Why Models Inc Is The ’90s Trash TV Gem You Never Knew You Needed
The spin-off of the spin-off of Beverly Hills 90210. What could possibly go wrong?
1994. The year Kurt Cobain died. The year Triple J went national. Paul Keating was Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was President and Justin Bieber was… born (that hurt a lot to write).
It was the also the year that TV as we knew it changed forever, and then quickly went back to the way it was. Because while Models Inc may have aired for just one season, but it was a season that changed us all (citation needed).
You can’t spell ‘90s without “supermodel”. Naomi, Linda, Cindy, Helena, Kate, Elle. At some point somebody, probably George Michael, decided that a cohort of leggy women would sell any and every product imaginable. The supermodel was a powerful entity, one that reinvigorated the fashion industry in the fallout from the long period of 1980s excess. They personalised an otherwise shallow industry that was suffering from recessions and a general consensus that greed and materialism was a bad thing. Models Inc captured that obsession with leggy ladies who walked, posed and pointed for a living. It spoke to the ability of super-producer Aaron Spelling, the man who defined ’90s TV like no other.
Why should we revisit a TV drama that lasted one season, twenty years ago? Well, maybe because it was the best (worst) example of mid-’90s trash TV.
I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Spelling
Models Inc was a spin-off of a spin-off. Like some First Testament biblical lineage, it goes something like this: In the beginning, God created Aaron Spelling, a multi-millionaire TV mogul responsible for The Love Boat, Dallas, Charlies Angels and even, in part, Twin Peaks. From his rib came Candy Spelling, which is the actual name of a real woman. Together, they gave birth to human punchline, Tori Spelling. Eighteen years later, in 1994, Daddy Spelling created Beverly Hills 90210, installing young Tori in the cast in an act of nepotism so blatant it would make the Bush family wince.
Beverly Hills 90210 was a cultural phenomenon, and for those too young to remember the 1990s, it was everywhere. Teen-driven, prime time drama that was honest about young people having sex, set against an aspirational backdrop of a wealthy clique of youngsters, and one 86-year-old (I see you, Andrea Zuckerman). BH 90210 was like The OC or Gossip Girl with higher hair (and jeans), or like Dawson’s Creek minus the self-aware verbosity. Spinning off from the wildly successful BH 90210 came Melrose Place, where Beverly Hills Queen Bee Kelly Taylor dated motorcycle-riding adult Jake Hanson, introducing us to the twenty- and thirty-something dramas shared between people living in the same apartment building.
Melrose Place was dead in the apartment pool water until Spelling et al. introduced super-bitch Amanda Woodward, played by ‘80s primetime drama veteran Heather Locklear. The character was so successful that Locklear got whatever she wanted, including a “Special Guest Star” credit for the next six seasons.
One episode, we also met Amanda’s mother Hillary Michaels (played by Dallas star Linda Gray) who owned the sexiest modelling agency in LA; an agency that against all sensible business advice she named Models Inc.
And thus, a spin-off of a spin-off was born, and it was good. Except it wasn’t.
Models Inc was the first of the Spelling ‘90s dramas to crash not soar, along with The Heights, University Hospital and Savannah. It also tried the Darren Star approach to TV, without Darren Star (the man behind Melrose Place, who then flew the Spelling coop and made Cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks household names as showrunner of Sex and the City).
The series suffered in the way many people’s third children are victims of parental exhaustion: the dramas were the hand-me-down of hand-me-downs, and by the time the third one comes around parents are like, “I’m pretty capable at this parenting thing by now, go nuts kid!” Models Inc took the “go nuts” thing quite seriously.
In the pilot episode, supermodel Teri is thrown off a balcony, sending the agency into a tailspin as “I’ll have the businesswoman’s special” Hillary gets wrongly accused of the crime, and also sleeps with the detective responsible for solving the murder.
Then, eight eps in, a model turns up who looks JUST LIKE dead Teri (played by the same actress). You’d think that this is some soapy plot in which Teri faked her death, but no: Models Inc decided a far more believable plotline would be that a famous supermodel’s doppelgänger was wandering the planet and conveniently popped up, camera ready, not long after her death.
That’s just the start. We got to witness all the familiar tropes of lady-drama, like long-lost children, long-lost sex tapes, and long-lost virginity (the series’ bad girl was played by Australia’s own Kylie Travis, go us!). To fuel the fracas, all of Hillary’s top models lived in the same beach house, because if there is anything supermodels enjoy more than independence, it’s living with the competition. Carrie Ann Moss (The Matrix) played dead Teri’s older sister, a former supermodel now ravaged by age and insecurity (she was 24 years old at time of filming).
Oh, did I mention Models Inc had a Daddo brother in the cast? Not just any Daddo: they nabbed Cameron, who was the BEST ONE. The Daddos, of course, were the ’90s version of the Hemsworth boys, minus the Scandinavian beauty or Hollywood clout. We rolled them out on soaps and Carols by Candlelight like we had a warehouse full of the things — but sadly all four Daddos were no match for one Julian McMahon, who now enjoys their career.
It Didn’t Work, Covergirl
Like every third child, Models Inc learnt to copy her older sibling before defining herself. So, about halfway through the poorly-performing series, the writers introduced an Amanda Woodward-style super bitch to jazz up the drama. Grayson Louder was an English sociopath that came back from the dead to ruin the life of ex-husband Adam, who had fallen in love with dead Teri’s doppelgänger Monique.
Nothing screams “positive depictions of women” like a crazy ex plotting to destroy everything in her path to get to revenge, and Grayson went to town. Perhaps her boldest intrigue was to buy a controlling stake in Models Inc and hire a new batch of supermodels, which of course made the other models furious (women HATE other women, remember). The twist was that these models came from Grayson’s former life as a madam (supermodels = good, sex workers = bad).
Tragically, Models Inc wasn’t getting out of bed for less than 10,000 viewers per day, and was cancelled after the first season. This unjust decision left all twelve of us watching in Australia hanging, as season one ended on a cliff-hanger. Monique (dead Teri doppelgänger) and Adam were getting married, so Cray-son Louder hired an assassin. In the scuffle at the altar that ensued, one of the three was shot: but who? We would never know. Except that once the producers knew Models Inc was cancelled, they re-edited the ending for the European market, killing Grayson to give the series a happy ending. A happy ending that ignores Carrie Ann Moss getting abducted into Latin American sex slavery (moral of the story: don’t age, ladies!).
(Un)luckily for you, it’s all on YouTube. Don’t feel guilty whiling away a few hours watching Models Inc. Terrible television is a form of schadenfreude: I watch it, I know it’s bad, but I’m smarter than it and the people who genuinely enjoy it. Superb garbage is nothing to be ashamed of enjoying. So liberally apply some mousse to your hair, overdo the lip liner and enjoy.
Nic Holas is a writer who focuses on the contemporary gay experience, and being a person living with HIV. His writing has appeared in Hello Mr Magazine, Star Observer, The Needle Prick Project, and Cosmopolitan. You can find him on Twitter @nicheholas, or in his role as co-founder of HIV social umbrella The Institute of Many.