A few months ago, I had a hot Skype date with none other than Beverly Hills, 90210 Executive Producer, Larry Mollin. Larry is a hoot! Not only did he dish about his experiences on one of my favorite shows, but brought a big ol’ smile to my face.
Larry Mollin started his TV writing career working on CHiPs, Renegade and Knight Rider. What would an action man have to bring to everyone’s favorite zip code that normally deals with characters who moved from Minnesota into the foreign land of Beverly Hills? A lot. Larry worked on Beverly Hills, 90210 during the college years from 1993-1997.
Here’s the hot scoop on his experiences working on Beverly Hills, 90210, having Vince McMahon as a boss and how he’d order his MegaBurger.
LeeAnn Yops: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I met Darren Martin (the9021bro) at RewindCon as well as the majority of the cast…
Larry Mollin: Darren is wonderful. Oddly enough, it took a fan to get all of the actors together in a certain way and it’s a wonderful thing. The cast bonded because of Darren. He’s been a good bell ringer, he’s a decent guy and I’m glad you got to meet him also. There are a couple of people who are really waving the flag and we appreciate it. The show was really important to all of us and we had no idea that it was going to go on forever like this, but I thought that we were making something pretty damn good and we cared about it as much as the fans. People were out there watching so we had to pay attention. I can only talk through season 7. After that, the show went to shit. They forgot the whole thesis of the show because they didn’t want to keep anyone else on and forgot that the show was about ordinary kids living extraordinary lives. After season 7 and college, they were extraordinary kids living ordinary lives. It made no sense to us for those who built up the show so it’s just stupid, they didn’t pay attention to the details that led them down the path to beaten storylines so no one was very happy about the “After-College Years.”
LY: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience of writing on the show? Where you started?
LM: I had come off of Renegade, which was an action show. Dear Chuck Rosin (original writer of Beverly Hills, 90210) had seen a screenplay I had written called “Borderline Normal” which got made into a movie in 1999, but he saw the actual screenplay in 1993, I think, Chuck had seen this script, because before that I had done a lot of action and some comedy, so Chuck thought I could really bring something to it.
The minute I got in there, they told us, “We’re not only going to do 22 episodes, but now we’re doing 32 episodes a year.” Before, that was never done. It was in great fun, though because you really had to understand the oral tradition of the show. There was so little time to talk about stuff that you really had to come in there knowing that these people are not from the past and project the future. And basically, Chuck was very organized and I was very organized, we would layout the whole season, putting the bigger, more promotable episodes on during Sweeps months, November, February and May. We tried to have big, promotable storylines to keep going. We would plan out a season a year in advance, not every episode, but we would have a good sense of the flow and then we just worked like dogs to make the deadlines. Doing 32 hours a year, you had to produce two episodes at a time, 6 times throughout the year. That meant double casting, double pre-production, double production and double post-production.
When I left at Season 7, I was basically the only one left standing. We had cancer, divorce, death and a heart attack from all the other executive producers. Jason decided that he wanted to go in a different direction, he got tired of the show and they basically threw the baby out with the bathwater and Jason decided that he made a big mistake, that he wasn’t an executive producer and he stepped down. It just kind of went downhill from there. It stretched out.
LY: I mean, I feel with how the series ended, Jason wasn’t even on it, it wasn’t a lot of the original cast…
LM: No, no. It was sad. It was just a money grabber at that point. It happens, but we’re proud of the first 7 seasons. I was basically the college guy. I wrote the first episode in college and the last, 128 hours. That was my main contribution. Chuck was the high school years with some college and we worked together. I came in with the girl from New York City.
LM: I wrote 128 hours including the first few episodes before college, up til when Donna lost her virginity which I also wrote.
LY: (laughs) Yeah, the wait until season 7 for Donna to no longer be a virgin.
LM: Well, that was the way it was. We kept waiting for it and we would ask Aaron, “Can we do it this season? What do you think?” And Aaron would say, “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t think so. We’ll hold off.” And finally when we did it, I said, “Do you think when we do it, since she’s Catholic, we should have a scene where she goes to confession?” and Aaron responded, “No, no, no. Just do it, just do it.”
LY: How involved was Aaron Spelling with the writing process?
