Aaron Spelling made TV--lots of TV.
The guilty-pleasure producer, whose prime-time hits, including Charlie's Angels, Dynasty and Beverly Hills, 90210, were often dismissed by critics, but more often embraced by audiences, died at his Los Angeles estate Friday, five days after suffering a stroke. He was 83.
Spelling passed away with his wife Candy at his side.
Daughter Tori Spelling praised her father, from whom she'd been estranged reportedly because of tensions caused by her semi-autobiographical VH1 comedy series, so noTORIous, as a "great man and an even better father."
"I am grateful that I recently had the opportunity to reconcile with my father, and most grateful we had the chance to tell each other we loved one another before he passed away," Tori Spelling said in a statement. "I am honored to be Aaron Spelling's daughter."
In their own statement, wife Candy and son Randy Spelling said that their "extreme sadness and grief is comforted by the overwhelming number of heartfelt calls we have received."
Spelling's stroke last Sunday, initially downplayed by his publicist, was the latest health problem for the TV titan. In 2001, the impresario, rarely seen in his prime without a pipe jauntily protruding from his mouth, underwent radiation for a throat lesion.
Aside from failing health, Spelling's final days were fraught with legal troubles. In January, he was sued by a former nurse who accused him of sexual harassment; he later countersued.
The king of popcorn TV, Aaron Spelling produced more than 3,800 hours of prime-time entertainment, garnering him the Guinness World Records title, "Most Prolific TV Drama Producer."
A not-terribly short list of credits includes: 7th Heaven, Charmed, Melrose Place, Hotel, T.J. Hooker, Hart to Hart, Vega$, Fantasty Island, The Love Boat, Family, Starsky and Hutch, S.W.A.T. and The Mod Squad.
A complete list of Spelling's credits isn't a list; it's a book. With nearly 200 entries.
Spelling's talent for producing prime-time hits was matched only by his talent for picking prime-time stars.
A not-terribly short list of actors who scored their big breaks via a Spelling enterprise includes: Julia Roberts, Heather Locklear, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Shannen Doherty, Luke Perry, Jason Priestley, Jennie Garth and daughter Tori.
Spelling also had a knack for rediscovering veteran talent, such as the Dynasty triangle of John Forsythe, Joan Collins and Linda Evans.
The only thing bigger than Spelling's résumé was his house. Dubbed "The Manor," the 56,500-square foot, 123-room Holmby Hills behemoth, completed in the early 1990s, features an ice rink, a bowling alley, a doll museum and two rooms used for the sole purpose of gift wrapping.
"My wife loves to wrap," Spelling told Time magazine in 2001. "It could take her two hours to wrap one gift."
Yes, the house is big. And, like its owner, it is a Guinness entry: "Largest House in Hollywood."
All in all, not bad for a no-name actor who, as a big-name producer, was the self-proclaimed "Antichrist to the critics."
Born April 22, 1923, in Dallas, Spelling studied journalism, but lived for theater at Southern Methodist University. When his father lost his job at the local Sears because of a controversial all-black play directed by his son, the younger Spelling agreed to get out of town in exchange for his dad's reemployment.
The deal worked: Sears got David Spelling back; Hollywood got Aaron Spelling. The budding impresario moved West in 1953, initially working as an actor, with bit parts on I Love Lucy and Dragnet.
In 1956, he found his calling: Writing and producing TV. It all started with Zane Grey Theater, a western anthology. The show ran five years. Spelling's resulting behind-the-scenes career lasted six decades.
For the first decade, Spelling shows weren't all that different from anybody else's shows. Owing to the era's bankable genres, his hourlong dramas were either about cowboys (Johnny Ringo) or P.I.s (Honey West).
Then came The Mod Squad. The 1968-73 series, about three counterculture kids recruited to join a special police division, was Spelling's first signature production. It was glossy. It was good-looking (specifically, the cast was). It was about as counterculture as Laugh-In was subversive (which is to say, not much).
And it was a hit.
"I was very proud of that show," Spelling told Us in 1996. "And I should say that in the show's five years, [the characters] never carried a gun or fired a gun."
Spelling's career boomed along with the TV-movie boom. From 1969 to 1976, he produced nearly 70 telepics, including the cult classic Satan's School for Girls (1973), with future Angel Kate Jackson, and the tear-jerker The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), with future big-screen icon John Travolta.
