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“Beverly Hills, 90210” debuts

“Beverly Hills, 90210” debuts

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On October 4, 1990, Beverly Hills, 90210, a TV drama about a group of teenagers living in upscale Beverly Hills, California, debuts on Fox; it will eventually become one of the top-rated shows on the new “fourth network,” which launched in 1986. Created by Darren Star and produced by Aaron Spelling, the show turned its relatively unknown cast of actors, including Luke Perry, Jason Priestley and Tori Spelling (Aaron’s daughter), into household names. It also tackled a number of topical issues ranging from domestic abuse to teen pregnancy to AIDS and paved the way for other popular teen dramas, including Dawson’s Creek and The O.C.

Beverly Hills, 90210 originally centered around Brenda (Shannen Dougherty) and Brandon Walsh (Priestley), middle-class high-school-age twins from Minnesota who relocate to ritzy Beverly Hills with their parents. The Walshes attend the fictional West Beverly Hills High School, along with bad boy Dylan (Perry), popular blonde Kelly (Jennie Garth), rich kid Steve (Ian Ziering), virginal Donna (Spelling) and nerdy David (Brian Austin Green). Over the course of the show’s 10 seasons, the characters became entangled in numerous love triangles, graduated from high school and moved on to college and careers.

The show was the first big hit for the screenwriter and producer Darren Star, who went on to create the 90210 spinoff Melrose Place, which originally aired from 1992 to 1999, and the popular HBO TV series Sex and the City, which originally aired from 1998 to 2004. Aaron Spelling, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, was one of the most prolific producers in the history of television. Spelling’s credits include The Mod Squad, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Starsky and Hutch, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and 7th Heaven.

The final episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 aired on May 17, 2000. A new version of the show, titled 90210, premiered on September 2, 2008. The show follows a Kansas family who moves to Beverly Hills. Of the original Beverly Hills, 90210, cast, Jennie Garth reprises her role as Kelly, now a guidance counselor at West Beverly Hills High, while Shannon Doherty has guest starred as Brenda, who has become an actress. BH90210, a reboot of the original, starring most of the same cast, premiered on Fox in August 2019.


BH90210 is an American comedy-drama television series that premiered on August 7, 2019 on Fox. It is the sixth series in the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise. Original series stars Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green and Tori Spelling return in the new series, playing themselves in a heightened version of reality that is inspired by their real lives and relationships, in which the actors deal with launching a reboot of the 1990s TV series, Beverly Hills, 90210. [1] [2] In November 2019, Fox canceled the series after one season. [3]

  • Jamie Nelsen
  • Richie Edelson
  • Justin Chinn
  • Wendy A. Smith
  • David Dean

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Dylan McKay was originally written as a bit player with a story arc that would last just a few episodes. But Aaron Spelling was so pleased with Luke Perry’s performance that he decided to expand the part. “I was a guest star, and Aaron wanted to make me a regular,” Perry—who tragically passed away in March 2019—told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “The studio didn't want to pick up the deal, and he used that instance to illustrate an important principle: He gets to pick who's on the show. He didn't want me to have to go in the room with the network, but he calmly looked at me and said, ‘Go get 'em, kid.’” (It’s also worth noting that Perry initially auditioned for the role of Steve Sanders, which went to Ziering.)

Shannen Doherty Calls Rumors of Feuds on the Set of Beverly Hills, 90210 &lsquoa Misunderstanding'

For Shannen Doherty, reuniting with her former Beverly Hills, 90210 costars after 15 years has been quite a memorable experience.

“It’s always interesting to get back in with a group you have so much history with,” Doherty, 47, tells PEOPLE. “We can see how we’ve grown, or not grown. It’s a very interesting dynamic to be around.”

Doherty, along with Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling, Ian Ziering, Jason Priestley, Gabrielle Carteris and Brian Austin Green, stars on Fox’s BH90210, a buzzy reboot of the original series. (The show, co-created by Spelling and Garth, had the highest-rated summer debut in over two years, and is Fox’s most-streamed summer debut ever.)

Being back on set with her costars also gave Doherty the chance to address long-standing rumors of feuds and bad behavior that plagued her during and after her 1990-94 stint on the show (the series ended in 2000).

  • Watch the full episode of People Features: Shannen Doherty streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.

“I have felt misunderstood my whole life,” she says. “The only difference is that now I’m okay with it. But there have been moments where we’ve been able to talk about things.”

Continues Doherty: “Somebody had a problem with me being late, but perhaps they didn’t know I was late because my dad was in the hospital, or maybe because I was in a horrible marriage. I didn’t share, or I wasn’t asked. I’m not saying it was all a misunderstanding, but a large portion of it was a misunderstanding.”

Now, “I mentioned what I was personally going through back then and some of the cast members went, ‘Oh my God, what?’ ” says Doherty. “It was very interesting having those conversations, not just about me but about what they were going through too. And really understanding each other this time around as adults.”

Those moments, “have been very organic,” says Doherty. “There was never any sit-down, like hey let’s talk about this. It was just, we’re adults, we’re in a different place. You kind of start over, but you start over closer.”

But Doherty says the whole cast is still struggling to come to terms with the absence of Luke Perry, who died suddenly of a stroke on March 4.

Today in TV History: Brenda and Donna Were the Girls Who DID Go to Paris on �’

Of all the great things about television, the greatest is that it’s on every single day. TV history is being made, day in and day out, in ways big and small. In an effort to better appreciate this history, we’re taking a look back, every day, at one particular TV milestone.


PROGRAM ORIGINALLY AIRED ON THIS DATE: Beverly Hills, 90210, “Too Little, Too Late / Paris 75001” (Season 3, Episode 3). [Stream on Hulu.]

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: The Beverly Hills 90210 “Summer of Deception” holds a particular place of interest in the history of summer television if only because it proved that FOX knew its audience well enough to see the value in airing summer programming during the months that kids were out of school. It helped that said Summer of Deception featured 90210 at its soapiest. The big idea for season 3 was that after two years of bringing the gang together — Minnesota transplants Brandon and Brenda Walsh, cool Bev Hills kids Kelly, Donna, and Steve, loner rebel Dylan, juvenile dork David, and elderly dork Andrea — a teenage love affair would tear them apart. Brenda and Dylan were the signature 90210 power couple, but Dylan hooking up with Brenda’s best friend Kelly would kick the show into the teen stratosphere.

