Think the Spellings are the only real-life Beverly Hills 90210 family? Think again. Meet the Rosins: Charles, Karen and their daughter Lindsey.
As you may recall from my previous interview with Charles, he was the executive producer of Beverly Hills 90210 for its first five seasons. Karen wrote nearly 20 episodes between 1991 and 1994 and Lindsey had a memorable cameo in Episode 2.o6, Pass/Not Pass, as a little girl asking Brandon (Jason Priestley) to dance the hukilau at the Beverly Hills Beach Club.
I mentioned in January that my interview with Charles was one of my highlights of TDW Year One. I never dreamed I’d interview him once–let alone twice and this time in person. But that’s exactly what happened in January on a weekday morning in New York City, where Charles, Karen and Lindsey came to promote their new media venture, showbizzle.
Charles and I sat down to talk about showbizzle and, of course, Beverly Hills 90210.
TeenDramaWhore: If you had to give your elevator pitch for showbiz, what would you say?
Charles Rosin: Showbizzle is a digital showcase for emerging talent that combines a webseries called showbizzle with a platform for talent away from the immediate pressures of the marketplace. So it’s two mints in one: it’s a show and it’s a resource for emerging artists. The show is populated by emerging artists and it was really conceived by emerging talents, namely Lindsey Rosin being the first one to be showcased, as the writer and director of the majority of the shows. So that’s the basics of it.
Unlike so many people who do webseries, what they’re hoping is “Oh, everybody loves our webseries and we create so much action and energy, FOX or The CW will find us and want to put us on the air.” We’re not interested in that. If we wanted to do something specifically for broadcast or cable, we would go into the room with those people and say “We think this works for your medium because…” But we like this form, the potential of it, the idea that you can just do what you want to do and not have to go through committees. From a business standpoint, there’s ownership potential that works in the current marketplace.
So the premise of the webseries is that Janey, a young wannabe screenwriter, who is very plugged into the culture of Los Angeles, sits in a coffeehouse in L.A. trying to write her screenplay and looking forward to all her friends who stop by and interrupt her from that. That’s the basic premise of it. What is a lot of fun about it is that for someone like yourself and the audience that you know, that although you meet all these disparate characters doing these short little two-minute snackable, for-the-digital-world kind of stories, you start to realize these characters are related and there is a serialized story. It builds to a serialized place. We’re fans of that. We try to do it with humor and insight and with a lack of snarkiness that is so prevalent in the digital world. We try to do a show that’s engaging.
One of our slogans is, “Just take a little bizzle break.” The one thing about all media, all the shows you cover–and thanks for even thinking about showbizzle in relation to it–is what they really are is diversions. Somehow in the last 20 years, the importance of the television business, the shows that are made, have been thrown so far out of proportion because of the material value of it. But all they are–we have a lot of issues going on the world–is just a little place to get a respite, to get a chuckle or a laugh. One of the things that Lindsey really values is when her friends say, “That happened to me” or “I’ve got a story.” The whole social network aspect came from Lindsey saying, “We should ask our viewers what’s happened to them,” because even though it’s very specific to Hollywood, because that’s where we’re set, at the same time trying to get ahead in life and figuring out what you’re going to do and using every connection you have when you’re kind of an adult but not really an adult, is something [everyone goes through] and we wanted to explore that.
TDW: How did showbizzle start? Who came up with the idea?
Rosin: The origins of showbizzle go back to a day in December in 2005 when Disney announced they were selling Lost on iTunes, which effectively meant the end of the syndication model that financed network television. Producers would make X number of shows and if they had enough, they could sell them to the local stations and other places, and that’s how the revenue would come back to the companies and people would profit from that. Fortunately, I benefited from that twice. Once from [Beverly Hills] 90210 and more recently Dawson’s Creek, which moved into profit because of the syndication of it. But when you sell something prior to syndication, it dilutes the value of the syndication and to do something that as dramatic as to put episodes on iTunes the day they’re running or the day after they run is a fundamental change.
I started thinking about that and how network television was going to be changing. In the spirit of “everything old is new again,” I started thinking about branded entertainment, which goes back to the pre-network era, where with the television of the 50s, companies–Chesterfield Cigarettes, Lucky Strike, Kraft, General Electric–would come in and buy the half-hour or the hour and be totally associated with the show, whether it be variety or comedy or drama. They all had that. That’s how the revenue was derived. I started to think about what company had the resources to do this and is currently not an advertiser on network television. I realized that anyone who was going to put their name above an entertainment project was going to do it and want total ownership and control and then go to a network or then go wherever they want to go.