Spelling's next big series hit was The Rookies. The 1972-76 cop show, about a trio of tyro lawmen, introduced the likes of Jackson and Michael Ontkean (Slap Shot). It also was among the first byproducts of Spelling's prolific partnership with Leonard Goldberg.
If you watched TV in the 1970s (or if you tune into TVLand today), chances are you watched Spelling-Goldberg. The tandem introduced free-wheeling cop shows S.W.A.T. and Starsky and Hutch in 1976; the Emmy-winning domestic drama Family in 1976; the escapist comedy The Love Boat in 1977; the escapist drama Fantasy Island in 1978; the glitzy P.I. show Vega$ in 1978; and the glamorous murder-mystery Hart to Hart in 1979.
Above all Spelling-Goldberg projects was Charlie's Angels. Ostensibly, the 1976-1982 show was a detective series. Unofficially, it was jiggle TV at its jiggliest.
"Haven't reporters ever been to the beach before?" Spelling, taking offense to the jiggle-TV label, asked in his 1996 autobiography, Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life.
Like Mod Squad and The Rookies, Angels was about three good-looking young people doing battle with bad guys. Unlike its predecessors, the Angels were even better looking and more well-endowed than network standards and practices typically allowed.
Originally pitched to ABC as The Alley Cats, the show revolved around three women cops, originally Jackson, Farrah Fawcett (then, Farrah Fawcett-Majors) and Jaclyn Smith, hired to work for a private-detective agency owned by a mysterious jet-setter Charlie Townsend (voiced by John Forsythe) and managed by father-figure John Bosley (David Doyle).
Angels premiered September 22, 1976, decried by critics as the end of the civilized world as they knew it, and embraced by audiences who made it the season's fifth highest-rated program.
"It hit a nerve with women in the audience--women of all ages," Leonard Goldberg told interviewer Mike Pingel for the fan site, CharliesAngels.com. "And the guys didn't mind looking at them, either."
Indeed, they didn't. One 1976 episode, the suggestively titled "Angels in Chains," in which the Angels go undercover in a women's prison, drew a 50-plus share--meaning more than half of all TVs in use were locked in on images of Kate, Farrah and Jaclyn in cuffs--as a rerun.
"If we didn't stop ABC, they would have played it every other week," Goldberg told CharliesAngels.com.
The series was so successful, its pop-cultural impact so great, Spelling was sometimes moved to complain that it overshadowed all the other work he did. He was forever, as he once told E! Online, "the Charlie's Angels guy."
It wasn't always that way. The "Antichrist of critics" won the respect of his peers early on, nabbing a Writers Guild nomination in 1961 for an episode of The Dick Powell Show.
It proved to be, however, Spelling's lone WGA nod. He wouldn't earn an Emmy nomination until 1970, for The Mod Squad. He wouldn't win until 1989, when he was honored for Day One, a TV-movie about the development of the atomic bomb.
Spelling claimed a second Emmy in 1994 for bringing And the Band Played On, journalist Randy Shilts' acclaimed history of the AIDS crisis, to the small screen.
"Once I got up on stage to accept the Emmy, I took a deep breath and just stood there for a moment taking in the scene," Spelling told E! Online of his big night. "It was like, hey, Hollywood, take a good look at who got your Emmy! The Charlie's Angels guy!"
Spelling was far too prolific, though, to be truly defined by one series. By the time Angels went to the hereafter, he already had two new series on the air: Dynasty and T.J. Hooker.
Dynasty, the 1981-89 opulent prime-time soap about a dysfunctional Denver oil clan, was Spelling's biggest ratings success, striking it rich in 1984-85 as the season's top-ranked show, downing rival Dallas.
T.J. Hooker was a durable, 1982-87 cop show that gave former Star Trek captain William Shatner something to do between sci-fi conventions, and Heather Locklear something to do between Dynasty gigs (she played white-trash bad-girl Sammy Jo Dean on that series).
Spelling recruited Locklear again in 1993 to help his struggling 90210 spinoff, Melrose Place. She joined the show as a "special guest star," and didn't leave for six years.
"He's always in my heart," Locklear said of her longtime boss to E! Online in 1999.