LM: Every episode, we would go upstairs to his place and tell him what we had planned for it and it would always start with the Donna storyline first which was his primary focus because he loved his daughter and he loved her character. He took an endearing, fatherly role looking after the Donna character so we would tell him the Donna storyline first and then go into the other characters and then we would go back and write, but there really wasn’t a lot of time to break things down. Once we got the OK, we would break down the stories as a staff, delegate the main storylines to the core staff and roll. In the 6th and 7th year, we had to do more with computers so that we could really see everything and could write as a group sometimes and rewrite. Chuck didn’t really want to have computers in, but that was the transition into using interactive computers. Mr. Spelling was very involved in different levels because it was his show.
LY: Any storylines that didn’t make it that were intended, maybe some romances and things like that?
LM: Well, we tried to have the D’Shawn Hardell and Donna romance, but that got shot down pretty quick. We took it as far as we could and then moved on. We did a lot of risky things, a lot of things that are relevant today with the on-campus protesting, abortion, I can’t remember them all. The famous one we didn’t do was called “Plastic Surgery.” That was something we weren’t going to touch.
LY: Was there a storyline that you were going to do for Plastic Surgery?
LM: No, I mean, look you’re in Beverly Hills. It wouldn’t be shocking to bring that one up. There were a lot of breast augmentations with the actors.
LY: Yeah, with a new hairstyle, there was a new boob job.
LM: There’s a lot of pressure on young actresses and actors would change things because they felt inadequate, but we weren’t going to acknowledge it in the writing, but we would joke about it. Other than that, I don’t think we ever had a threeway.
LY: There were love triangles, but I wouldn’t say a full-on threeway.
LM: We never had an orgy.
LY: You could’ve maybe on the episode where they’re filming the college project similar to “The Real World.”
LM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That was fun. I wrote that one too with Meredith Stiehm. “The Unreal World.” Yeah, that was kind of cool with the beginning of MTV stuff that we were goofing off on that with the whole third season of MTV had the Puck character. It was such a fun show to write because you were reflecting what was happening in culture, the cutting-edge culture. I had teenage boys so it was easy for me to be absorbed in that culture. I wrote a lot of the music stuff with the Peach Pit After Dark. I picked a lot of the acts for that. I came from a music background so that was really fun for me. I come from an action background too which Chuck let me do with the Mexico episode where Dylan went to collect his money and do some action.
LY: Yeah, with the sword.
LM: It was called “Hazardous To Your Health.” It was great fun.
LY: Do you have any favorite characters or episodes that you had written?
LM: The Palm Springs episode that I wrote with Chip Johannessen was the 2-parter where the kids go to Palm Springs for the Keg House/alumni thing (P.S. I Love You). The scope was fantastic. Plus, we had Dick Dale, the surfer guitar player, a transgender woman who picks up Steve, we hang Dylan out over the tram in the mountains. That was a big episode, a lot of fun. And then we had Brandon and Valerie in the end look like they’re going to hit it off which was pretty cool. They start kissing. At the end, it was a great season.
LY: That was a big one too because that’s the episode that Donna gets pushed down the stairs.
LM: Oh, yeah. That was a big one and unfortunately that was my mistake. Ray was my character and we had great plans for Ray to be rehabilitated. He was an abused child and he had a whole storyline, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to do that because in the meantime, we got a lot of hits in the mail saying, “How can Donna be so stupid to be with this guy? I wouldn’t hurt her.” We couldn’t have Tori looking stupid so we got rid of Ray and of course we had just signed him for a “billion” dollars. We really liked the Ray character and the actor. He was cast from “The Heights” and unfortunately told him that we had to write him off. It was one of my worst times as a Producer because I felt it was wrong and there was nothing that we could do because Mr. Spelling was the boss. I felt so bad.
LY: I interviewed Christine Elise at RewindCon and she joked about how the Blue Collar characters who come into the rest of the cast on 90210 always fall south. She was destroying homecoming floats and Ray is pushing Donna down the stairs.
