twice on the show to capitalize on the cast being in high school.
Charles: I’ve come clean about this one before. The show was originally supposed to have Brenda and Brandon start out as Sophomores, but Jason Priestley said he couldn’t pass as a Sophomore, so we made them Juniors. We weren’t expecting the show to go past the first season.
LeeAnn: A lot of viewers want to know about the love triangle between Brenda, Kelly and Dylan. Who do you think was meant to be together?
The best love triangle there ever was: Kelly, Brenda and Dylan
Charles: The writers wanted Brenda and Dylan to get back together, but the sexiest scene on the show is Dylan and Kelly in the pool on The Bel Age Hotel. (All together now, readers: “You’re in trouble now”). Conversely, Kelly didn’t know how to comfort Dylan after his father was blown up. Dylan was fighting those inner demons and would turn back to Brenda for comfort. The love triangle was based on my high school friends. The character of Brandon was based on me being a straight arrow.
We saw the conflicts on set with Shannen, she had a lot going on supporting her family. When we wrote Brenda going to school in Minnesota, it was also a question of if the actor wanted to be there. Shannen wasn’t happy that Kelly and Dylan were the couple being shown.
Actors did have a say in plotlines. At the end of each season, I would invite the cast in to talk about what they liked and didn’t like. Luke wanted Dylan to be darker and Brian incorporated his music into David’s character.
Brian Austin Green as David Silver. Be, be, be my love. Ooohh.
LeeAnn: Were there any plotlines that almost didn’t happen?
Charles: The homeless veteran was originally seen as too dark and didn’t happen until season 3 because of that.
LeeAnn: Were there any plotlines that were supposed to happen?
Charles: There was a Nurse on the episode of the “Dreams of Dylan McKay” who was supposed to really understand what Dylan was going through. They were set to have an affair that was going to last 6-8 episodes, but the actress who played the Nurse ended up phoning it in the performance. She did great during the audition, but fell flat on set. She acted herself out of a recurring part.
Kristen Dalton as Jamie Young on the Dreams of Dylan McKay episode
LeeAnn: Besides Brenda, who were some of your favorite characters to write for?
Charles: Val, it was fun to write for the bad girl especially with the sweetheart Tiffani Thiessen playing her.
LeeAnn: One major thing I wanted to talk about was the original music. Is there a chance that the series will be re-released with the original music? When I see Brenda reeling from her breakup with Dylan, I want to hear R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” not a generic song that sounds like it.
Charles: As of now, no. The owners of Beverly Hills, 90210, CBS, need to be convinced that people will pay to watch the series with the original music. I would love to focus on having the high school episodes reissued with the original music, but there is a doubt among the suits at CBS.
Music makes the show. There would be no longevity without it. It will be the 30-year anniversary in 2020. A show won’t last this long unless there’s something at the core to keep fans.
LeeAnn: How can fans help to get the show reissued with the original music?
Charles: CBS needs to hear that there is a demand for this. I would encourage fans to write letters or emails.
LeeAnn: I was watching an episode of Dawson’s Creek that you wrote and they didn’t even play the original theme song by Paula Cole. That show is known for that song.
Charles: It’s a shame that people can’t watch the show the way it was intended. We signed contracts for music before things like streaming ever existed and now the rights to the music are too expensive to have the original music on them.
I watched some of the Beverly Hills DVDs and joked that without the original music, the Peach Pit has the lamest jukebox in all of America.
LeeAnn: I read in the David Lee Roth book, “Crazy from the Heat,” that his song “Just Like Paradise” was considered for the Beverly Hills, 90210 theme song. That would have changed everyone’s lives.
Charles: That might have been considered for the pilot, but wasn’t considered for the whole show. At one point, we talked about the B-52’s “Roam” as the theme song.
LeeAnn: How would you have written the series finale?
Charles: I think the show should have ended when they finished college. I would have written the series finale as a reunion with everyone including Brenda and the parents.
LeeAnn: Is there anything that you would like to say to the fans?
Charles: It really means a lot that people still care about the show and original music to pass it along for generations to come.
I can't thank Charles enough for chatting with me. It was such an honor for this 9-oh fan to talk shop with the Executive Producer who formed so many of my childhood memories watching the gang in the halls of West Bev. If you want the series re-released with the original music, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can collect the letters/emails to pass along to Charles to give to CBS. Thanks for reading!