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from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television
Aaron Spelling was one of television's most prolific and successful producers of dramatic series and made-for-television films. Spelling began his career as a successful student playwright at Southern Methodist University where he won the Eugene O'Neill Award for original one-act plays in 1947 and 1948. After graduating in 1950 and spending a few years directing plays in the Dallas area and trying less than successfully to make his way on Broadway, Spelling moved to Hollywood. There he initially found work as an actor and later as a scriptwriter for such anthology and episodic series as the Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, Playhouse 90, Wagon Train, and The Jane Wyman Theater. Within a few years Spelling had become a producer at Four Star Studio Productions where he created The Lloyd Bridges Show (1962-63), Burke's Law (1963-66), Honey West (1965-66), and helped develop The Smothers Brothers Show (1967-75).
Spelling's first really successful series, Mod Squad (1968-73), was produced after he left Four Star and formed a partnership with Danny Thomas. During its five year run, Mod Squad earned six Emmy Award nominations, including one for outstanding dramatic series of the 1969-70 season. In 1972 Spelling formed a new partnership with Leonard Goldberg which lasted until 1977 and produced such hits as The Rookies, Starsky and Hutch (1972-76), and Charlie's Angels (1976-81).
Spelling series featuring both wealthy crime fighters and regular cops continued in the 1980s with Hart to Hart (1979-84), Matt Houston (1982-85), Strike Force (1981-82), T.J. Hooker (1982-87), and McGruder and Loud (1985). But Spelling also ventured into new genres with his innovative hour-long comedy, Love Boat and the prime time serial Dynasty. Reminiscent of the 1960s anthology comedy, Love, American Style, Spelling's Love Boat turned the three separate comedy stories into three intertwined storylines. Intercutting three separate plots in short scenes which recapitulated yet advanced each storyline plot was a brilliant strategy which enabled the series to appeal to different sets of viewers, each of whom might be attracted to a particular plotline, within a format that was admirably suited to the fragmented and distracted way that most people view television. Another Spelling innovation which first appeared in Love Boat was the ritualized introductory sequence that formally presented the multiple plots in each week's episode as well as the series' main characters.
In 1980s television, Spelling was king. In 1984 Spelling's seven series on ABC accounted for one-third of the network's prime time schedule and led some critics to rename ABC "Aaron's Broadcasting Company." Spelling's 18-year exclusive production deal with ABC ended in 1988, but his ability to create hit series did not; in the 1990s, he introduced Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.
Among the recurring thematic features that have characterized Spelling's productions over the years are socially relevant issues such as the disaffected militant youth of the 1960s, the institutional discrimination against women, racism, and homophobia; altruistic capitalism; conspicuous consumption and valorization of the wealthy; the optimistic, moralistic maxims that people can be both economically and morally successful; good ultimately triumphs over evil; the grass often looks greener but rarely is; and the affirmation of the "caring company" work family (e.g., in Hotel) as well as the traditional kinship family. Stylistically his productions typically have included high key lighting, gratuitous displays of women's bodies, heavily orchestrated musical themes, lavish sets, and what Spelling himself thinks is the most important thing in television--"style and attention to detail."
One Spelling series which stands out as truly anomalous among this auteur's prime-time and movie ventures is Family (ABC, 1976-80). Spelling and Mike Nichols co-produced this weekly hour-long drama which many consider to be his best work. During the four years that this serious portrayal of an upper middle-class suburban family was in first run, it won four Emmy Awards for the lead performers and was twice nominated for outstanding drama series.
"Innovator," "over-achiever," "spin doctor," "angel," "king of pap," "ratings engineer," "TV's glitzmeister," winner of six NAACP awards--whatever other labels Spellings' critics and admirers have used to describe this prolific, successful producer, one which certainly describes the unique signature Aaron Spelling has left on four decades of television is that of television auteur.
-Leah R. Vande Berg
AARON SPELLING. Born in Dallas Texas, U.S.A., 22 April 1923. Died 23 June 2006. Educated at Sorbonne University, Paris, 1945-46; Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, B.A. 1950. Married: 1) Carolyn Jones, 1953 (divorced, 1964); 2) Carole Gene Marer, 1968; one daughter and one son. Served in U.S. Air Force, 1942-45, decorated with Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster. Actor, from 1953, appearing in 50 television shows and 12 films; began career as a writer after selling script to Zane Grey Theater; worked in production, Four Star, 1956-65; co-owner, with Danny Thomas, Thomas-Spelling Productions, 1968-72; co-president, Spelling-Goldberg Productions, 1972-77; president, Aaron Spelling Productions, Inc., Los Angeles, 1977-86, chair and chief executive officer, since 1986. Member: Board of Directors, American Film Institute; Writers Guild of America; Producers Guild of America; Caucus of Producers, Writers and Directors; Hollywood Radio and TV Society; Hollywood TV Academy of Arts and Sciences; Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Recipient: Eugene O'Neill Awards, 1947 and 1948; six National Association Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards; named Man of the Year by the Publicists Guild of America, 1971; named Man of the Year by Beverly Hills chapter of B'Nai B'rith, 1972, 1985; named Humanitarian of the Year, 1983; named Man of the Year by the Scopus organization, 1993. Address: Spelling Television Inc., 5700 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036-3659, U.S.A.