So I approached Starbucks about a project called Starbucks Presents. We did this in the winter-spring in 2006. We were trying to create a social network for the people who use Starbucks, in store or at home, and program hours of different ways to do things. At the core of it was a daily soap opera about what goes on in a coffee house. Showbizzle is the distillation of that idea. By the way, Starbucks’ response was “Don’t bother us. Come back to us in 5 years. We’re in the music business.” They’re no longer in the music business. They’re still in the coffee business.
TDW: Where does the name come from?
Rosin: Well, we wanted to call it hollybizzle for a while but it was taken. So, showbizzle, not quite show business. And certainly Snoop Dogg is very “fo shizzle” and made my kids laugh. We were sitting around the dinner table–I have two other children besides Lindsey–and we came up with that and said let’s see if that one will work. We like the name quite a bit. It’s friendly and open.
TDW: What is your role on a day-to-day basis? Is this now your full-time gig?
Rosin: I teach at UCLA and I still develop shows. I was very active in the business from the late ‘70s to about 2005. Found my name wasn’t on the lists that I liked anymore and this was a place to do it on my own. The idea to get more sponsorships, provide things for the community–that is where I spend a lot of my time [with showbizzle]. I think like 85, 90 percent of the time I still do other forms of writing and developing other projects as well. I like teaching and I like doing this. If J.J. Abrams called, I’d answer.
TDW: What is Lindsey’s role?
Rosin: I get to refer to her as “the talent.” She’s the writer and director. The other woman who did a lot of writing and directing for the first season is a woman named Arika Mittman and Arika just won a Humanitas Prize for an episode of South of Nowhere that she did. Arika was my assistant on Dawson’s Creek. She’s terrific and very talented and gets along very well with Lindsey. Arika, she’s someone who in a different lifetime would’ve been head of daytime. She plotted the serial a little bit with Lindsey. But Lindsey, I say to her–sometimes to her consternation; it’s a family business and all–anytime she’s involved with the site, it’s better on all levels.
TDW: What has been the response you’re getting from people in the business?
Rosin: I think they admire the effort and realize we’re pioneers. This is not formed. People haven’t done things like this. They always ask, “How are you going to finance this?” and I kind of talk about it but steer away from it a little bit. It’s designed to be branded entertainment and we’re here in New York now to try and find brands. We’re hopeful that we can and we present something that has potential and is different. There’s certain things we did in the first year–we did a lot of monologues; we didn’t emphasize the cinema. We’d like to have a little more production value. Lindsey has a lot of ideas for the second season. We know where to pick up the show and what kind of sponsors we’re looking for. Forms follows function, after all…
TDW: You mentioned finding sponsors. Is that what you did on this trip?
Rosin: One of the most difficult aspects of doing webseries is, whether you’re doing six episodes with friends in your dorm room or if you’re trying to do something to ultimately become a daily habit on the web, is to get the levels of support that you need. When you do branded entertainment, you want to get to brands. Brands have not been oriented to this. So we’re starting to see the change and transition as more and more brands advertise or consider sponsorships and realize that it might be worthwhile to look at certain web series, to brand projects and put their name above the title and all that. It’s a question, though, of “how do you get access to that?” One of the ways is you do something and it goes viral and they come to you and say, “How do you do that?” The other way is to do some work, you put it together, you have more ideas, you go to the brand and say, “With your marketing support, we do A, B, C, D and E” and that’s the method we chose. Creatively, I think showbizzle is somewhere in a middle ground or at least between premium high content and user-generated. We want it have the feel of an independent but be scripted.
There was an event [this week] called Brand In Entertainment, which was an event to meet people who are independent purveyors of content and meet brands and those that are interested in the sector or interested in tipping their toe in. It’s a risk-adverse world, especially after the financial meltdown. It’s all going very slowly. But I had meetings with one or two other people who have access to brands and I wanted to let them know what we’re doing. It was a business-oriented trip.
TDW: You mentioned that you have people who are just starting out in Hollywood playing the characters in the webseries. Is anyone getting “noticed” from it? Any success stories?