Spelling played favorites with actors. Locklear was one. Robert Urich (Vega$, The Love Boat: The Next Wave) another. Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels, The Rookies) another. Shannen Doherty another, even as she tested the limits of his patience (fired from 90210, hired for Charmed, fired from Charmed, invited back for a 90210 reunion special).
"We want to keep using the people who've proven great for us," Spelling said while hyping his 2001 UPN series, All Souls.
All Souls, a horror-fantasy set at a haunted hospital, lasted just six episodes. No, not all Spelling shows were Dynastys.
Notably, his lowest point as a TV titan came right after his highest. In 1984, one-third of ABC's fall lineup (not including sports and news programs) was produced by Spelling, prompting a famous crack about ABC being an acronym for "Aaron's Broadcasting Company." But the company did not do good business that season. By spring, three Spelling shows were shown the door: T.J. Hooker, Glitter and Finder of Lost Loves. The next few seasons saw the demise of his remaining ABC series: The Love Boat, Hotel, The Colbys (a Dynasty spinoff) and Lucille Ball's ill-conceived sitcom comeback, Life with Lucy.
By the late 1980s, "Aaron's Broadcasting Company" seemed ready to close shop. When Dynasty and Nightingales, a much criticized NBC drama about student nurses (much criticized by real nurses for the TV nurses' habit of lounging around in their underwear), were canceled in 1989, Mr. Prime Time had not a single show left on the air.
Spelling was never really out of business, however. In 1988, he produced Satisfaction, a comedy about an all-girl rock band. The film starred Justine Bateman, and featured in her first major role the 20-year-old Julia Roberts.
While the movie helped launch Roberts, it did nothing at the box office and did nothing to refute the conventional wisdom that said Spelling was spelled out.
Turned out, though, Spelling was merely catching a second wind. Starting in 1990, with the premiere of Beverly Hills, 90210, Spelling was back doing what he did best--launching new series (lots of them) an launching new stars (lots of them).
The soapy 90210 (1990-2000) made heartthrobs of Perry and Priestley, and prime-time players of Garth, Doherty and Tori Spelling. Melrose Place (1992-99) featured a host of famous residents, from Courtney Thorne-Smith to Traci Lords. 2000 Malibu Road (1992) helped Drew Barrymore reestablish her career. Melrose spinoff Models Inc. (1994-95) starred a pre-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss. Malibu Shores (1996) starred a pre-Felicity Keri Russell (as well as Spelling's son, Randy).
Spelling's latter-day hits were among his biggest hits: The family drama 7th Heaven, which premiered in 1996, and the supernatural series Charmed, casting spells as of 1998, paced the WB into the 21st century.
Spelling maintained more than a paternal interest in all his shows, especially when his flesh-and-blood children were involved.
"Don't forget," he told Us Weekly in 2000, "I kept Tori a virgin [on 90210] for seven years because I couldn't bear to see the dailies."
90210er Brian Austin Green once compared his boss to a best friend.
"He's not a guy who hides behind his office door, leaving you hoping to get calls returned," Green told Soap Opera Digest in 1999. "He takes your call anytime. He makes me feel as important to him as he is to me."
When Spelling did clash with his beloved stars, the results made headlines: Fawcett's management got her out of Angels after just one season; Jackson was quit and/or fired from Angels after its third season; 7th Heaven's Jessica Biel tried to get fired by posing for magazine pictures unbecoming a TV pastor's daughter; Doherty's bad attitude got her offed more than once; soap star Hunter Tylo won a $5 million judgment against the producer, accusing him of firing her from Melrose Place because she got pregnant shortly after her hire.
Spelling had little success deploying his Midas TV touch in film. Even would-be prestige projects, like 1986's 'Night Mother, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, failed to produce prestige awards, much less ticket buyers. The biggest big-screen movies he was associated with, were, of course, based on his TV shows: The Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch, S.W.A.T. and the Charlie's Angels franchise.
Thrice married, Spelling had a brief first marriage to Janice Carruth before playing husband to Addams Family TV star Carolyn Jones from 1953 to 1965, neither union producing any children. He had Randy and Tori with the former Carol Jean "Candy" Marer, whom he married in 1968.
Get E! Online's photo tribute to Aaron Spelling.
(Originally published June 23, 2005 at 7:55 p.m. PT.)