LM: I haven’t really thought about that, but it’s an interesting observation. It wasn’t intentional. Ray was meant to be a bigger character. He was in the opening credits that season. He had been signed for the year. It was an overreaction to him because we had a whole storyline to get Ray back. We thought he was a worthy character, we wanted a Blue Collar character. We thought it was important, but it didn’t fly. After him, there really wasn’t a Blue Collar character that I can remember. There was D’Shawn Hardell, but we didn’t keep him around. After that, everyone was rich and famous. There were Princes and other shit.
LY: Did you have a heavy involvement in the Tara storyline?
LM: Yes, I did. I created the Tara storyline. I always loved that. Paige Moss was the actress. She did a really good job. She was always slightly off. I don’t know what happened with her, but I hope she did well with her life. I have no idea. She had this kind of odd way like her character suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which was great because she just looked crazy. We enjoyed that whole storyline. We took off from that movie, “Single White Female,” we ripped off a bit from it with the whole female stalker that tries to complicate Kelly’s life and it worked out well. That whole Kelly cocaine story was pretty damn good too, I thought.
LY: That’s one of my favorites.
LM: Kelly really showed herself there. Danny 5, that’s what I called him. Colin was the character based on a guy I knew. That was fun stuff. The high-speed chase, we tried to capture everything in L.A. That was a big episode too. We had the birthday party with the Goo Goo Dolls on the boat and Tiffani’s boyfriend at the time, he was a comedian. What was his name? Oh, Pauly Shore, that’s it.
LY: I didn’t know she dated him. That’s funny.
LM: Pauly Shore has cameo in a bar scene with Steve and Brandon. They’re looking for Colin and Pauly Shore starts a bar fight. We had a lot of fun with that. Chuck would say, “We have to make the world safer for immaturity,” which was part of our thing. We had a very simple template which was emotion, bonding, passion, fun. Those four elements had to be in every episode. Then Chip and I had another format which was emotion, blonding, fashion, sun. We always filled up those 8 elements. We also tried to have some type of event in each episode that would tie all the storylines together. It was a tough template. We were writing our asses off. Now they do a season and it’s 10 episodes. Like, come on, give me a frickin’ break.
LY: Yeah, 32 episodes is a lot, even 24.
LM: Today, that would be like 3 seasons. In four years, we did 128 hours. They hold up. We used to say that in 32 episodes, there will probably be 3 dogs. If we have no more than 3 crappy episodes, we did our job. And they wouldn’t be crappy, they might be indulgent, things like “the dreams of Dylan McKay.” Was it the Western episode, not sure, stuff that we would do for ourselves like the Brenda 60s episode. I think it holds up. I don’t have any idea. Most of the episodes, we were working pretty hard, we were living it. We really believed in the show. Steve and Jessica Wasserman were really important in the show as well. And of course, Chuck, Chip and myself were the key writers.
LY: Did you have anything to do with casting as well?
LM: It was always the style that if it was your episode, you were in charge of casting as well. If you were a writer and producer, you cast it too. We had a set producer, Paul Wagner, he was terrific. He knew how to handle the actors because as writers and producers, we were on the other side of the hills from them, about 30 miles away from the set so Paul was our lifeline and for me, personally, in the 7th season where I was Executive Producer, we lost Paul. He got cancer and died a little bit later and wasn’t able to do it. That was really difficult because I didn’t have anyone herding the actors and the actors would constantly freak out, different demands and I didn’t have anyone to filter it so it made it difficult. The actors would then go directly to Mr. Spelling and everything was an overreaction, so that was a difficult year. Steve and Jessica divorced that year so they weren’t working together, Chuck was gone from the show at that point and it was really, just me… and 32 hours. That was a tough year. I think we got through it alright, it was their last year of college. I think the graduation episode is terrific. I was happy to film the ending with Tori losing her virginity, the dialogue in there was kind of nice, sweet, and fitting. Trying to remember what else we did that episode. I had a big fight with Jason that episode about the music. I had the Spice Girls lined up and he just unloaded on me. He thought that was the worst idea in the world. He was going to take over the show and he wanted the Cardigans.
LY: Yeah, they ended up being on there.
LM: Yeah, because he got his way and now it’s just stupid because the Spice Girls would have lived today. It would have made it a big episode today because they were big then and it would have held up. When we did the Rolling Stones episode, he was upset.
LY: You’re a Roadie on that episode!