But how to do it? As sleazy as Dylan cheating on Brenda with her bestie was, doing it right under Brenda’s nose would probably be too much. So to get Brenda out of the picture, the show devised a storyline where Brenda and Donna would go to study in Paris for the summer, while Dylan and Kelly stayed home. On the beach. In that romantic midnight surf.

Brenda and Donna in Paris may well have been its own spinoff series. Watching these two girls experience culture shock — the smoking! the rich French dishes featuring lamb’s brains! — was not the stuff of incredibly sophisticated comedy, which made it perfect for 90210, which was mostly a bad TV show pushed to greatness by how much it enraptured a generation.

And like Brenda Walsh learning to embrace the French smoking habits after her initial revulsion, 90210 proved to be adaptable as well. Breaking up the Brenda/Dylan pairing in such spectacular fashion not only gave us a season of fireworks (or, okay, mostly Brenda giving weapons-grade pout), but it also left the show in a better position to endure Shannen Doherty’s exit from the show. Win-win!


While planning a new teen drama in 1989–1990, FOX learned of Darren Star's interest in writing youth-oriented screenplays. Upon being hired by the network, Star created the concept and characters for the series that would eventually become Beverly Hills, 90210. The unexpected worldwide success of this project, as well as that of the spin-off Melrose Place, was largely credited with launching Star's career, while bringing early fortune to FOX in the process. [8]

Aaron Spelling, whose company produced the shows, was well known for producing some of the most famous hit series on television, including Charlie's Angels (1976–81), The Love Boat (1977–86), and Dynasty (1981–89). Spelling would also produce the next show in the franchise, Models Inc., in 1994. [9]

Melrose Place was initially inspired by Star's own professional aspirations during his 20s, [8] while Models Inc. was born when FOX asked Spelling for an eight-part summer series. When ratings proved adequate, the show continued throughout the following television season. [10] Models Inc. concluded in 1995, [11] Melrose Place finished in 1999, [12] and Beverly Hills, 90210 ended in 2000. [13]

In 2008, the franchise returned via the fourth production, 90210, attracting a new collection of noted creators. Rob Thomas, known for the television show Veronica Mars, began the initial work on the project. [14] Prior to the premiere, Thomas was succeeded by producers Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs, both known for the series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. [15] [16] During the first season, Rebecca Sinclair, who had previously worked on Gilmore Girls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, became the series' new show runner. [17] In June 2009, a fifth production, a follow-up to Melrose Place, was officially confirmed. [18]

Emmy-nominated scribe Charles Rosin joined Beverly Hills, 90210 in its first year and served as a writer and executive producer, scripting several episodes in seasons to come along with his wife Karen. [19] Other prominent writers of the first series included John Eisendrath [20] and Steve Wasserman. [21]

Charles Pratt, Jr. and Frank South worked closely with Darren Star in writing early seasons of Melrose Place, helping to set the tone of the series as it grew in popularity. Pratt and South would then create the similarly toned Models Inc. [22] [23] Rebecca Sinclair wrote for 90210 during the first season prior to her promotion. [17]

Throughout its run, the franchise has attracted several established actors, while bringing fame to others and the roles which they have portrayed. The narrative's most widely seen character is Jennie Garth's Kelly Taylor, who was instrumental in launching two spin-offs, [24] [25] and has been used in the most episodes throughout the continuity. [26] [27] Also made famous via the first program was male lead Jason Priestley, who earned Golden Globe nominations and began a directorial career via the series, [28] and actor Luke Perry, who won acclaim and drew comparisons to James Dean. [29] The first series brought fame to several other cast members as well. [30]

Melrose Place featured former Dynasty and T.J. Hooker star Heather Locklear, whose performance has been called one of the most prominent of the show, [31] and also starred former child actress Alyssa Milano. [32] Models Inc. featured former Dallas actress Linda Gray, and later added Dynasty veteran Emma Samms. [33] In addition, several actors known for their work in American daytime television—including Kristian Alfonso, [34] Stephen Nichols, [35] Jack Wagner, [36] and Vanessa Marcil [37] —have made appearances in the franchise.

In 2009, singer-actress Ashlee Simpson joined the proposed fifth series of the continuity, a follow-up to Melrose Place, as Violet Foster. [38] It was later announced that Laura Leighton would reprise her role as Sydney Andrews (despite the character having apparently died during the original series), who was recognized by The Hollywood Reporter as "one of the most popular characters" from the previous show. [39] Friday Night Lights actress Aimee Teegarden appeared in the fourth series, 90210, during its first season. [40] Additionally, 90210's Sara Foster and Shenae Grimes have revealed that they were fans of the original show while growing up. [41] [42]

Several actors have gone on to additional fame following their work in the franchise. Marcia Cross, who would later star in Desperate Housewives, played Kimberly Shaw in the original Melrose Place from its first season until its fifth. [43] Kristin Davis joined Melrose Place in 1995, and starred afterward in the HBO series Sex and the City. [44] Additionally, Kelly Rutherford, later known for her work in the series Gossip Girl, joined MP in 1996, remaining with the show until its 1999 conclusion. [45] Carrie-Anne Moss, of The Matrix fame, starred in Models Inc. throughout its duration. [46]

Dean Cain, who would go on to star in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, appeared in Beverly Hills, 90210 during 1992, [47] while Eddie Cibrian, later known for his role in Third Watch, guest-starred in 1996. [48] Vivica A. Fox, Hilary Swank, Jessica Alba, Matthew Perry, Peter Krause, and David Arquette all appeared in the first show as well. [1] [49] Actor Kellan Lutz guest-starred in the fourth series throughout its first season. [50]

Beverly Hills, 90210 Edit

Debuting on October 4, 1990, the first series initially followed the teenage lives of several friends who attended the West Beverly Hills High School: Brandon Walsh (Jason Priestley), Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty), Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), Andrea Zuckerman (Gabrielle Carteris), Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), David Silver (Brian Austin Green), Scott Scanlon (Douglas Emerson), and Donna Martin (Tori Spelling). As the series progressed, several other characters were introduced at varying points. [51]

Originally, the series centered around the culture shock of twins Brandon and Brenda as they adjusted to the new experiences and friends that awaited them upon their family's move to Beverly Hills. [52] As the show progressed, however, it gradually became more of an ensemble cast drama, with equal attention given to the familial issues, academic matters, career aspirations, and love lives of the other characters. [53] [54] [55] One of the series' early focal points involved a briefly forbidden Brenda-Dylan relationship—along with a subsequent triangle involving Kelly. [56] Other prominent stories included the beginning of a long relationship between Brandon and Kelly, [57] a similar bond between Donna and David, [58] and a rally organized on Donna's behalf in order to overturn a school ruling against her. [59] The series ended on May 17, 2000 after 293 episodes and multiple cast changes it is the longest-running show of the franchise to date.

