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Jennie Garth

The question is not, "Does the new '90210' stink?" The question is, "How bad is the odor?"

If the show was good, The CW would have been falling all over itself to make sure that critics had copies of tonight's premiere (7 p.m., Ch. 30) weeks ago. I'm not trying to overstate the power of critics in general — and I'm certainly not insinuating that my opinion carries much weight — but the fact that The CW hasn't shown the "90210" pilot to anyone is a clear indication that it must, well, stink.

In the 18 1/2 years I've written about TV, I cannot recall a single series, special or movie that was withheld from critics that was anything other than terrible. (The most recent example was the dreadful "Knight Rider" TV movie that aired last spring.)

Usually, networks make excuses. Usually, the excuse is that production schedules preclude sending out DVDs.

In this case, The CW just made a "strategic marketing decision." You know, the same "strategic marketing decision" that movie studios make when they want to open a horrible movie without reviews so they can make a few bucks before bad word of mouth kills it.

As for The CW's statement that "we're not hiding anything" by keeping "90210" under wraps, that's laughable. Of course they're hiding something. They're trying to keep the odor of failure from permeating the planet before tonight.

The CW has, by the way, made another of its new shows available to critics. And "Privileged" is another series featuring teens who live in the world of the uber-rich. And it's pretty good. Quite enjoyable, as a matter of fact. And, again, it was screened for critics.

What an amazing coincidence!

The irony is, I was looking forward to the new "90210." I have fond memories of the early years of its predecessor, "Beverly Hills, 90210," which was actually a pretty good show its first few years. At least until the "kids" graduated from high school and the show became just another silly soap.

Executive producers Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah insist that "90210" is not a remake.

"It is a complete original invention," Judah said. "There will be, though, somewhat of an homage to the original show."

But it sounds a lot like a remake (although it's hard to judge without seeing a pilot). You may recall that the original show launched when the Walsh family moved from the Midwest to Beverly Hills, and brother-and-sister duo Brandon (Jason Priestly) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) discovered that rich kids are different when they started attending West Beverly High.

The new show — which has dropped the name of the city from the title — has an extremely similar jumping-off point. The Wilson family moves from Kansas to Beverly Hills, and Annie (Shenae Grimes) and her adopted brother, Dixon (Tristan Wilds), start attending West Beverly.

(While the original "90210" cast was pretty much all-white, there's been some attempt at diversity this time around — albeit just a single black character, Dixon.)

Not that all is the same. Their father, Harry (Rob Estes) is the new principal at West Beverly High. And the Wilsons — including wife/mother Debbie (Lori Laughlin) — have moved to Beverly Hills to keep an eye on Harry's mother, Tabitha (Jessica Walter), a "feisty-but-faded former television star and a charter member of the Betty Ford Clinic."

They quickly meet the "90210" crowd: Naomi (AnnaLynne McCord) is "a hot, spoiled, rich girl"; Ethan (Dustin Milligan) is "a popular jock"; Navid (Michael Steger) is "an aspiring journalist who heads up the school's daily newscast"; and Silver (Jessica Stroup) is "a rebel who produces and stars in a YouTube-type video series."

And, as has been widely publicized, original cast member Jennie Garth returns as Kelly Taylor (who's now a school counselor) and Doherty returns as Brenda (who's going to direct the high-school musical).

In addition to Kelly and Harry, a third member of the WBHHS faculty is part of the cast — Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold) is a "smart and funny teacher."

They're even bringing back the Peach Pit and its owner, Nat (Joe E. Tata). It's not a diner anymore, however — it will be "a cool coffeehouse where a lot of kids hang out," Judah said. "But it's not going to be the old show where it's, like, 'Hey! It's Color Me Badd!' and they come in."

Hey, I think this sounds like a fun idea for "90210." Again, I was looking forward to seeing it.

But hiding the pilot as a "market strategy" makes this show more than suspect. It makes it downright scary.

We do know that things have changed since Brandon and Brenda moved to Beverly Hills in 1990. For one thing, the kids today are texting and IM-ing "and everything is so fast and all this technology and there's something new coming out every week," Sachs said.

And, while it was a huge deal back in 1993 when Brenda had sex with Dylan, Sachs hinted that the new show will be, um, more risque. He said that both network executives and the FCC "are always going to have issues, especially with Jeff and I."

"And my character," McCord interjected.

There's that whole no-pilot thing, but — given the content of The CW's "Gossip Girl" — nobody will be surprised if the sexual content is more than what we saw 18 years ago in "Beverly Hills, 90210."

Maybe "90210" won't stink. Maybe it'll be good. Or, at least, it won't be bad.

I'd love nothing more than to be totally surprised.

But, after 18 1/2 years, not that many things on TV surprise me anymore.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com