Did 90210 Begin as an Attempt to Adapt Degrassi for U.S. Audiences?


  • Aaron Spelling did not try to license Degrassi Junior High before creating Beverly Hills 90210.
  • Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High was a popular Canadian prime time soap opera about high school students.
  • The soap opera format of Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High had a major influence on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, but there was no direct connection between the shows.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Aaron Spelling tried to license Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High for the United States television market and created Beverly Hills 90210 instead when his licensing attempt failed.

Television history is filled with examples of American producers adapting hit shows from other countries into successful shows here, like All in the Family (Till Death Us Do Part), Sanford and Son (Steptoe and Son), and Three’s Company (Man About the House). That tradition continues to this day with hit shows like Ghosts (based on the British series of the same name) and The Cleaning Lady (based on the Argentinian show, La Chica Que Limpia).

However, television history is also probably filled with even MORE examples of TV series that were unofficially “inspired” by popular TV shows and films, like how the success of the film Mr. Mom in 1983 led to a proliferation of sitcoms based on the idea of a man doing the domestic work at home (yes, that was actually once a novel enough concept that it could be used as the basis for a sitcom), or how Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was essentially just Ferris Bueller’s Day Off under another name.

For years, fans have been debating just what the connection was between the hit Canadian prime time soap opera about high school students, Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High, and the hit American prime time soap opera about high school students, Beverly Hills 90210, which was created by legendary TV producer, Aaron Spelling. Was Beverly Hills 90210 simply similar to Degrassi, or was the connection deeper than that? One legend is so common that a search for “Aaron Spelling” and “Degrassi” gives you an exceptionally large number of posts online repeating the same legend. I’ll use the one from IMBD’s trivia page for Spelling, “At some point during the run of Degrassi High (1987), Spelling made an attempt to buy the rights and produce the show in America. Shortly after his request was declined, he produced Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990).”

That legend is not true, but we’ll see what the actual connection is between the two hit shows.


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What was so significant about Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High?

The original Degrassi Junior High School cast

Linda Schuyler was a seventh and eighth grade teacher in Canana in the mid-1970s who was interested in teaching media literacy to her students, but was surprised to learn that there really weren’t that many resources available. One of the books she found was a book for preschoolers about a cat making a movie. Schuyler thought it was a good story, though, and purchased the rights to the book, and turned it into a TV movie in 1979, starring children instead of a cat. She did it through the production company that she had formed in 1976 with film editor, Kit Hood, called Playing With Time.

The TV movie proved popular, and after doing yearly TV movies for the next few years about this group of kids who all lived on De Grassi Street in Toronto, the CBC approved a regular children’s TV series by Schuyler and Hood called The Kids of Degrassi Street in 1982. The series ran until 1986 (airing 26 episodes in total, including the early TV movies). In 1987, Schuyler and Hood felt that they should try moving to the next level with the story, and follow these children into high school. Degrassi Junior High, initially an afternoon show like its predecessor, was then moved to prime time, and became a major hit in Canada. Schuyler and Hood’s deft balance of comedic storylines mixed with serious social issues (with a diverse cast) was broadly appealing. After two seasons, the show evolved into Degrassi High, running for two more seasons before ending in 1991.

In many ways, the soap opera format of Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High was a major influence on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, and many other similar series. However, in the case of Beverly Hills 90210, just what WAS the connection?


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Did Aaron Spelling try to license Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High before creating Beverly Hills 90210?

Launching in the fall of 1990, Beverly Hills 90210 followed twin siblings Brandon and Brenda Walsh (Jason Priestley and Shannen Doherty, respectively), who moved to Beverly Hills with their parents from Minnesota, and had to deal with the major culture shock of their new environment, both the drastically different weather, but also, of course, the different lifestyle that their fellow Beverly Hills classmates were used to, coming from mostly affluent households. The love triangle between Brenda and her new friend, Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), over teen heartthrob Dylan Walsh (played by Luke Perry) was a major factor in the show’s success. The series actually wasn’t a big hit right away, but Fox cleverly scheduled the second season to premiere in the Summer of 1991, while all the other network shows were in reruns, and the “Summer Season” of Beverly Hills 90210 became a cultural sensation, and the actors on the series all became instant teen idols.

Now, as to the question of the day – what WAS the connection between Aaron Spelling and Degrassi?

In an interview by Natalie Earl on Degassi Online in 2007, Hood (who sadly passed away in 2020) addressed the Spelling rumors:

The Beverly Hills 90210 rumour blew out of proportion. The producers of 90120 did approach us for information and advice in regards to the development 90210. However they never offered to buy the rights to Degrassi Junior High. 90210 premiered in September 1990 but it was not a deliberate mimic of Degrassi. I truly hate it when people compare 90210 to Degrassi. We had entirety different concepts and appealed to different audiences. Aaron Spelling knew how to market 90210. Linda and I were not experienced in marketing. Our emphasis was providing moralsitic integrity. The Degrassi series was never about making money. Toronto is not Hollywood, we do not have the same mentality or resources. Degrassi succeeded because were had support from television stations around the world. Thanks to British Broadcasting Corporation my grandfather in England was able to watch Degrassi.

A year later, Schuyler talked to The Globe and Mail’s Gayle Macdonald about a former Degrassi cast member, Shenae Grimes, having been cast as the lead on the then-new 90210 spinoff series, and the Spelling rumors came up:

For years, rumours circulated in Canadian TV circles that the late Spelling had at one time tried to buy the format rights to Degrassi for the United States. Yesterday, Schuyler chuckled at the speculation, adding, “I’d heard that Spelling had watched a lot of the early Degrassis, as well as read a lot of the scripts. But did Aaron Spelling ever talk to Linda Schuyler? No.

“It’s not exactly an original idea to do a show about a bunch of kids in high school, but I do take tremendous pride in the fact that Degrassi was out there well before Beverly Hills, 90210. And we’re in season eight of Degrassi: The Next Generation, and they’re just kicking off this spinoff.”

I think having BOTH of the show’s creators outright deny the rumors is good enough for me.

The legend is…


Thanks to Kit Hood, Linda Schuyler, Natalie Earl, and Gayle Macdonald for the information!

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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