Toward the end of the second season, the character Jake Hanson—an older friend and mentor to Dylan—briefly arrived for a construction job at Kelly's house. The subsequent attraction that developed between a resistant Jake (Grant Show) and a willing Kelly led into the second series of the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise. [24]

Melrose Place Edit

Darren Star's next show, which premiered on July 8, 1992, followed the lives of several young tenants in a Los Angeles apartment complex. The relationship between Kelly and Jake was resolved over a series of episodes, with a persistent Kelly visiting Jake in L.A., and eventually letting go and returning to Beverly Hills. [60]

Originally conceived as a fairly straight-faced drama about the personal and professional lives of people in their twenties and early thirties, Melrose Place began to change with the arrival of testy Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear), whose conflicts [61] with the generally straight-laced Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) over Alison's roommate Billy (Andrew Shue) quickly became the show's centerpiece. Also focused upon was the adulterous relationship between Dr. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro) and his colleague Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross), which was eventually discovered by Michael's wife Jane (Josie Bissett). [62] The first season also introduced Jane's sister Sydney (Laura Leighton), an occasional vixen, who would become one of the most layered and prominent characters of the series. [63]

With the progression of the second season—which was highlighted by divorce, blackmail, revenge, character revamps, and much angst between couples—the show had begun to secure a reputation for darker, more extraordinary story lines. This kind of writing would become standard for the series throughout the remainder of its run. [64] The series ended on May 24, 1999 after 226 episodes.

Toward the end of season 2, a somewhat mellowed Amanda was reunited with her long-estranged mother Hillary (Linda Gray), the owner of a modeling agency. This development would provide a foundation for the franchise's third story. [65]

Models Inc. Edit

Debuting on June 29, 1994, Models Inc. was produced by Spelling Television and created by Charles Pratt, Jr. and Frank South. The series followed the lives of Hillary and several of the disparate, ambitious models in the titular agency—women whom Hillary sometimes felt a maternal bond toward. Also present was Hillary's son David (Brian Gaskill), the loyal, valiant, and occasionally hot-headed vice president of the company. At the beginning of the first episode, actors Grant Show and Daphne Zuniga briefly appeared as their Melrose Place characters, seeing off a young model named Sarah Owens (Cassidy Rae) as she headed to the agency. [66] [67]

Unlike the previous two shows in the continuity, Models Inc. did not experience any significant changes in character focus or tone. Instead, the writers chose to explore the ensemble cast from the start and immediately present the kind of story lines that had made Melrose Place famous. [2] The initial focus of the series was a mystery surrounding the murder of model Teri Spencer (Stephanie Romanov), who'd announced her intentions to leave the agency. [68] For a number of episodes throughout the first story arc, suspects included Hillary, Teri's ex-boyfriend Brian (Cameron Daddo), Teri's rival Julie (Kylie Travis), and Teri's own sister Carrie (Carrie-Anne Moss). Once the killer was revealed, the characters moved on, with their focus switching to the arrival of Stephanie Romanov's new character Monique, a model who was a nearly dead ringer for Teri. The remainder of the series largely centered around the models' growing relationships with their boyfriends and each other, while also dealing with the issues of substance abuse and the pressures of the business. [69] [70] Primary antagonists included several figures from the models' pasts—including a stalker, a jealous sister, and Grayson (Emma Samms), the cunning and powerful ex-wife of Monique's fiance. [71] [72]

The series was canceled in March 1995. Jake Hanson, who was originally introduced in the continuity's first show, was the only character to appear in both Beverly Hills, 90210 and Models Inc. [66]

90210 Edit

Premiering on September 2, 2008, 90210 was produced by CBS Paramount Network Television. The series introduces two siblings—Annie and Dixon Wilson (Dixon is adopted), played by Shenae Grimes and Tristan Wilds—who move to Beverly Hills with their family and enroll in West Beverly High. Like Brandon and Brenda 18 years before, Dixon and Annie meet several new friends who comprise the rest of the cast, including Erin Silver (Jessica Stroup), the half-sister of David and Kelly from the original series. [25] The character Naomi Clark (AnnaLynne McCord) gained significant media attention throughout the first season, [73] and was given increased focus at the onset of the second. [74]

Among the returning characters was Kelly Taylor, who appeared in a recurring role while serving as a guidance counselor at the school. Brenda Walsh also returned in a recurring part, reuniting with Kelly and directing a school musical. Donna Martin returned as well, coming back to Beverly Hills from Japan, where she worked as a fashion designer. [3] In addition, Joe E. Tata made guest appearances, reprising his role of Nat Bussichio, owner of the Peach Pit coffee house where Dixon worked. [25] The series concluded in May 2013, following its fifth season.