LM: I am in that episode. I play the roadie that kicks Ray Pruit off the stage.
LY: That’s awesome.
LM: I had been a roadie. I was with Blood, Sweat & Tears in the late 60s. It was really odd when we were shooting that episode, we were at the Rose Bowl and during rehearsal, I was in my roadie gear and the Rolling Stones road manager was getting their gear together and I looked up and it was my old road manager from Blood, Sweat & Tears from 25 years ago. I said, “Hey, Larry Waterman, what’s going on? It’s Larry Mollin.” He said, “Hey, man. What band are you with?” And I said, “No, I’m Executive Producer of the show.” He said, “Shit, OK!” Totally bizarre.
LY: Did you write the line, “May the bridges I burn, light the way?”
LM: No, that was Chip. Typical Chip line. Chip and I would push each other. The character who we would really go off on was Lucinda. We used to write the most bizarre stuff for her. We would bring in some odd facts to her stuff. Stuff to elevate the dialogue a bit that would be cool and interesting facts and shit. That was fun. Those were good days. Chip and I wrote a bunch of episodes together also.
LY: Do you think that there is any hope for a reunion?
LM: I have no idea. I suspect there is. I think the cast would like to. Really, because of Darren Martin (the9021bro), they got behind Shannen in the warmth of their embraces (this is in reference to the Beverly Hills, 90210 reunion with the majority of the cast at RewindCon in 2016), they really put some energy her way. That was sweet to see. Tiffani wasn’t at that thing, was she?
LY: No, she wasn’t.
LM: I don’t know where she stands, but there’s something where she must not be happy with it. Personally, I’m sad to see that Kathleen Robertson got pushed out of that group. She brought a lot. Chip and I brought her character in. We had a lot of fun with her. She was a smartass and we could fill her dialogue. But, I don’t think she got embraced with the group either. I’m sure there will be a reunion at some point. I mean, what else are they doing? If they didn’t bring Chuck, Jessica or myself or somebody else who knows the storylines, it will just be the same stupid stuff because there was a thesis to the show that the later writers didn’t understand. What they do now, is they just burn the story off. When we wrote it, we had to go slow. We used to have a sign in the writer’s room that said, “Kissing is good.” It was there to basically remind you that you didn’t have to fly into bed so quickly. You could be in the moment, build that tension up. That’s where it’s at. That’s what romance is. Once you have the fucking and everything else, where are you going to go? We would have that, but you still wanted to go slow. Take those stories slow, otherwise you’re burning off instantly. We knew better than that. We knew plot character could be plot. That was the key thing that I don’t think anyone after us understood. Character is plot. You didn’t need to fill shit up if you could understand what people are feeling in their hearts, mind and guts and that’s what we would drive for. If they do it again, I’m honestly not interested in working hard at this point, for me. But Chuck, he’s still anxious to go. He’s a little younger than me. He’s still one of my best friends. I see him pretty much every day. He’s doing a lot for it, going back to the high school years, trying to get the music put back in.
LM: There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes about teen voices that he deserves the credit and not Darren Star for making that show. Darren left early on and didn’t really know what to do with the show. Chuck brought in a social consciousness and the romance. Plus, he was smart enough to hire me, even though I was coming off of Renegade, CHiPs, and Knight Rider. I was a playwright. I would write anything I could write, it didn’t matter what genre it was.
LY: I see that you also worked with the WWE.
LM: Oh, yeah. I was with them on tour in 2005. That was interesting because I’m a theater person and that’s the biggest theater in the world. Unfortunately, there are only two characters you can write for on WWE, which is babyface and the heel. It was really hard for me. And I didn’t realize this, but the agenda there was to make the Hollywood guys fail. It had been forced on them by corporate to upgrade their products so they brought on me and another Hollywood director who worked on series similar to 90210. They hazed us, they tried to get us to quit. It was a tough thing, but I kept a lot of friends. I had some good times and I had some nightmarish times.
LY: What was some of the hazing?
