Aaron Spelling, 83; Prolific TV Hitmaker

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 24, 2006

Aaron Spelling, 83, who produced a staggering number of commercial television hits over four decades and whose hallmarks were glamour, violence and sexy escapism, died Friday in Los Angeles.

He died at home after suffering a stroke June 18, his publicist said.

Mr. Spelling produced so many popular shows for ABC from the 1960s to the 1980s that it was often joked that the network's initials stood for "Aaron's Broadcasting Company." Shows he produced that ran for years on ABC included "Burke's Law," "The Mod Squad," "The Rookies," "Starsky and Hutch," "Charlie's Angels," "Hart to Hart," "Family," "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island," "Matt Houston," "Hotel" and "Dynasty."

The last, at its peak in the mid-1980s, reached 40 million viewers and commanded some of the highest advertising prices. Twenty years ago, Mr. Spelling's fortune was estimated at more than $100 million.

In the 1990s, he produced several series for other networks, including "Melrose Place," "7th Heaven," "Charmed," "Moesha" and "Beverly Hills 90210," which starred his daughter, Tori.

He far outpaced his rivals commercially but never won the critical respect of peers such as Norman Lear, producer of "All in the Family," "Maude" and "Sanford and Son."

"There is good and there is bad Spelling," a Washington Post television critic said in a 1996 Los Angeles Times Magazine article, "but there is never great Spelling, only degrees of terribleness."

Mr. Spelling's first major success was "Burke's Law," which ran on ABC from 1963 to 1966. The show starred Gene Barry as a millionaire Los Angeles chief of detectives fond of showing up at crime scenes in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce.

"It's a pretty show, well-shined, its pants pressed and shoes shined, a revolt against all the dusty cowboys of the westerns," Mr. Spelling said at the time. "And it's flip and casual, irreverent, which perhaps is a revolt against the 'dark problems' shows."

The emphasis was on glamorous locales and debonair people, and it had plenty of guest stars. It was an idea he helped create with Dick Powell.

"I think there is a need to escape," Mr. Spelling once said. "I think it is a release valve that keeps people from blowing their brains out or having nervous breakdowns. We find that the majority of our audience is worried, really worried, about the cost of food, how much it costs to send your kid to school, the cost of clothes.

"Unfortunately, we often have to make the choice between 150 critics and 150 million Americans out there, and I have always felt that my job was to please [the viewers]. To entertain them."

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