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'90210' Returns: My CW CEO Interview

Tuesday, 2 Sep 2008 | 1:04 PM ET
The new 90210
Source: cwtv.com
The new 90210

The zip code that launched a zeitgeist and defined a generation of TV-watchers is returning to the air waves.

On Tuesday September 2, the CW Network is launching a new version of the hit "Beverly Hills 90210" that ran for 10 seasons on News Corp.'s Fox.

Eight years have passed since the show's final season, but the show and its catchy theme song live on -- after all, some 15 million viewers tuned in every week in the 1990s.

I interviewed Dawn Ostroff, the CEO of the CW, about the network's decision to resurrect the concept. She noted that being able to launch a show that already has such powerful name recognition is certainly a good thing. Frankly, I'm surprised it hadn't happened sooner.

Looking to tap into the brand equity of the simple five digits, Ostroff and the show's producers set out to capture the attention of a new generation with the same concept. Summed up, it's a nice family from the Midwest that moves to the ritzy zip code; their morals are challenged, conflict ensues.

But Ostroff found something surprising: an older generation, the 30- and 40-somethings that were avid fans 15 years ago, were incredibly eager for the return of their favorite characters.

So the CW (co-owned by CBS and Time Warner's Warner Bros., a combination of their teen-oriented channels the WB and UPN) took this as an opportunity to expand their viewership beyond the network's core of 18- to 34-year old women, integrating several of the original show's characters and actors, and expanding the roles of the older characters.

Jennie Garth has a recurring character as the school's guidance counselor -- I wonder if that will lend itself to flash-backs? And Shannon Doherty is doing a four-episode stint on the show. There was even a scandal over Tori Spelling's potential role on the show; gossip reports say she backed out of a plan to appear because she got wind that she wasn't getting paid as much as the other returning "90210" stars.

There's the question of whether the show fall into the trap of "Gossip Girl," which has become a cult phenomenon without ratings (or ad dollars) matching its cultural presence. The CW is hoping "90210" will have a whole different trajectory.

For one, Ostroff points out that the show is centered on this very moral family and aims to portray very real conflicts. So the show shouldn't suffer the kind of backlash that "Gossip Girl" does in portraying consequence-free sex and drugs. The other hope is that this show will appeal to a much wider demographic, including those 30- and 40-somethings who are much more likely to tune in to the TV show and actually help its ratings -- instead of watching online.

There's no doubt the show's debut night will be a huge success. And I think the strategy of launching the show weeks before the rest of the fall TV season starts is smart. Hook viewers before they have other options. But how the show fares over the long run all depends on the quality of the content. When the original "90210" launched in 1990, it defined the genre of teen dramas, and at the time it was basically a one-of-a-kind. Now there's a lot more competition out there. I'll certainly be tuning in to see how it holds up.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.