How will 90210 make the leap to college? By leaving out academics and focusing on the social calendar. New showrunners Patti Carr and Lara Olsen say the recently graduated West Beverly gang won't be dealing with living in the dorms or taking final exams or choosing their majors in the new season. "The aspect of college we're focusing on is the fun of it, the wish fulfillment, the things that kids look forward to," Carr says. "Also, not all of the characters are even attending college."
Carr and Olsen, who together last worked on Life Unexpected and Private Practice, spoke with TVGuide.com about the challenges of taking on a series entering its fourth season (Rebecca Sinclair opted to leave at the end of last season), the deal with Trevor Donovan's part-time status, redeeming Adrianna, Naomi's pregnancy and more:
What are the creative challenges taking over a high school show when the characters have just graduated from high school?
Lara Olsen: The big thing for us was finding a way to keep them seeming like a group so that they weren't splintering off. We also didn't want it become a show about college. It's still about these friends and their interactions with each other.
Patti Carr: We didn't want to turn California University, or CU, into the new West Beverly. The kids don't all go to the same college — some aren't going to college at all. Our overall concept for the season is that when you graduate from high school you launch yourself into your new adult life. You go through a process of trying to figure out who you are, and ultimately, your friends are the people who know the real you and they become your family. That's our approach for everyone.
AnnaLynne McCord said the actors were notified in the spring that the cast would be cut down in Season 4. Trevor Donovan, who plays Teddy, will be in fewer episodes. Is there anyone we won't be seeing when the show returns?
Carr: The studio heads had talked about whether or not all the cast would be brought back, but they left that to the creative decisions about where the characters would go and what the story lines would be. We wound up having great story lines for all of the characters — so all of them are returning. I know there is sort of a technical difference in Trevor's deal but he's a major character for us. We love Teddy and we've got a really great story line for him.
Olsen: He will be there for multiple episodes.
Carr: I just think the studio's concern is that it's hard to service that number of characters in every episode, and we understand that, but we had such great stories for everyone and so we're not losing any cast members.
Is there anyone besides Donovan who is coming back in a reduced capacity?
Olsen: No, Teddy is the only one who won't be in every episode. The story line of Teddy being gay was handled so well last year, it was so much of a non-stereotype, that it was really important to us to keep writing for that character.
Carr: We don't have it all broken out moving forward, but he has a really significant arc. He's in the premiere. That story [about Donovan's contract] was put out there like he wasn't coming back, or worse, like we were eliminating him, and that was not the intention at all.
Can you tell us anything about what will be going on with Teddy when the show returns?
Olsen: With Teddy's character, with all of the characters really, this season is about identity and figuring out who you are as you're growing into an adult. For Teddy, that is even more complicated because he has this huge other factor having recently admitted he's gay.
Carr: We can tell you this: Last season he realized he was gay and he came out to his friends, but he hasn't come out to his family. That's the next hurdle for him. That's what he's wresting with. Teddy contacts his family to let them know he's gay. There are family members who react to that news.
Will he still be dating Marco (Freddie Smith)?
Carr: No, that relationship ended over the summer. But he will have other prospects on the horizon!
For me, the biggest question looking forward is how to deal with Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes). How did you go about redeeming her after all the very serious damage she has done?
Olsen: Well, Adrianna, in the final episode of last year, did have a change of heart. She did vow to become a different and changed and better person. So, we're bringing her into Season 4 in the process of that, and she has honestly changed, but she's going to now have to convince everybody of that.
Carr: When she comes into the premiere, she feels like the person she has to approach first is Silver. That is going to be more than a one-episode process. That's where she begins to realize that this is going to take longer than she thought. She's going to have to work harder for it. She spent her summer trying to be a good person, going out into the world and trying to redeem herself and show what a changed person she is. She'll have to win the viewers over as well! We're really excited, and not just about the opportunity to have her do something different and interact with different cast members. It's also just a really nice arc for a character to go through redemption and forgiveness. It's an interesting process among friends.
Naomi made it to graduation, but then announced she was pregnant. It's not the first time one of the teenagers has become pregnant on the show — so how will her story differ from Adrianna's?
Carr: We can say that we don't think of Naomi as a character who's a big liar, and we do know she has real feelings for Max (Josh Zuckerman). But we think the audience needs to tune in and find out how that's going to work out.
Olsen: And they will not be disappointed!
Are you trying to say she might not be pregnant when the show returns?
Carr: I'm not trying to say either way. It's not all a dream!
Was there any thought to making Zuckerman a full-time regular this season?
Olsen: There hasn't been any talk of that yet, but Max will definitely back and the fans won't have to wait. He'll be back for multiple episodes.
Carr: The situation that you saw at the end of Season 3 between Naomi and Max is something the two of them had to deal with immediately. In the process, it affected their relationship. When we come back to them, it's all about how they're now dealing with what they learned.
Are they still together?
Carr: I don't think we can say! It's more complicated than that. You will find out in the premiere how everything transpired over the summer.
Ivy (Gillian Zinser) and Raj (Manish Dayal) got married, but he was terminally ill, and Dayal hasn't been made a regular cast member. Does something happen to Raj over the summer? Are they still happily married?
Carr: Yes, they are both in the premiere, and yes, they are still married.
How are they doing three months into their marriage?
Olsen: Raj needing to get chemo was set up last year, and they are going to be waiting to see if it worked.
Carr: The interesting thing to us about Ivy and Raj's relationship was right on our theme of these characters moving into their adult lives and experiencing more adult problems. Ivy and Raj really jumped into an adult situation in getting married and facing cancer. So their story is a really great one to explore what the difference is between high school and adulthood, and the problems you face and the decisions you have to make. A love story that has real stakes and real problems is something I think everybody will get into.
Liam (Matt Lanter) and Annie (Shenae Grimes) also ended things on a high note last year — Annie caught up with him before he set sail for the summer — but that can't last with her off to Carnegie Mellon University, right? [Not to mention, there's this girl on the horizon.]
Olsen: Well, Liam sailed off to figure out some things.
But she chased him down in the finale!
Olsen: But he was gone all summer! And, when we come back, she hasn't heard from him. So we don't know what happened with Liam.
Carr: But we do quickly find out. When he returns, he has made a very interesting decision regarding his relationship with Annie, and it's definitely something viewers will be interested in.
Silver (Jessica Stroup) and Navid (Michael Steger) went through a heck of a lot to be together last year, so they're going to be happy for a while, right?
Carr: We're going to disappoint you. They don't have an easy time.
Olsen: They're very excited that they're going to live together and pretty quickly they realize that there are a lot of obstacles in the way of that. It's not how they thought it was going to go, in terms of this fairy tale they thought they'd be living.
Carr: Just like you did, they thought their problems were over. They thought they'd been through enough.
Olsen: It has nothing to do initially with either one of them.
So there's an outsider involved.
Season 4 of 90210 premieres Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 8/7c on The CW.