LM: I was hazed on my first interview. I arrived in New York and was supposed to be picked up and taken to Stanford, CT in the middle of snowstorm and no one comes. They want to see if you can get there yourself. Or shit, like, I would write for Hulk Hogan and really score big. I would travel to Calgary and they would say, “Umm, well we don’t have a job for you this week.” And you would just sit there after traveling 3,000 miles and have nothing to do. It would just break you down. Then they would call you up in the middle of the night and ask you questions. It was like a cult, basically.
LY: What was it like working with Vince McMahon?
LM: Well, he’s a genius for one thing, but it’s like working for Elvis. There are certain things you have to be absolutely careful on, otherwise you’re going to get your head handed to you. There are words you can’t say. The first meeting I was in with Vince McMahon, it was a big production meeting and I arrived late. There was a show we were doing that night. I had a writing assignment and I was listening carefully. I was 59 and my boss was 26 and he was reading the script to everyone and Vince was there and I was just trying to take it all in. I get tapped on the shoulder by Stephanie McMahon who takes me outside and said, “You were nodding. Vince doesn’t like nodding. Do not nod in the room.”
LM: Here I was just trying to keep my head above water and now I was being told that I couldn’t nod. You couldn’t say certain words. You couldn’t say “belt.” There were certain words that would set Vince off. You had to be very careful. The “belt” was always the “championship” or the “title.” The word, “belt” would demean what we were doing. There would be little shit like that. I can’t remember all of the other buzz words you couldn’t say. Vince himself was really good. We would write a whole show and then fly in Vince’s private jet and read him the script. Then Vince would say, “No, no.” and then change it back to whatever he wanted so it was very frustrating. Then you’re doing basically 6 hours of live television a week. There was no day off. The day off was the flight home. It’s a 52-hour week of business. It was brutal. For me, I finally hit the road when Vince I were traveling on his plane and all of sudden we had to drive. At one point, I was going to drive the writers from St. Louis to Kansas City after the show and it was midnight. I thought, “It’s midnight. This is crazy, I’m not driving to Kansas City. I can hardly frickin’ see at night.” I bolted on that. They got mad at me. They said, “Sometimes we all have to do it.” I said, “Well, I’m not doing it. I’m a writer, not a driver. They can get us limousines.” That was pretty much it. That was the way out for me. I still have a lot of good friends from that. I liked the people I worked with and the actual wrestlers, but it came to a point where the actual work was so limited within the two characters that I wasn’t that good at it. I thought I was, but then I realized that they weren’t really going to accept my ideas anyway because they were trying to make us quit. They didn’t want us. We weren’t wrestling lifers, we were show people.
LY: Anything that you’re currently working on?
LM: I’m a playwright now. I went back to theater where I started. I got four plays and just had a play reading of one of them in L.A. that’s called “Please Come to Boston” that’s based on a 70s song. I’ve got three other plays. One has been done in New York, one has been done in London. I’m just having a ball being back in theater. Right now, I really don’t want have to work too hard. I’ve avoided all TV and film. I’m not interested in getting back into that world. I’ve been retired from that since 2007. I went back to theater and I’m a happy man. I look at the beach every day, have houses on both coasts and a marriage I’ve been in for forty years. Things are good. I can’t complain.
LY: That sounds great. Anything else that you like to say about the show from the time you were involved?
LM: No, just that Chuck should get the most credit than anybody, never Darren Star because he just casted it originally and kind of left it. He didn’t understand the show or what was going to make it successful which Chuck did, and I would like to think that I brought things to the college years. When I came in, everyone said, “You can’t just have a high school show go to college. It will never work. It should stay a high school show.” Chuck wouldn’t do it. Chuck wouldn’t have 25-year-old kids in high school (28 year-olds originally cast don’t count. Ahem, Zucks). We tried to broaden the demographic on viewing and we did because the ratings became bigger during the college years. I was always very proud of that. We had the highest ratings then. Again, we did 32 episodes in a season. There were always new episodes and something was always happening. This was before the Internet. The fact that we could go viral before that was really happening or build up that kind of fandom before that is pretty impressive at the time. We saw the beginnings of the Internet. There was an episode I wrote where David and Claire got on a message board about the Rolling Stones where they were slams on the Internet and it was kind of fun. I would have to go back and watch that episode to see how it holds up. I haven’t watched it in years. It’s fun to see that it’s still running, I think it’s still on Pop TV.
