A Post-Graduate Commentary
“Beverly Hills, 90210" is about as close a look at the real Beverly Hills High School as television allows, given the medium’s many constraints.
Not that the Fox series is officially trying to portray the school. It carries a disclaimer that the fictitious West Beverly Hills High “does not refer to any real school or other educational institution, faculty or students. The places and characters depicted herein are entirely fictitious, and any similarity to any real places or people is purely coincidental.”
But apparently not purely coincidental enough for some.
Before “Beverly Hills, 90210" premiered Oct. 4, 1990, Frank Fenton, a Beverly Hills school board member, read a statement: “The board will continue to scrutinize the series to make sure that trademark rights are not violated and to assure that the series does not damage the district and/or its students in any way.”
The dramatic series has found more acceptance among the high school’s students.
“Thursday night was ‘90210' night,” said Carly Eiseman, who graduated last month and will attend Brandeis University in the fall. “We’d have ‘90210' get-togethers. It’s probably the only (current) show that tries hard to portray teens.”
Still, she said, it did not receive unanimous support.
“I know people who don’t like the show because they think it’s morally wrong for us to support it because it makes fun of us,” Eiseman said.
“Kids at Beverly Hills High keep assuming that we are telling the story of Beverly Hills High,” said executive producer Charles Rosin, a 1970 Beverly Hills High graduate. "(Series creator and co-producer) Darren (Star) has created a high school called West Beverly Hills, which gives us a little more latitude.
“I see it as really more of an amalgamation of a lot of the area high schools, both public and private, Beverly Hills High School being one of them, but also certainly Harvard, Westlake, Brentwood, Crossroads, University and Palisades highs seem to be the area that is ‘Beverly Hills, 90210' country for grist for stories and background.
“We really weren’t interested in promoting the stereotype of life in Beverly Hills,” Rosin continued. “We’ve gone out of our way not to do that. Life is much more complex there, and it’s within the complexity of emotions that we approach our look at adolescence and the teen-age years.”
When I attended Beverly Hills High in the mid- to late-1970s, there were a lot of students like Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty) and Dylan McKay (Luke Perry, the latest teen heartthrob). Especially many like Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth)--girls whose seeming only ambitions were to wear the latest fashions and date the best-looking boys.
Recent conversations with current Beverly Hills High students indicate there still are many students like that there (as most everywhere else, no doubt).
But the school was and is much more than just a collection of cliquish trendies.
I have never been surrounded by a group of such truly brilliant individuals (both students and teachers) as I was during my high school days.
The school is still turning out amazingly talented graduates who win honors in academics, athletics, drama, forensics, journalism, mathematics, science and other fields and head to so-called prestigious colleges.
But if “Beverly Hills, 90210" had set out to portray that aspect of the school, it would have had a shorter run than “Cop Rock.”
“Does the idea of being in a classroom and studying for the next calculus exam make for interesting entertainment?” Rosin asked. “You have to deal within the context that this is an entertainment medium and the idea is to do an entertaining hour.”
There is much to be praised about the Spelling Entertainment Inc.-produced series.
The mere fact that “Beverly Hills, 90210" is on the air as an hourlong drama is another reason to applaud it. That genre is seemingly on its deathbed, a victim of economics. Not only have hourlong dramas in most cases become too expensive for the networks to air, they have also proven unattractive to independent stations and cable networks seeking reruns, the route nearly all series must go to turn a profit for their producers.
The series is not just about clothes, cars and dating. It has dealt with alcohol and drug abuse, AIDS, sexuality, teen motherhood and date rape, not in a preachy or judgmental manner, but in a way to spark thought and action.
The character ringing most true to me is Andrea Zuckerman, the intellectual and somewhat reserved school newspaper editor, most credibly portrayed by Gabrielle Carteris. Then and now, there were a lot of Andrea Zuckermans at Beverly Hills High.
Parents Jim and Cindy Walsh (James Eckhouse, Carol Potter), are presented as thinking people, instead of the seemingly lobotomized, cream puffs that parents have been depicted in many recent series. Although they sometimes go too far trying to shield their children, if they did not the series would lose some of its element of conflict.
As much as some students, teachers and administrators at Beverly Hills High may cringe at reading this, “Beverly Hills, 90210" is true to my school.