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The Telefile
The CW = Cute & Wealthy. (Or, perhaps, Can't Watch this.)

Even if you looooved Beverly Hills 90210, do you really want to see a remake/spinoff/continuation? Even if it has Shannen and Tori in it? Especially if it has Shannen and Tori in it?

And though tons of viewers now loooove Gossip Girl, do we really need a new ditto show about spoiled rich kids in fab fashions getting all angst-y, only this time in sunny Palm Beach, Florida?

OK, let's pretend we're The CW and throw in yet another sainted fave. Let's resurrect Lorelai and Rory and send them south to set the Palm Beachers straight. "What if the Gilmore girls were teaching the gossip girls?" is how producer Rina Mimoun describes her new fall CW sun soap Privileged.

How wide are we yawning now?

The CW seriously seems to be two teen-chugged martinis away from standing for Can't-Watch-this. The big news of the netlet's weekend half-day at the Television Critics Association press tour was that Shannen Doherty will return to its new back-from-the-dead high school saga 90210. (The BH part is soooo '90s.) She'll be guesting as her bitchy Brenda Walsh character, now a grown-up big-time actress/director come home to stage her alma mater's school musical.

I know! Is your heart beating through your chest?

Let's pause here to remember Dawson's Creek. Roswell. Popular. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Jack and Bobby. Everwood. Not to mention Gilmore Girls. Each a youth-centric show utterly its own creation, with a fresh point of view, distinctive tone, gut-check storylines, and some resemblance to reality as we know it (in real life, not the prime-time "genre"). With those smart shows, The WB stood for something. But its morphed CW successor is stooping, aping the format of not only a previous generation's teen fave but one of its own current teen faves.

I'm sorry I used the word "resurrect" above. Maybe "zombie" would have been more accurate.

This is a network that only programs five nights a week (Monday-Friday, since they're farming out Sundays this fall to an outside production company). That means The CW has 10 prime-time hours to fill. Two are devoted to original episodes and repeats, sorry, "encores" of America's Next Top Model (starting its season Sept 3). Already entrenched are potboilers Gossip Girl (back Sept. 1), One Tree Hill (also Sept. 1), Smallville (Sept. 18) and Supernatural (Sept. 18). That leaves four hours to program. Throw in two lingering now-on-Friday sitcoms -- Everybody Hates Chris and The Game (both back! Oct. 3) -- plus the new fashion reality hour Stylista (due behind (Top Model Oct. 29).

Two hours left. Just two, people! And more trendy/troubled rich kids is how they fill them? Bring back UPN!

Of course, the CW folks don't see it that way. Their 90210 (debuting Sept. 2) will be "cooler, sexier, more provocative," promised the quick-clip promos they showed critics in lieu of a pilot episode that might reveal what the show actually looks like. "Every character has a secret!" cooed the promo. Big whoop. The kids certainly look prettier and even less like anybody you might possibly know, and they act older. (Read: sluttier.) Producer Jeff Judah promises "a strong adult storyline and a strong point of view on parenting." He wants to explore "how do they hold onto their moral center" when the show's core family relocates from hick Kansas (that's how Hollywood thinks) to too-cool Beverly Hills, a place that no midwest kids have ever encountered except in 72 recent TV series. Judah says the show "has a strong point of view that kids need boundaries and need rules."

Yeah. That's why we watch The CW.

But maybe I'm being unfair, because Judah and writing partner Gabe Sachs boast such superb past credits as Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, as well as ABC's wish-they'd-given-it-a-chance teen drama Life As We Know It. Here, though, they're saddled with retread characters like Shannen's Brenda, and Tori Spelling's Donna, back as an upscale boutique owner, and Jennie Garth's Kelly, now a school counselor. (Did they not see ABC's Miss/Guided?) The plots will now incorporate IM-ing and a character with a website. (Wow! How totally awesome!) And the show will have a "real internet presence," said Sachs, and be downloadable, like web charttopper Gossip Girl, because, said Judah, "there's a new business model that everyone is figuring out."

Yeah, business model. That's why we watch TV.

Privileged (debuting Sept. 9) seems marginally more interesting, if only because of star Joanna Garcia, the airhead blonde daughter from Reba, turned redhead wannabe writer and just-out-of-college tutor to two rich orphan Florida teens. Garcia can do something with nothing (as she proved on Reba), and here, her earnest character and shallow sis Sage promise to do "battle over Rose's soul," producer Mimoun (Everwood) told critics. The younger sib secretly yearns to -- you'll be shocked! shocked! -- get into Duke! (Sage doesn't even know that's a university.) Will Rose become a charity ball bimbo like her "dark side" sis? (Mimoun's words.) Or a sensitive aesthete like our plucky/perceptive heroine?

One thing we know. They will all look fab-u-lous.

The CW will make sure of that. When network program chief Dawn Ostroff wasn't parroting in her Q&A session how they've made "a lot of progress at The CW with high-quality programming" -- compare and contrast to WB lineup of enduring faves above -- she was celebrating "the effect that Gossip Girl has on the retail market." You know, all those New York Times stories about how Bloomingdale's just can't keep in stock anything those girls wear on the air!

You may next read Ostroff's answer to a question about product placement and The CW's target demos -- a dissertation that might be construed to illustrate how and why actual program inspiration/insight have fallen so far off this network's radar since those WB/UPN days:
"I think a lot of young people don't really mind it that much. I mean, when you think about it, they're always using their cell phones." (How this relates to product placement is anybody's guess.) "There are so many different kinds of product placement that you can do these days that's just organic to their lifestyle. And part of the reason why we love focusing on the 18-to-34-year-old women is because there are so many ways in which advertisers are trying to reach them because they go through so many important phases of their life. You know, they graduate high school. They go on to college. They get engaged. They get married. They have kids. They buy their first home, their first car, get an apartment. I mean, there are just so many different ways to reach them, so we just have a lot of opportunity."

Also, we might point out, an opportunity to entertain them -- and sell to them; yes, we know, this is capitalism -- by showcasing series' that speak to their souls as well as their wallets.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but the first time we visited the BH zip code, I think Shannen and Tori actually did that.

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