Spelling is 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
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
"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.
R. Vande Berg
SPELLING. Born in Dallas Texas, U.S.A., 22 April 1923. 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.
Photo courtesy of Spelling Television, Inc.
SERIES (selection; producer)
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
Mr. Mom, 1983; 'night, Mother, 1986; Surrender,
1987; Cross My Heart, 1987; Soapdish, 1991.
Aaron, with Jefferson Graham. Aaron Spelling: A Prime Time Life.
New York: St. Martin's, 1996.
E. "Aaron Spelling." The Dallas (Texas) Morning News, 12 March 1989.
M., S. Craig, and C. Steinman. C. "Fantasy Island: Marketplace of
Desire." Journal of Communication, (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania),
Carson, T. "The King of Pap." Village Voice (New York), 12
S., and D. Tobenkin. "Aaron Spelling: TV's Overachiever." Broadcasting
& Cable (Washington, D.C.) 23 January 1995.
Davis, I. "He's baaaaaack! TV's King of Jiggle, Aaron Spelling."
Los Angeles Magazine, April 1991.
D. "Fox Sees Spelling as an Angel." Variety (Los Angeles),
6 January 1988.
Leonard. Beating the Odds. New York: Charles Scribners, 1991.
Ronald. "Is Aaron Spelling Still in His Prime Time?" Business
Week (New York), 17 April 1989.
D., and R.J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers. Boston:
Little Brown, 1992.
D. "TV Auteurism." American Film (Washington, D.C.), November
Quill, G. "Spin Doctor Spelling Aspires to the Heights of Hyperbole."
The Toronto (Canada) Star, 26 August 1992.
Schwichtenberg, C. "A Patriarchal Voice in Heaven." Jump Cut
(Berkeley, California), 1984.
Seiter, E. "The Hegemony of Leisure: Aaron Spelling Presents Hotel."
In, Drummond, P. & R. Paterson, editors, Television in Transition.
London: British Film Institute: 1985.
M. "Aaron Spelling: Entertainment's King of the Jiggle." Texas
Monthly (Austin, Texas), September 1994.
"Aaron Spelling: The Trash TV Titan." Texas Monthly (Austin,
Texas), September 1994.
H. "Messing with Texas: TV Glitzmeister Aaron Spelling Tries to
Wake up Michener's Epic Snooze." Texas Monthly (Austin, Texas),
R. "Love Boat: High Art on the High Seas." Journal of American
Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), 1983.
Hills, 90210; Charlie's