Rosin: The thing that’s interesting is remember my original definition: digital showcase, emerging talent away from the immediate career pressures of the marketplace. So really, it’s only about a creative expression. Too much discussion in Hollywood has moved away from any form of creative satisfaction and is only based on business elements. That’s why you always hear about returning an investment and all that. Well, what about creative satisfaction? So the goal of [participating] is not necessarily to further a career but to allow them to perform. We are going to try and accelerate it. We’re going to formally announce soon that we’ll have a rotating group of casting directors as residents and we’ll supply short little monologues and encourage our community to perform them, upload the video and guarantee them that the ones the casting directors like the most, they will comment on them and be on the homepage. You get on the digital showcase. You’re in our community and now you get to be singled out. That might help.
This time last year, a cute little blonde came in and started [working for us], making calls to colleges for outreach. She was really nice. One weekend she told me she had to go to New York. For my class at UCLA, I was putting together a list of what [new] shows [the networks] had ordered so we could [evaluate] them and I saw the girl’s name. It was Brittany Robertson [Lux on Life Unexpected]. She was the girl making our calls. I had Subway sandwiches with her for weeks. I sent her an e-mail and said, “Either you get major kudos or someone has stolen your name!” Now she didn’t perform on showbizzle and I don’t think necessarily that people have seen someone on showbizzle and said, “I need that girl or that guy,” but I think it gives people the confidence to be that girl or that guy.
In the second season we may go after a few names that people know to play little characters. It’ll probably make a difference. Two of the biggest names so far have been Fran Kranz, who was on Dollhouse and was just terrific, and James Eckhouse [Jim], who isn’t in the same demographic. But people can come [to showbizzle] for various reasons. As Lindsey likes to say, they can choose their own adventure. They can focus on getting industry resources or they can focus on the show, they can express themselves, they can take a bizzle break from all the troubles in life.
TDW: What lessons from Beverly Hills 90210 have you been able to apply to showbizzle?
Rosin: The main thing I learned from [executive producer] Aaron Spelling is you make a show for an audience. The audience satisfaction really matters. We continue to adjust to what our audience is looking for, what they say they want. The other thing, which I always like to say, is showbizzle is low-budget production. We were able to do a little content for not very much money but still paid people and all that. 90210 was lower-budget production. We had much less money in the first two or three years than what was there afterward. When we built the college set, that was a big thing for us. We didn’t have big restrictions. The first few years we did. We learned how to do something economically and you learn how someone is paying for all this. Usually that someone is your corporation, whether it’s Disney or Fox or Aaron Spelling. In the case of showbizzle, it’s us. You have to be prudent. Production we were able to handle very well. It’s the digital stuff, the Web site stuff that sometimes spirals out of control.
TDW: I was curious to know if you and Karen were already married when you started working on the 90210 or if the relationship was born out of the show.
Rosin: I met a really cute girl in 1976. We were married a year later in 1977. We’ve been together a long time.
TDW: That is a long time.
Rosin: Yes, we’re very old.
TDW: I know she’s had a career of her own but she wrote close to 20 episodes of Beverly Hills 90210.
Rosin: She wrote the best ones. It was an interesting thing. Mr. Spelling had had a bad taste in his mouth about putting a married team on a show from when he did Dynasty. He never really wanted to let Karen come on the staff and be a permanent part. It allowed her to stay home and raise our kids, which is a great thing but at the same time, she really deserved a lot more recognition as a writer, as a writer-producer, and didn’t really get that from 90210 and I always feel badly about that. But it was circumstances beyond our control. I really love collaborating with her, and I really love collaborating with Lindsey, because you find out with writers, all writers have strengths and all writers have weaknesses. A lot of writers who really excel at dialogue have trouble organizing the story, the scene dynamics. That’s what I do in my sleep. But I’ll struggle over dialogue for hours and hours. So it was a really nice fit with us. One thing I would to say anyone who is starting out and is thinking about collaborating, is that you have to feel whomever you’re collaborating with brings more to the party than you do. You’re not carrying them but you’re benefiting from them. And that’s my relationship with Karen as a writer. Anytime we work together, it gets better.
TDW: I know you did commentary for the earlier seasons of the DVD sets.
Rosin: Karen and I were asked to do it on season 3 and I did an interview for season 4.
TDW: Since season 4, there’s been no extras. We’ve had seasons 5-9 with no extras.