Melrose Place (2009) Edit

On January 19, 2009, Entertainment Weekly confirmed that Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer were installed as showrunners of a Melrose Place spin-off, which used the same title as the previous show. [75] The series premiered on September 8, 2009. [18] Ashlee Simpson, Shaun Sipos, Jessica Lucas, Stephanie Jacobsen, Katie Cassidy, Michael Rady, and Colin Egglesfield were cast in regular roles. Throughout 2009, it was also revealed that Laura Leighton, Thomas Calabro, Josie Bissett, Daphne Zuniga, and Heather Locklear would make appearances as their characters from the original series. [4] The show was officially canceled on May 20, 2010. [76]

BH90210 Edit

In 2017, Jennie Garth revealed that a possible sixth series in the franchise, a follow-up to the original show, was being officially discussed. [77] In December 2018 it was reported on Deadline Hollywood that a reboot or a revival of Beverly Hills, 90210 was being shopped around to different networks. [78] The project was initially developed by Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth in conjunction with CBS Television Studios, and was first hinted at by Spelling on her Instagram page the previous March. [79] The bulk of the original cast is attached, including Garth, Spelling, Shannen Doherty, Jason Priestley, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green and Gabrielle Carteris. CBS confirmed on December 18 that the project was in "early development", adding "We aren't confirming much detail except that it is an untraditional take on a reboot with some of the original cast". [79]

On February 27, 2019, it was announced that a six-episode revival had been ordered by Fox. According to a press release on April 26, 2019, the revival — retitled as BH90210 — will feature the cast playing "heightened versions of themselves" in an irreverent drama "inspired by their real lives and relationships with each other." [80] On May 8, 2019, it was announced that the revival was premiered on August 7, 2019, at 9/8c on Fox. [81]

Several actors have portrayed more than one character throughout the continuity, many of them appearing as regulars on one series and as guest stars on another. In some cases, a performer has appeared in different roles on the same show.

Actor Beverly Hills, 90210 Melrose Place Models Inc. 90210 Melrose Place (2009)
Linden Ashby [82] Charles Reynolds
Brett Cooper
Rob Estes [83] Sam Towler
Kyle McBride
Harry Wilson
Nancy Lee Grahn [84] Denise Fielding Detective Towers
Linda Gray [85] Hillary Michaels* Victoria Brewer
James Handy [86] Tom Rose Matt Fielding, Sr.
Teresa Hill [87] Claire Duncan Linda Holden
Stanley Kamel [88] Anthony Marchette Bruce Teller
Brooke Langton [89] Suds Lipton Samantha Reilly
Laura Leighton [90] Sophie Burns Sydney Andrews*
Jessica Lucas [91] Kimberly MacIntyre Riley Richmond
Dina Meyer [92] Lucinda Nicholson Shelia
Claudette Nevins [93] Vivian Carson Constance Fielding
John Haymes Newton [94] Ryan McBride Mark Warriner
John Reilly [95] Bill Taylor Mack McBride
Stephanie Romanov [96] Teri Spencer*
Monique Duran
Lonnie Schuyler [97] Alan Ross Ben Singer
Greg Vaughan [98] Cliff Yeager Kai
James Wilder [99] Reed Carter Adam Louder
Nick Zano [100] Preston Hillingsbrook Drew Pragin

* The character has also been seen in more than one program.

The following characters appear in multiple series.

Character Beverly Hills, 90210 Melrose Place Models Inc. 90210 Melrose Place (2009) BH90210
Sydney Andrews [4] Y Y
Nat Bussichio [25] Y Y
Jake Hanson [66] Y Y Y
Jane Mancini [4] Y Y
Michael Mancini [4] Y Y
Donna Martin [101] Y Y Y Y
Hillary Michaels [102] Y Y
Sarah Owens [103] Y Y
Jo Reynolds [104] Y Y Y
Steve Sanders [105] Y Y Y
David Silver [106] Y Y Y
Erin Silver [25] Y Y
Teri Spencer [96] Y Y
Jackie Taylor [107] Y Y
Kelly Taylor [27] Y Y Y Y
Emily Valentine Y Y
Brandon Walsh [25] Y Y
Brenda Walsh Y Y Y
Cindy Walsh Y Y
Amanda Woodward [76] Y Y
Andrea Zuckerman Y Y
Hannah Zuckerman-Vasquez Y Y

Beverly Hills, 90210 has been called "one of the definitive shows of the 1990s." [13] In a look back at the series, TV Guide labeled the program "soapy and addictive". [1] In 1994, the series ranked No. 1 among viewers aged 18–34. [6] The show was nominated for "Best Drama" at the Golden Globe Awards in 1992 and 1993, with Jason Priestley being nominated for "Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series—Drama" in 1993 and 1995. [108]

Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker criticized the original tone of Melrose Place in a 1992 article, stating that "on this show, everybody's a philosopher—even more unusual, a philosopher with a cute bottom." Despite giving the series a mixed review, he admitted to being "hypnotized by it" and added that "Melrose is the guilty pleasure that adds some salt and sweat to summertime TV." [109] The show received an overhaul as it advanced toward its second season, with TV Guide citing the "bed-hopping, backstabbing and cliffhangers" as key factors in its success, also noting the arrival of Heather Locklear's Amanda Woodward. [64] In 1994, the series became the No. 2-rated drama among viewers aged 18–34 (behind Beverly Hills, 90210), with People magazine labeling it a "compulsively watchable, high-trash hit." [6] Locklear and Laura Leighton were nominated for Golden Globe Awards in 1994, with Locklear receiving additional nominations from 1995 through 1997. [110]

In his review of Models Inc., Ken Tucker claimed that the show was "trying much too hard to match Melrose for self-consciously outrageous campiness." However, he commended the work of Kylie Travis as vixen Julie Dante. [111] Entertainment Weekly also screened the series in front of young real-life models, who concluded that the show was unrealistic but addictive. [112] The series ended in 1995, but later aired an alternate ending during a rebroadcast of the finale, bringing closure to the story lines. [2]

At the time of its premiere, 90210, which marked a return for the franchise following an eight-year absence, became the highest-rated scripted debut in the history of The CW network. [7] In the midst of its first season, the show was nominated for "Favorite New Drama" at the 2009 People's Choice Awards. [113] Upon the completion of season 1, the show received additional nominations from the Teen Choice Awards, including "Breakout Show" and "Choice TV Show: Drama". AnnaLynne McCord was nominated for "Breakout Star Female" in the role of Naomi Clark, Tristan Wilds was placed in contention for "Breakout Star Male", and Dustin Milligan was nominated for "Choice TV Actor: Drama". Additionally, Rob Estes and Lori Loughlin were nominees for "Choice TV: Parental Unit". [114] The following year, Shenae Grimes was nominated for "Choice TV: Female Scene Stealer". [115] At the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year Awards, AnnaLynne McCord won in the category of "Breakthrough Standout Performance". [116]

Feminist History of the Teen Drama

In September 2017, just days after President Donald Trump announced his intended repeal of DACA, the cable channel Freeform (formerly ABC family) aired an episode of The Fosters that focused on immigration, protest, and the importance of DACA to many young immigrants to the United States. This might seem like surprisingly political stuff for a teen show, but The Fosters is a show about a bi-racial lesbian couple, their mixed race adoptive family, and the birth parents, ex-husbands, and others who came along with that. This season alone, a main character Callie got into a serious relationship with a transgender man, another character got an abortion, and the rest of the family dealt with more run of the mill teen drama (relationships, college applications, and sex ed).

