American television loses an iconic producer in Aaron Spelling

A few days ago (Friday, 23 June) Aaron Spelling, who holds the Guinness World Record as the most prolific producer in television, passed away. The 83-year-old, who died in his mansion in Los Angeles, had suffered a stroke on 18 June.In a career spanning an astonishing five decades, Spelling, who had a great fear of flying, worked in one form or another on nearly 200 projects on both television and film.

Such was his sphere of influence that a trivia fact on indicates that in the 1970s, when he had one hit show after another, he had so many shows on ABC with who he had a contract that insiders used to joke that ABC stood for "Aaron‘s Broadcasting Company". He was involved with around 70 weekly television series, which amounted to around 4,220 hours. Back to back it would take 176 days to watch all of them.

Born into a Jewish family, Spelling, in his early life, had to fight against the tag of being different. He started his career in Hollywood in the 1950‘s. Success did not come in a hurry though. He spent some time as a writer and as a bit-player actor (he was a gas station attendant in an episode of I Love Lucy). He then donned the hat of a producer thanks to a break given by Dick Powell.

His first hit was the crime drama Burke‘s Law, starring Gene Barry. However it was the next show The Mod Squad in 1969 that paved the way for his path breaking career. In the 1970‘s he cemented his reputation by producing one great show after another. Some of them included S.W.A.T., Starsky and Hutch, Charlie‘s Angels, which were conceptually so appealing that Hollywood, desperately searching for ideas, made them into films a few decades later.

Charlie‘s Angels showed women in a role other than a homemaker happy with kids. It is justly considered ground breaking in terms of having women who took care of business and did not need a man to look after them. More importantly it gave young girls in the 1970‘s and 1980‘s strong role models to look up to.

Starsky and Hutch was one of the first great cop shows on American television. It paved the way for numerous cop shows including the likes of Miami Vice.

There are two clear reasons for Spellings‘ success. One was his keen sense of intuition of what audiences at a particular point of time wanted to watch. The other was the fact that he always respected the viewer. Spelling was also great in the casting arena, a prime example being Charlies Angels which made household names out of Jaclyn Smith, Kate Jackson and most of all, Farrah Fawcett.

That is a knack he never lost. In the 1990‘s he produced Beverly Hills 90210 which is considered to have defined a generation of privileged youth who despite being surrounded by luxury in the svelte surroundings of Beverly Hills have anger issues. He was astute in casting his daughter Tori Spelling as a teen. While the father and daughter did subsequently have their differences, Tori issued a statement saying that she was glad that she had the chance to reconcile with her dad before he passed away.

Another piece of great casting was having Joan Collins play the matriarch in the long running soap Dynasty. This show in fact proved that Spelling was comfortable working in different genres.

Spelling noted that Collins brought a huge aspect of her personality to the role which lent the show more bite. "We wrote a character, but the character could have been played by 50 people and 49 of them would have failed. She made it work."

So there was Dynasty on one hand an escapist soap and then there was Family. This was a far more realistic drama that ran from 1976-1980. Spelling had the courage to tackle among other subjects - homosexuality which even now Hollywood is skittish about tackling. Dynasty too had a gay character. More recently Spelling was involved with the supernatural show Charmed which airs in India on Star World.

Recently, 7th Heaven passed The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie as the longest-running family drama.

In real life Spelling had a 123 room mansion in Los Angeles which many considered to be a parallel to the life of ease and excess that the rich characters in Dynasty lived. "The house that Dynasty built‘ is how tour operators describe his mansion to hordes of tourists. In fact, Spelling was known to on occasion wave a hello to tourists. the soure of his wealth came from Spelling-Goldberg Productions. In 1986 the company went public.

Spelling may have made escapist crowd pleasing fare, but he was also not shy of working on projects that took a hard look at subjects. An example is the film And The Band Played On which looked at how Aids would not have been such a menace had the authorities paid more attention during the early days.

As far as the critics were concerned Spelling had a choice to make. As he once said in an AP interview way back in 1986, "The knocks by the critics bother you, but you have a choice of proving yourself to 300 critics or 30 million fans." Going by the ratings and the enduring appeal that his shows constantly got over the years, Spelling can rest in peace knowing that he fulfilled a mission that other producers will be lucky to come anywhere close to achieving.

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