LY: Yeah, they’re on Pop TV. Speaking of the music, it’s on Hulu as well, but the music for the most part is completely different.
LM: That was the thing as a Producer, I produced the “New Gidget” in the 80s, and we would make music deals for 5 years, we never thought about it beyond that. The company that owns the music has to go back to the publishers and make new deals and it’s a lot of money and people don’t want to do it so they stripped a lot of the stuff and it sucks. The Gidget show I did, has never aired since because they don’t put the money into it so that sucks. Chuck is trying really hard to resurrect the high school year music. Maybe he’ll get it. I haven’t watched the Hulu stuff.
LY: They miss a bunch of episodes too.
LM: What do they do in the Peach Pit After Dark when people are performing? Do they just cut it out?
LY: Some of those are still in there. It’s more the iconic songs in scenes. I think of Brenda and Dylan’s breakup set to R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” They don’t play R.E.M., they play a generic song that sounds kind of like “Losing My Religion.” Then there are other episodes that aren’t on Hulu at all because they couldn’t get the music rights.
LM: We had some great bands on there like the Flaming Lips and the Cramps. They were bands I was listening to and wanted them on the show. I wrote the first punk episode on TV for CHiPs in 1981 called “Battle of the Bands.” We just had our CHiPs 40th reunion/fan fest. I have a punk background and wrote some songs for 90210. I wrote “Don’t Be” after the season 7 opener, “Remember the Alamo,” there’s a music video that David and Donna produce by an English guy. I wrote another song where David has a young, female piano performer. I can’t remember all of them, but I wrote maybe 3 or 4 songs for the show.
LY: Do you have any advice for writers who are starting out? People who have scripts? How did you break into everything?
LM: You know, I have to say, it was just a different world back then. I don’t know how you do it now. There are no barriers now because no one is going to stop you, but the hard thing is that for anyone at any level, is to find anyone to read your stuff. My favorite writer, Charles Bukowski, a poet, told me, “Mollin, writers are the worst people.” I don’t want to discourage people, but you have to be entrepreneurial. At the time, I didn’t do it for a business, but it became my business. My background was theater.
LY: Did you have a heavy hand with the Roy Randolph episodes then?
LM: Yeah, I created Roy Randolph. I thought Brenda was great in those episodes. I thought the Brenda character could have gone further, but at that point, Shannen didn’t mesh as well with the rest of the cast. There were other factors, but she was a difficult personality. She was a child actor. She had been friends with Tori and that fell out so that didn’t help because Mr. Spelling did whatever Tori wanted so it just didn’t work out. I was happy to see that they brought Shannen back for “Charmed” so at least she didn’t get hung out to dry. But Roy Randolph was great fun. When you think about it now, it’s all sexual harassment. We were hanging all that stuff out there. Who was going to sleep with the Director for the lead part? The woman who played Laura Kingman was an excellent actress. She is always on the edge and does stage work now.
LY: Well, her and Colin were both on MTV’s “Scream.”
LM: They were both on that? Jason Wiles’ mom is great. Good for them. Laura Kingman was one of the great psychos on our show. Her and Tara, they were wonderful. I loved to be back in the theater department on those episodes.
LY: Do you keep in touch with a lot of the cast and writers from Beverly Hills, 90210?
LM: I keep in touch with Chuck because he lives around the corner from me. Chuck is a Boogie Boarder. We’ll occasionally hit the water together. I keep up with Ian. Jason and I exchange things from time to time. I used to really keep up with Kathleen Robertson, but kind of lost touch with her. The other ones, I haven’t really kept up with. I was always taught, “Don’t talk to the actors.” If I was taught anything, it was “Don’t talk to the actors. Don’t go to the set. Don’t put your name on any of the scripts, and you’ll be a successful writer.” That was the advice given to me by Harry Crane who created the “Honeymooners.”
LY: That’s really funny. One final question and it’s just a silly one. How would you get your MegaBurger done?
LM: Oh, I would get it with grilled onions, cheese, no lettuce, no tomato, ketchup and mustard.
It was such a joy talking to Larry Mollin about his Beverly Hills, 90210 experiences. I think the next thing I need to do is go Boogie Boarding with him and Chuck Rosin. Whaddya think?