The Fosters is groundbreaking, and to some, surprising. The material can sometimes seem to be part of an endless cycle of drama, but generally treats both its characters and sensitive storylines with respect. As a life-long lover of the teen drama, it’s clear to me that The Fosters is only building on the legacy of shows aimed at teenage girls, delegitimized because of audience, that brought seemingly radical issues to the forefront.

I’m not the first to note that the dominant narrative of “the golden age of television” focuses on shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad — which is to say, shows that render male characters central and masculinist notions of violence “important.” What would it mean to insert teen dramas into this narrative? The New York Times recently argued that teen TV is the perfect break from “peak TV” and many have noted the radical themes of these shows. But it’s important to draw out the gendered elements of this phenomenon. From LGBT relationships to homelessness to incarceration, teen dramas have handled it all. Because of the vast dismissal of teenage girls (even though they are a very powerful audience/demographic) teen dramas are particularly ignored by critical audiences. When critics ignore these shows, they miss out on good television, progressive depictions of social issues, and the media directly influencing young women.

The teen drama as a genre does not have many clear-cut boundaries-though it generally dates from the premiere of Beverly Hills, 90210, produced by Aaron Spelling. Although Beverly Hills, 90210 got a lot of criticism and was uneven in the ratings, it was largely credited with creating new teen dramas. Like the shows that came after, Beverly Hills, 90210 focused on issues like homophobia, rape, drug use, domestic violence, racism, and other controversial issues.

In this essay, I will consider teen dramas to be primarily hour long programs with teenagers as central characters (even if those characters, like those in the O.C, Gossip Girl, and Gilmore Girls, eventually go to college). They are often on networks like the CW (formerly the WB) and Freeform (formerly ABC Family). In the early days of the teen dramas, parents and adult figures were little more than accessories, but thanks to shows like The O.C. (and Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows, swoon), the parents of the teen stars have their own storylines as well. This makes the line between teen drama and family drama fuzzy, but I will consider shows like 7 th Heaven and Gilmore Girls teen dramas. Others, like Vulture, have defined the teen drama as “high school.” Sometimes there is crossover between the teen drama and prestige TV (think Buffy and Friday Night Lights), but it is fairly uncommon.

This working definition is imperfect, leaves out many shows, and emphasizes the problematic boundaries of the genre. Even while addressing a litany of issues faced by teenagers, the teen drama has defined itself primarily around a mythical, unified, white high school experience. The teen experience of people of color was more often depicted in half hour sitcoms like Moesha, A Different World, and Sister Sister. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and Issa Rae, for one, wants to create a drama focusing on teens of color. The stories of teen girls, including teen girls of color-and the often violent, political, and contentious issues they face-deserve to be told.

My love of the teen drama started early, when every Monday night in second grade, I would sit on the couch and watch 7 th Heaven with my stepfather. We agreed on little, entertainment wise: he wouldn’t watch my Nickelodeon shows and almost every movie he watched terrified me (Night of the Twister, anyone?). But we watched 7 th Heaven together, a WB drama produced by Aaron Spelling that ran from 1996-2007. That only lasted a little while, before it was just me, wrestling with the rabbit ears and climbing into my top bunk to watch. I watched Reverend and Annie Camden’s seven children grow from young teenagers to married parents. I imbibed so much Protestant morality from the show that I sometimes jokingly claim to have been raised in the Church of 7 th Heaven.

As you may know, 7 th Heaven centered on Reverend and Annie Camden, their children, and Glen Oak Community Church. Eric and Annie had seven children, many of whom we saw develop through their teen years, plus tons of kids who moved in, dated their children, or were just kind of there. These teens were central to the arc of the show, moving it forward. And yes, sometimes the drama revolved around who Lucy was dating or Matt’s crazy search for a wife. But, taking the lead from Aaron Spelling’s other teen show, Beverly Hills, 90210, the show also dealt with racial violence and STD scares, school shootings and alcoholism, teen pregnancy and drug abuse in ways that humanized the kids involved. Even with its often heavy-handed discussions of abstinence, the teenagers were portrayed as kids who have sex, do drugs, go to college, and make their own choices, good and bad. Sometimes it felt like an after school special. Whether it be Mary trashing the school gym, the sister of one their friends joining a gang, or Lucy’s constant make up and break ups with all of the boys in Glen Oak, the arc revolved around teenagers and their feelings and aspirations and lives. The show took itself way too seriously, but in a world that still refuses to take teenage girls seriously, that isn’t always a bad thing. You can draw straight lines from the Protestant white morality of 7th Heaven to shows like the Fosters, deftly handling (with a lot of drama) issues about foster care and child abuse, rape and trans* issues, interracial relationships and non-traditional families. But 7th Heaven showed that *adult* issues impacted kids too. And I know that, for many of the teenage girls who grew up watching it, it was important.

This isn’t to say that 7 th Heaven isn’t problematic. There are allegations of sexual assault against Stephen Collins. There were very few characters of color. And really, it talked a lot about the evils of pre-marital sex. But even still, in the 1990s, the show was beloved, and ardently followed, by teenage girls. And that makes it important (even if, in retrospect, we wish it wasn’t).

