Scott D. Pierce: A TV legend passes

Prolific producer Spelling leaves a mixed legacy

Published: Tuesday, June 27 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Chances are that you have frittered away at least a few hours of your life because of Aaron Spelling.

I know I have. For that matter, I've frittered away hours, days, weeks, maybe months of my life because of the prolific television producer, who died last week at the age of 83.

The man produced literally thousands of hours of TV, much of it the video equivalent of cotton candy. "Dynasty," "Charlie's Angels," "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" didn't make viewers any smarter, but they did keep us endlessly entertained.

The list of shows Spelling produced is itself almost endless, from "Zane Grey Theatre" in 1956 to "7th Heaven," which will continue next season without him.

Along the way, the list included "The Dick Powell Show," "Burke's Law," "Daniel Boone," "The Mod Squad," "Chopper One," "S.W.A.T.," "Starsky and Hutch," "The Rookies," "Hart to Hart," "T.J. Hooker," "Hotel," "The Colbys," "Models Inc.," "Sunset Beach," "Titans" and "Summerland."

Spelling achieved unprecedented success as a TV producer, with dozens of hit series and more than 140 made-for-TV movies. What he wanted and never got was respect.

His shows got big ratings but they didn't win Emmys. And, generally, the reviews weren't kind.

"I firmly believe that entertainment is not a nasty word. . . . I don't think there's anything wrong in doing entertainment," Spelling told us in 1996. Ironically, it was while promoting the series "Malibu Shores," which took a drubbing from critics.

And, for the most part, he seemed to understand that his shows were cotton candy.

"I think that . . . 'Charlie's Angels' was science fiction but no one would believe me," he told us once. "I mean, if anybody believes that three young ladies — beautiful young ladies — graduate from the police academy, are given terrible jobs and are hired by a man over the telephone who pays them $500 a week, and they wear $5,000 Nolan Miller gowns. . . ."

And Spelling certainly had a point about entertainment for entertainment's sake. You wouldn't want a TV schedule filled with nothing but Spelling series, but there's nothing wrong with mindless entertainment to make you forget your troubles and worries. (Although, in the '70s, Spelling's shows so dominated ABC's schedule it was referred to as Aaron's Broadcasting Company.)

Critics were ambivalent about Spelling. He was always charming and genial — certainly one of the nicest hugely successful men in Hollywood. And, while the Television Critics Association nominated him several times for our career achievement award, we never voted to give it to him.

At times, however, Spelling seemed sort of out of touch with reality. A 2000 interview for the over-the-top, short-lived, prime-time soap "Titans" left critics scratching their heads. He actually insisted that he couldn't "remember any humor in nine years of 'Dynasty' " and added that "there was very little humor on 'Melrose Place' " — leaving us to wonder if he ever watched those shows. Spelling also said that he had called Yasmine Bleeth's house so often in his pursuit of her for "Titans" that "her father may have thought that I was homosexual or something" — a comment he couldn't explain.

This was one of several times that Spelling launched into a memorized string of gibberish he used when he couldn't or didn't want to answer a question — a very odd personal oddity.

In 1994, when another Spelling show, "Round Table," was criticized as a rip-off of the movie "St. Elmo's Fire," Spelling told TV critics he was "stunned about that because ('St. Elmo' director) Joel (Schumacher) read the script, and he's never mentioned that this was close to 'St. Elmo's Fire.' " But Schumacher said, "I don't know anything about it," feeling the need to add, "I mean, he's not a liar."