Degrassi star is learning her way around a new zip code

90210: WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE, OR TORONTO

Degrassi star is learning her way around a new zip code

JOHN DOYLE

July 22, 2008

According to Shenae Grimes, the 19-year Canadian actor who has leapt from Degrassi: The Next Generation to a lead role in 90210, “There’s no such thing as celebrity back home.”

By “home” she means Canada. Her remark – made at a press conference for 90210 – will come as news to Don Cherry, Pastor Mansbridge, Celine Dion, that guy from Barenaked Ladies who got arrested, and many others.

But, really, what Grimes means is that being famous in Canada is not like being a celebrity down here in La-La Land. Grimes, who looked every inch the young Hollywood celeb when I saw her tiny, stiletto-heeled frame get into a stretch limo the other day, is entering a very, very strange landscape.

Few shows have caused speculation and excited as much press interest as the show that might be best called Beverly Hills 90210 – The Next Generation. Before the press conference for the show, the vice-president of communications for the network airing the show, The CW, made reference to a “press feeding frenzy” about it.

The thing is, it’s a kind of feeding frenzy that didn’t exist when the original Beverly Hills 90210 became a hit show in the early 1990s. This feeding frenzy mainly exists online and in a plethora of celebrity-obsessed magazines. It’s a bottom-feeder frenzy. Remember, the enormous attention given to the original show and the celebrity status that touched its teenage stars was pre-Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, TMZ, Gawker and all those other sources of breathless, pointless bulletins about the daily activities of TV stars. It was before photos and video from cellphones could be uploaded to an Internet site in seconds.

At that press conference where Grimes talked about the non-existence of celebrity in Canada, it was finally confirmed that Shannen Doherty, a veteran of the original 90210 and the focus of much attention because of her reputation for being difficult, would have a role on the new show. The news was available in online entertainment-news services a mere three minutes later and thousands of people were blogging about it or writing comments about it.

Exactly what 90210 (it airs on Global in Canada starting with a two-hour special in early September) will be remains to be seen. Literally. The pilot episode has only just been shot and is not ready for advance review. All us critics saw was a promotional reel of handsome young people looking dead-cool in Beverly Hills. The slogan for the series has, however, been made available. And it is hilarious: “You wanna live in the zip? You gotta live by the code.”

Like the original series, 90210 will be about a family moving back from another city (in this case Kansas City) to shallow, beauty-obsessed Beverly Hills, and fitting in. And Grimes will play the equivalent of the role that Doherty played in 1990. It is possible that 90210 will be appallingly bad. It’s also possible that it is a work of exceptional genius with insight into the teenage mind. The latter does seem unlikely, though.

What makes it unlikely, I think, is the emphasis on bringing back those old stalwarts of the original – Doherty, Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth. Obviously, this is what’s known as a set-up. There would be considerably less interest in the new 90210 if there wasn’t the weird, bittersweet buzz about the over-the-hill stars of the past returning to play roles in the new, fresh version of what made them stars in the first place. It’s a show begging for intense but shallow attention.

The new 90210 is not just about rich, pretty teenagers having a good time, according to its producers. No way, says co-producer Jeff Judah: “Whether these kids drive Maseratis or live in mansions, we want people in Iowa watching, going, ‘That’s how I feel when my dad gets mad at me.’ ‘That’s how I feel when someone doesn’t like me.’ We have a strong point of view that kids need rules, need boundaries.”

Indeed. But the show is already burdened by celebrity-obsessed coverage.

And yes, celebrity means something different here. At the NBC party on Sunday night, I was talking to Canadian producer Damien Kindler, whose show Sanctuary has landed on the Sci-Fi Channel here. Kindler was in full sales-pitch mode, telling me about the show. Then I noticed he was suddenly distracted by a commotion that was happening behind me.

I turned and there was Spelling, who had just arrived with her Toronto-born actor husband Dean McDermott. Their current project is a reality series, Tori & Dean: Inn Love, about the couple opening a bed-and-breakfast place. Reporters scrummed Spelling, asking questions about 90210. The cameras flashed. It was like a delirium had descended on the space around them..

The thing is, all us TV critics had an alternative picture of Spelling, her husband and their life.

A week before, Canadian Press TV writer Bill Brioux had moseyed over to the Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel to investigate an event called the Hollywood Collectors & Celebrities Show. It’s where older, obscure and mostly forgotten TV and movie actors make a few bucks signing autographs and charging to have a photo taken with fans.

To the Canadian journalist’s shock, present at the show were Spelling and McDermott, charging money to sign photos. Spelling was charging $20 to sign an old photo of herself in her Beverly Hills 90210 days. That’s about as low as it gets in Hollywood – making a few fast bucks from signing photos at an airport hotel. According to Brioux, sales weren’t brisk.

So, yeah, maybe there’s no celebrity stature in Canada that’s similar to celeb-status in L.A. Young Shenae Grimes might be right. But La-La Land is like a different planet, and Grimes might not like the kind of celebrity-status that exists here.

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