The mid 1990s may have lacked an abundance of teen television, but those years didn’t lack critically-acclaimed television. To give just one example, Seinfeld ran during much of the time 7 th Heaven was on the air. I realize comparing Seinfeld (one of my favorite shows) to 7 th Heaven is asking for criticism, but hear me out. Seinfeld was sharp and very funny. But Seinfeld (like Friends, Gilmore Girls, and a whole host of other shows) had issues with homophobia, racism, and sexism. There was little or no attempt to represent people of color, differently abled people, or the LGBT community in any way other than to mock them. Beyond the general treatment of women, the deportation episode, George’s super gross ogling of a teenager, and the Puerto Rican day episode (which was pulled in re-runs), Seinfeld attempted to “discuss” racism without any characters of color. Seinfeld seemingly hadn’t even caught up to second wave feminism by the mid 1990s. And even now, some 20 years later, Jerry Seinfeld is still defending problematic jokes and criticizing college students for demanding trigger warnings. At the same time, 7 th Heaven (while corny, often poorly written, and emphatically not funny) focused on racial violence, sexual consent, and gave a main character, Matt, a deaf love interest. It might seem, then, that in terms of representation and social issues, a very conservative and obviously religious show was doing better than it’s comedic “prestige” contemporaries.

Premiering two years after 7th Heaven, Dawson’s Creek, which ran from 1998-2003, featured the first “passionate” gay male kiss on TV (in the year 2000), openly discussed teen sex in its first scene, and scared many a conservative parent group. It is so corny and earnest (in a lovely late nineties way), but is also responsible for starting the awful student-teacher relationship trope (that continues with Ezra and Aria on Pretty Little Liars and Archie on Riverdale). The show wasn’t perfect, and Dawson was at best a whiny “nice guy.” But it was transformative. Teen characters openly talked about sex and relationships for all to see. Watching it now, nearly twenty years after its premiere, it is often cringeworthy. But at the time, it was incredibly transgressive. It centered teenage emotions in a way that anything rarely does. It made them important. And it didn’t talk down to teenagers. On the contrary, the dialogue is often criticized for being unrealistically complex. It’s impossible to discuss the origins or intellectual contributions of the teen dramas that followed without acknowledging the groundwork laid by Dawson’s Creek. While Dawson started out as the insufferable lead, it was very clear by the third season that Joey was the star of the show. I wasn’t nearly as attached to Dawson’s Creek as I was to many other shows, but I know that it hooked many of my age group on the drama.

Gilmore Girls premiered on the WB (may it rest in peace) in 2000 and aired until 2007. It would be a few years before I watched it, when in 2005 ABC Family started showing reruns in the five o’clock time slot. They advertised it so often that I started with the pilot until I caught up with the fifth season. I got the first and second seasons on DVD that year (this was pre-streaming) and watched those seasons ad nauseum. I would faithfully record each new episode on a VHS while I was at dance lessons. I would watch repeats over and over through high school, as the show got me through depressive episodes, boyfriends, and college applications. A love of Gilmore Girls is emphatically unsurprising now, after the cultural renaissance Netflix created.

After Gilmore Girls: A Year in a Life, more and more people have critiqued Gilmore Girls for its unabashed whiteness, homophobia, and failed acknowledgement of privilege. And they should. But let’s take a moment to remember that it premiered on the WB in 2000. So Gilmore Girls, with its single mother, charming small town, and ambition was fairly progressive compared to other TV offerings. Everyone from Angela on My So Called Life to most of the cast on Dawson’s Creek had pretty traditional families or importantly, desperately sought them. Even when Dawson’s Creek introduced complicated family dynamics, the two parent suburban family was held up as the ideal. So a show about a single mother and her teen daughter, raised almost collectively by a town of eccentrics, (and with a kind of dead-beat dad) was shocking. Radical, even. While I love the men of Gilmore Girls (#teamjess, RIP Edward Herrmann, and all of that), it’s no secret that Emily, Lorelai, and Rory are the stars of the show. Strong, very flawed women, and their complicated relationships could create a whole world on TV.

So Gilmore Girls, for all its homophobic humor and virulently white cast, centered a single mother in a television landscape filled with two parent households, changed TV. While it lasted for seven seasons, surviving the UPN/WB merger, it was tragically undersold at the time (though there was definitely a very vocal fan base). It was hard to sell a show with alliterative title featuring “girls” in it to “serious audiences.” But as we all know, Netflix elevated Gilmore Girls from a small but devoted fandom to a craze. It had a second coming. And maybe it shouldn’t have. The humor and relationships aren’t nearly as progressive or transgressive as they were 17 years ago.

Premiering the same year as Gilmore Girls was The Wire, one of the pillars of prestige TV. The Wire is an outstanding show. The writing, the actors, and the storylines are all sharp, and in so many ways, ahead of their time. In particular, The Wire was rightly lauded for its diverse cast. But even still, the show was written by a white man, David Simon, and that is evident in its representation of women. Much of the story arch focuses on cops, detectives, drug dealers, and dock workers-all masculinized professions. Very few women are fully developed characters in the show and like much of peak TV (I am looking at you, Game of Thrones) masculinized violence and the sexualization of women is common. When compared to Gilmore Girls, The Wire is certainly more diverse and racially sensitive (though most things are more diverse than Gilmore Girls). But it is also not coincidental that a show with almost all female leads, a large high school presence, and a focus on family dynamics would make Gilmore Girls a lot less critically recognized than its contemporaries (for example, Gilmore Girls was never awarded a Golden Globe, etc).

Friday Night Lights, which ran from 2006-2011, is the only teen drama I am writing about often considered “prestige television.” It is also one of only shows on this list that I haven’t been shamed for loving. And I can’t help but think that it’s because, although certainly a high school drama with tons of strong female characters, it’s a show that so often captures issues of football and masculinity and features gritty episodes that would not be out of place on premium cable shows (The ferrets. Prison. Basically everything involving Tim Riggins). How many teen and family drama’s take place in some small town? (Dawson’s Creek, Everwood, Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, etc). But not many of them have inspired the ardor that Dillon has. I certainly paid more for my Dillon Panthers shirt than I did for any T-shirt I have from my own high school (#sorrynotsorry Red Lion).

Somehow, Friday Night Lights captured (in one small town in Texas) love and football, trailer parks and small town royalty, disability and incarceration. Serious issues were being discussed through the lives of teenagers. These aren’t the suburban teenagers of Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, and My So Called Life. One of the lead characters, Tyra, is afraid of ending up a stripper like her sister. Tim Riggins ends up serving jail time so his brother can take care of his family. Jason Street, the town’s golden boy, ends up paralyzed after a football game in the show’s first episode. And even the beautiful and privileged cheerleader daughter of a town businessman, Lila Garrity, suffers through her parent’s divorce and her father’s loss of her college money. After struggling alongside Coach and Mrs. Coach, and all of the teenagers, over five seasons I felt pride. And ordered a T-Shirt. #texasforever.