TELEVISION SERIES (selection; producer)
1956-62 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (writer only)
1959-60 Johnny Ringo
1959-61 The du Pont Show With June Allyson
1963-65 Burke's Law
1965-66 Amos Burke: Secret Agent
1968-73 The Mod Squad
1975-79 Starsky and Hutch
1976-81 Charlie's Angels
1977-86 The Love Boat
1978-84 Fantasy Island
1984-85 Finder of Lost Loves
1985-87 The Colbys
1990- Beverly Hills 90210
1992- Melrose Place
1994 Winnetka Road
1994-95 Models, Inc.
1995- Malibu Shores
1976 The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
1977 Little Ladies of the Night
1981 The Best Little Girl in the World
1993 And the Band Played On
FILMS (selection; producer)
Mr. Mom, 1983; 'night, Mother, 1986; Surrender, 1987; Cross My Heart, 1987; Soapdish, 1991.
Spelling, Aaron, with Jefferson Graham. Aaron Spelling: A Prime Time Life. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.
- Aaron Spelling on the catfights on
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- Aaron Spelling on coming up with the main title sequence of
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- Aaron Spelling on what made
Beverly Hills 90210 a hit
Clip begins at: 10:08, Duration: 00m 34s
- Aaron Spelling on the premise of
Starsky and Hutch
Clip begins at: 02:19, Duration: 01m 12s
- Aaron Spelling on the "jiggle TV" label placed upon
Clip begins at: 10:43, Duration: 02m 23s
- Aaron Spelling on the three story format of
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- Aaron Spelling on "Julie" in his scripts
Clip begins at: 03:31, Duration: 00m 34s
- Part 1
- On his childhood and early influences; on his love of books as a child; on serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II and why he never flies; on attending college at Southern Methodist University (SMU); on his first impressions of television
Clip begins at: 0:54
- On moving to Los Angeles; on writing plays; on his big break with Preston Sturges and acting on Dragnet and I Love Lucy; on being in movies; on his first gigs as a writer for Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, Fireside Theatre and Playhouse 90; on what he learned from Dick Powell; on dealing with network interference
Clip begins at: 12:45
- Part 2
- On doing shows that dealt with important issues; on telling people on 5 sets of JFK's assassination; on writing and producing for June Allyson; on what it takes to be a good producer
Clip begins at: 0:31
- On Four Star Productions; on creating his first dramatic series, Johnny Ringo; on writing and producing Burke's Law and the show's amazing guest stars; on the Hollywood Blacklist; on co-creating The Smothers Brothers Show; on leaving Four Star Productions
Clip begins at: 16:40
- Part 3
- On partnering with Danny Thomas in Thomas-Spelling Productions and producing Rango and The Mod Squad; on forming Aaron Spelling Productions
Clip begins at: 0:35
- On the television movies he produced - Over the Hill Gang, And the Band Played On, and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble; on partnering with Leonard Goldberg for Spelling-Goldberg Productions; on on producing The Rookies, S.W.A.T., and Family;
Clip begins at: 13:14
- Part 4
- On the genesis and production of Starsky and Hutch; on the creation and cast of Charlie's Angels;
Clip begins at: 0:39
- On the genesis and production of Fantasy Island; on the guest stars on Fantasy Island; on selling Spelling-Goldberg to Columbia Pictures; on the development and casting of Love Boat; on Vega$
Clip begins at: 14:36
- Part 5
- On producing Hart to Hart and Dynasty; on Joan Collins joining Dynasty; on Dynasty going off the air
Clip begins at: 0:56
- On T.J. Hooker; on movies he produced - Mr. Mom; on developing Hotel; on taking Aaron Spelling Productions public and the subsequent merger; on producing Life With Lucy with Lucille Ball
Clip begins at: 14:21
- Part 6
- On producing Life with Lucy (contd.); on the end of his association with ABC and doing Nightingales at NBC; on producing Beverly Hills 90210; on producing Melrose Place
Clip begins at: 0:0
- On career regrets; on using guest stars in anthologies and dramas; on why TV is so popular; on the future of television; on his family and how he proposed to his wife; on his house
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