Rosin: Want my opinion? Because there’s nothing to say. The show ended with season 5, in my opinion. Season 5, if you were going to do one, the person you’d need to talk to is Luke [Perry, Dylan] because Luke was so important in those first 12, 13 episodes where he has his money stolen and has his whole depression and anger, leading to the crashing of his car. Luke drove those first 13 and it was a pleasure to do them with him. He had such intensity. If he’s not going to talk about it, then what are you going to say? Tiffani [Amber Thiessen, Valerie] would’ve been the other person to talk to for season 5.
TDW: Some of us have also been upset with the cover art and that many songs have been replaced on the DVDs or scenes were cut because of songs issues.
Rosin: Knowing how much Mr. Spelling cared about the audience, the fact that the music isn’t up to the standards that we had, he’d understand it as a businessman but he’d be rolling over in his grave.
TDW: I heard you were once working on a 90210 spin-off concept with Aaron.
Rosin: When we were thinking about moving forward with the college years, we also proposed they could spin-off a West Beverly High series but they didn’t want to do that at that time. Then in the year 2000, Spelling wanted to do it and I was hired to do something on it but it didn’t turn out to be what they were looking for. It was like 90210, the next generation. I think it had the exact tone of the high school shows but it was just for a different generation of high schoolers. Instead we have this bastardized version that’s on now.
TDW: What was your reaction when you first heard about the one that’s on now?
Rosin: The first reaction was that it just shows how important the brand is and how much branding means. Every generation has the right to do anything. I don’t own it. It was Viacom, Spelling. Darren Star created the show. It was more his world than it was mine. I was there to do something much specific. But now I’m more excited by a show like Life Unexpected than recycling shows from a different era just because of their title. I don’t feel [the new show] has that much in common with the original other than it has a high school premise and it’s in Beverly Hills. But tonally, from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t have that much in common.
TDW: Not sure if you’re aware but they recently killed Jackie Taylor [Ann Gillespie].
TDW: They did this whole cancer storyline.
Rosin: I understand that. When you run out of ideas, you get people sick. No offense to Joey [E. Tata, Nat], but we were struggling and had to do 32 episodes. So Nat’s going to have a heart attack [Episode 4.18, Heartbreaker]. If you see characters getting sick like that at random, it’s usually evidence of a bankruptcy of ideas, in my opinion.
TDW: It came out recently that Rob Estes [Harry, 90210] is leaving the show and people are very surprised. “He’s supposed to be our patriarch. He’s supposed to be our Jim Walsh.”
Rosin: I would imagine that you do things like that when you realize a few things have happened. After the 5th year when I left [the original], so did Gabrielle Carteris [Andrea] but so did Jim Eckhouse and Carol Potter [Cindy]. At a certain point, you get to be a mature show. You realize you have to cut your overhead a little bit. You realize the storylines are going to move into a different direction and things are going to be different. So you do make adjustments. Why did Estes leave? Maybe he was profoundly unhappy with what they’ve done with his character. I wouldn’t know that but that’s usually why actors leave. They weren’t satisfied. The show thought they were paying too much money. He wasn’t being utilized, etc.
TDW: It came out recently that Jennie [Garth, Kelly] is sort of cutting ties with the show as well. The media went crazy with it.
Rosin: I only have admiration for Jennie. I don’t see her that often but I know she’s raising a wonderful family. She has political and social issues she’s very committed to. I really admired her on Dancing With The Stars. She wouldn’t have been able to do that at 21, 22. To have that courage, I admire that a lot. Jennie was very loyal to Mr. Spelling, very loyal to 90210 and I’m sure that led her back to [the new show] in a way. One thing you realize is that people do for their careers what they think is best, both in getting in with things and getting out of things. And I never like to comment on that because at a certain point they thought it was a good idea.
TDW: Are you in touch with anyone else?
Rosin: I am. I’m in touch with the guys. Luke, not as much. Hopefully will get back in touch pretty soon. But Jason Priestley [Brandon] I consider a really good friend. I love Ian Ziering [Steve]. He actually helped on showbizzle, doing an interview. And Jim Eckhouse I actually put in front of the camera. So those are the guys pretty much. And I keep in touch with Gabby through her husband, who is my stock broker.
TDW: I spoke with [writer-producer] Larry Mollin recently and he expressed some interest in doing a panel to talk about the show.
Rosin: If you ever want to do something like that, you let me know.
Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!
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