Was Friday Night Lights a teen show? Does it belong in this essay? I spent a lot of time thinking about those questions before realizing that the questions themselves betrayed Friday Night Lights’ significance. Friday Night Lights is a teen drama, just like Dawson’s and Gossip Girl are teen dramas, but because the main characters are men, it’s often cast in a different light.

In 2007, only a year after Friday Night Lights began depicting working class Texas life, Gossip Girl ran a purposely, gleefully, inappropriate ad campaign. It was “bad for you,” although the first two seasons were nothing short of perfection. I never quite understood the adulation of Serena, and Dan Humphrey is a mansplainer (who, like Rory Gilmore, would never have actually been published in The New Yorker). But I owe so much to Blair Waldorf. Her hand bands, her ambition, her desire for perfection. She was a mean girl, but a mean girl you could love. She just wanted it all and knew she deserved it. The backdrop of Gossip Girl was pre-2008 Manhattan and watching it now feels like a time capsule to a New York that never really existed. These kids had unlimited access to alcohol, AmEx Black Cards, cars with drivers, and Ivy League colleges. The outsiders, Dan and Jenny, were two hip white kids who grew up in a Brooklyn loft with a musician dad and an artist mother. (I am so sad for them). It’s absurd. But Gossip Girl never tried to be anything but absurd. It took the lessons learned on the O.C. and magnified them. It didn’t cave to parental ridicule it mocked it on advertisements. These people weren’t like us. They were glitzy and ridiculous, beautiful and immoral. And the show went crazy, like so many teen dramas before it, around the second season.

And sure, Gossip Girl is the quintessential guilty pleasure. But it’s designed to be. And it did more than it was given credit for. In the first episode, Chuck attempts to sexually assault both Jenny and Serena. Dan punches him as a result, something that would rarely happen in real life or most television. Blair’s dad leaves her mother and marries a man. Serena’s brother tries to kill himself and later comes out as gay. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. And Blair’s eating disorder is shown as a direct result of the pressure from her mother to be perfect (like Serena). Nate’s dad, not unlike Marissa’s in the O.C, does some casual embezzling and winds up in prison.

Gossip Girl, like the O.C before it, centered pop culture. I first discovered Passion Pit in a 2009 episode. It was largely recognized as significant in the fashion world. And websites like Vulture followed the show religiously. In New York’s recap of the very first episode, they wrote: “Last night’s giddily awaited premiere of Gossip Girl did not disappoint. This is partly because ever since the day Models Inc was cruelly pulled off the air, we have grown to not expect much from television. But it’s also because in many ways, Gossip Girl was the show we’ve been waiting for our entire lives: Dynasty meets Harriet the Spy meets Beverly Hills 90210 meets Melrose Place. Of course the show it most resembles is Sex and the City (although, since this show is about teenagers, does that make it Statutory Rape in the City?).” I think that about says it all. By not even trying to stay on the same planet as realistic, Gossip Girl gave us real, serious *stuff* painted across a background of glitter, sex, and Fergie’s Glamorous.

Pretty Little Liars, which premiered in 2010, ushered in a new genre for ABC Family (now Freeform). They had found previous (kind of) success with the Secret Life of the American Teenager, but I can’t even deal with that here. Pretty Little Liars, did a lot wrong: like all the teen drama before it, it became an apologist for statutory rape. There are entire characters and plot points that nobody remembers and mysteries with unresolved or confusing endings. The introduction of a transgender villain was widely and rightly panned. But, as Constance Grady argued in Vox, it is one of the only shows that has given insight into what it is like to be relentlessly stalked and threatened: in other words, what it is like to be a teenage girl in the 21 st century. Though some storylines are contentious, Pretty Little Liars featured LGBT characters, in a way that has helped normalize their presence in the teen television landscape. Pretty Little Liars has been a lot of things: confusing, campy, bat-shit crazy-but it has never been afraid to “go-there.” More practically, the success of Pretty Little Liars paved the way for ABC family to take more risks. To debut shows like The Fosters, the under recognized Huge, and Switched at Birth.

Switched at Birth, which ran from 2011-2016, had a whimper of a final season but was one of few television shows to center deaf characters (7 th Heaven is the only other teen drama to do this, way back in in the 1990s). This wasn’t one character, but large numbers of the cast, as one of the protagonists, Daphne, attended a school for the deaf. The show (often heavy handedly) dealt with racial issues, adoption, and class dynamics all while centering (but rarely objectifying) its deaf characters.

One of the most recent teen dramas to garner recognition is Riverdale, a 2017 mid-season premiere riffing off the Archie comics. Like in the Archie comics, Archie is a standard (read: boring) white guy with the luck to surround himself with interesting women and Jughead Jones in the idyllic (and apparently drug filled) town of Riverdale. Riverdale is kind of like if Everwood, Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl had a baby. It’s often very silly. And it’s dealt with its “serious” issues like class and violence decently enough (but I will say it again for those in the back: statutory rape by teachers IS NOT OKAY). But so far, besides being the best teen drama this side of Gossip Girl, its main contribution is it’s take on rape, sexual violence, and consent. I’ve written before about Betty’s fantastical (and creepy) revenge against a football player who pretends to hook up with girls. But when Veronica’s ex, who took a time machine from Gossip Girl’s New York, attempts to rape Cheryl, the girls attack him with stilettos and Cheryl promises revenge. This isn’t the pissed off punches of Gossip Girl: these girls are calling it what it is (rape) and promising to follow up with the law. It’s refreshing.

This isn’t to say that teen television doesn’t have its problems-for one thing, as a genre, it has defined itself as white. Though some shows have made real efforts to be inclusive of the LGBT community, many of the storylines are problematic at best (Pretty Little Liars for one). The love of statuary rape in teen centered story lines is still going strong. The genre certainly has a white feminist vibe. But, much of teen television has attempted to destabilize a vast dismissal of the very political issues faced by teenage girls and for that, it has value.

