TV producer Aaron Spelling, who AP reports died June 23 at his home in Los Angeles, rarely found the formula that would please the critics. But he could almost always be counted on to create television that entertained a mass audience and paid off at the TV equivalent of the box office, which is Nielsen ratings and advertising rates.
Maybe it wasn’t Masterpiece Theater or Upstairs Downstairs, but it wasn’t meant to be, either. Frequently, though brilliantly acted and written, British TV seems just as comfortable on the stage or big screen.
Movies have been made of Spelling shows, but the series themselves fit nowhere else but on the small screen, and most comfortably in the living rooms of Americans, millions and millions of them, though his shows have attracted international fans aplenty.
OK, so it wasn’t M*A*S*H or All in the Family or Hill Street Blues either, but shows with social consciences and ones with soapy plots and sex appeal are not mutually exclusive.
Steak is fine, but so is a great hot dog. And ABC and Fox, among others, helped bulk up on Spelling's common-folk fare.
But Spelling could serve up thoughtful, sensitively acted TV, too. Family was a jewel of a show with a top-flight cast headed by Sada Thompson and James Broderick. Critics loved it, as they should have. And The Band Played On tackled the tough issue of AIDS with sensitivity and skill.
There is an elitist view that holds that there is something inherently inferior about giving the people what they want because, well, they are not sophisticated enough to understand that what they want is inferior to what the elite thinks they should have.
Spelling, son of Russian immigrants, gave them what they wanted and enjoyed thoroughly, seemed to have fun doing it, and made a mint. In that, he is a quintessential American success story. And with Love Boat he gave a lot of pay checks and third acts to countless stars other shows weren't necessarily employing.
Spelling is as big a part of the fabric of Baby Boomer lives as any TV figure. Here is a partial list of his body of work: Mod Squad, The Rookies, Starsky & Hutch, Dynasty, Family, Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, Matt Houston, Seventh Heaven, Charmed, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and many, many more.
He will be missed.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.