Second only to teen-agers, the biggest fans of the TV show "Beverly Hills 90210" are companies that want to sell things to teen-agers and the pre-teens who idolize them.
The show may rank only 42nd in popularity with American viewers in general (a tie with "Knot's Landing"), but it ranks first with the 18-and-under set.
"Beverly Hills 90210" (Channel 45, 9 p.m. Thursdays) highlights the social and sexual problems of a group of good-looking teen-agers with easy access to money, clothes and fast cars. The stars of the show -- especially Jason Priestly and Luke Perry (the show's Brandon and Dylan, respectively) -- are in increasing demand for guest appearances at shopping malls and at auto shows.
At the Fashion Bug store in Philadelphia, there has been a surge in sales for the white denims and sneakers favored by characters on the show. Cashier Linda Ramos says she's never seen "Beverly Hills 90210" herself, but doesn't doubt it is influencing purchases there.
T-shirts emblazoned with the show's logo, or with foot-high photos of its stars or such legends as "Beverly Hills High School Phys. Ed. Dept." can be found at any Kmart.
This is just the beginning. Some of the heaviest hitters in merchandising are still to be heard from. Mattel, for example, best-known for Barbie, this summer will roll out five 11 1/2 -inch "fashion dolls" named Dylan, Brandon, Brenda, Kelly and Donna from you-know-where.
The dolls, which will retail for $18 apiece, will come dressed in a "school outfit" with a bathing suit (Beverly Hills after-school outfit) in the same package. Further changes of fashion, a doll-sized car, a model snack shop, a beach ensemble, including a surf board, fins and a boom box, will be sold separately.
The primary market for these dolls will be 10-year-old girls because, as Mattel spokeswoman Lisa McKendall explains: "Little girls like to fantasize about what it's like to be a teen-ager."
But Ms. McKendall says Mattel also expects sales to doll collectors (who tend to be adults) and to teen-agers, the latter "because we think the dolls will be considered three-dimensional posters. They look just like the characters."
Milton Bradley, the game company, already has on the market poster-sized jigsaw puzzles featuring Brandon and Dylan ($5). And coming in April (to Toys R Us and other toy stores) will be a card game and a board game with "Beverly Hills 90210" themes.
To develop the $16 board game, called the Beverly Hills 90210 Survey, the company surveyed 1,600 teens in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Houston, Orlando and Boston about situations portrayed on the TV show.
For example: Were 17-year-old Brenda's parents right to set a curfew for her when she goes on a date? Game players advance by correctly guessing the responses of the survey.
Of 100 teens questioned in L.A., did more or less than 48 percent say the parents were right? (The answer is more -- in fact, more than 60 percent said yes.)
Obviously, the companies that pay for licensing rights hope the popularity of the show will carry over to their products. That hope explains why about 30 percent of all toys sold in this country are the result of licensing agreements.
Success is not automatic, notes Paul Szczygiel, toy industry analyst with Bear, Stearns Co. He points to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" as a box-office success whose tie-in products did
On the other hand, "There are indications that this kind of stuff does well more often than products without tie-ins," Mr. Szczygiel said.
Carol Palmer, who follows Mattel for Duff & Phelps, agrees. "An extension of a successful concept increases the probability of success."
In many cases, licensing agreements are signed even before a proposed movie or TV series is made. Tie-in merchandise is in the stores when the movie is released or series aired. But that was not the case for "Beverly Hills 90210," says Milton Bradley spokesman Mark Morris.
"In this case, the show's constituency came first," Mr. Morris said. "And that's great. We became involved because we think )) the show's popularity will continue to grow."