All of this is to say that, the show runners of one of the most revered shows of recent years developed a pilot about the Confederacy. The Fosters, a low budget show on a network still forced to air The 700 Club daily, is explicitly protesting the Trump administration’s policies regarding immigration. Though this might be surprising to many, it shouldn’t be, as it is continuing the work teen drama has been doing for decades. Teen dramas have shown the ways in which so many teenagers find themselves inculcated in drama which is actually life or death (abusive parents, stalkers, drug addiction, sex trafficking). Teenage girls are constantly at risk and the world doesn’t see them as capable of making their own choices. And “nobody” cares, because teenage girls are the ones watching these. But the rest of us should be watching.

Impossibly fabulous: Beverly Hills, 90210 and the myth of teen glamour

Anne-iversaries is a bi-weekly column by writer Anne T. Donahue that explores and celebrates the pop culture that defined the ➐s and 2000s and the way it affects us now (with, of course, a few personal anecdotes along the way).

Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments of young adulthood is the realization that our fellow high school students do not look like famous people. Nobody looks like Seth Cohen, no one resembles Kelly Kapowski, and not a soul takes after Jordan Catalano. Across all eras, teen TV shows peddle the idea that the teen experience is glamorous, beautiful, and even dramatic to the point of being dangerous. But no one peddled it harder than Beverly Hills, 90210.

Upon its debut in the fall of 1990, the Aaron Spelling-bred juggernaut was clear in its mission: to make the lives of west coast teens seem just as compelling as even the most over-the-top prime time serials. (Here's looking at you, Dallas.) Based around the trials and tribulations of two Californian transplants, twins Brandon and Brenda Walsh (played by Jason Priestly and Shannon Doherty) offer a front row seat to a sensationalized take on life in one of America's most elite zip codes. And of course, for most of us viewers, this was our only way in. After all, most public high schools were nowhere near as fancy. Most of our campuses weren't a stone's throw from the beach. And while we all tried our best to look cool or seem interesting, none of us achieved the glamour of Tori Spelling, Luke Perry, or Jenni Garth. (Hell, even Gabrielle Cateris — who plays Andrea Zuckerman, billed as "the nerdy one" — is movie-star beautiful, yet suffered the She's All That curse of being largely invisible because she wore glasses.)

Beverly Hills, 90210 made high school look impossibly fabulous. And even though this was a cruel and blatant lie, it was one we desperately needed as we made our own journeys through those decidedly inelegant four years. We needed to believe that we could also strut down the hallway with the confidence of a multi-million dollar-earning actor. To know that doing so was impossible while wearing flip-flops and battling temperamental skin would've broken us.

Back when the show premiered, some of us (hello!) were literal infants and told by our parents that under no circumstances could we indulge in a series about a bunch of teens living life so breathtakingly. And in the early 90s, that was fine: I played with my friend's 90210 Barbies as if I understood the series (which was ruined when I tried to pair Brenda and Brandon as a couple, to my pal's horrified screams) and mastered the art of 90210 Twister (where I could put my hand on Dylan's face). For most of elementary and middle school, I didn't care what I was missing because Iɽ fallen under the spell of PG shows like Home Improvement and Boy Meets World — series that starred actors who looked a little bit more like me and my friends, or at least our hipper, wiser, older siblings whoɽ graduated into the world of classmates who could legally drive.

But then high school began looming closer, and with it came the abandonment of childhood ideologies and the appeal of meeting a guy who looked like Dylan (Luke Perry) or acquiring the wardrobe of Donna (Tori Spelling). Even though 90210 was winding down as I entered the ninth grade, I knew it had offered a promise that as boring as my hometown felt, high school would keep it interesting. And having to sneak episodes of the show at friends' houses made this brave new world seem like a tantalizing secret, about to finally be within reach.

It didn't matter that in real life, high school is awkward, painful, and truly lacking in gorgeous people who are visibly well into their 20s. Nor did it matter that the majority of actual high school drama revolves around school dances, who said what to whom on MSN Messenger, or the stupidest possible acts of revenge (like throwing ATM envelopes all over an enemy's lawn). TV taught us that high school is the backdrop to soaring romance, illicit parties, and finding oneself in a sea of brooding uncertainty. It made high school seem appealing in spite of all the warnings we got from anyone whoɽ been through it: "Ugh, I'm so glad it's over."

As obviously unrealistic as 90210 may have been, its allure made taking the necessary step into the tumultuous teens seem exciting. By watching characters like Brandon, Brenda, Dylan, and Andrea engage in grown-up behaviours while still taking math or history, we were given hope that young adulthood really can be interesting and dramatic and full of the sorrow and heartbreak that's made teen dramas thrive for generations. These shows offer a lifeline for surviving adolescence — the basis of the belief that school and life is more compelling than it actually is. It made existence feel less like a slog and more like our own version of an Aaron Spelling special. Who cares if we couldn't afford the same clothes or would never be pursued by the teen loves of our lives? 90210 whispered that the potential to exist fabulously was there — that maybe just by going to school, weɽ find our own Walsh contemporaries.

And ultimately, this is the myth that's at the heart of every teen drama. Because while shows like 90210 and successors like The O.C. and One Tree Hill were over-the-top, melodramatic, and unrealistic, they gave us the dialled-up-to-11 version of teen life that we craved. Did it matter that the actual high school experience is largely a tedious, gruelling exercise in humiliation? Hell no: realism isn't what this subgenre of TV is built on. It's an escape from reality, not a life map.

The thing is, this fantasy version of what's often the worst, most unglamorous life experience most of us will ever go through can actually offer the push some of us need to make high school seem a little less terrifying. After all, teen dramas aren't meant to be a mirror. We're not supposed to see ourselves in these adult actors who have enough disposable income to never repeat outfits. But we're supposed to believe that magically morphing into them is possible — or at least that our bargain-discount brand of melodrama elevates us to levels typically reserved for beautiful grown-ups pretending to be kids. And when the rest of your life involves being trapped in class all day with other teens, feeling irritated and stuck and awkward and misunderstood, maybe that's enough.

Watch the video: Beverly Hills 90210 - Season 1 1990-1991 (May 2022).