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New Aaron Spelling soaps

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What does Aaron Spelling have to do to get some respect? The guy’s in The Guinness Book of Records as one of the most successful TV producers of all time, for crying out loud. Yet when critics hand out epithets, the word trash invariably rears its ugly head.

”I don’t know what the hell they expect from me,” declares the man responsible for such diverse fare as Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, and the Emmy award-winning cable-TV movie And the Band Played On. ”People need entertainment, and providing it for them isn’t pandering, it’s fun. But everyone feels free to take potshots at me.”

Well, get out your slings, arrows, and (if you like cheese) crackers, because Spelling has delivered not one but three new shows for the second half of the season. Savannah has already debuted — it sashayed onto the WB last month with a trio of slinky Southern belles who look for love in all the wrong chiseled faces. Malibu Shores, premiering March 9 on NBC, pits rich teens against poor in a Los Angeles high school (think Beverly Hills, 90210 meets The Waltons). Then there’s the vampire series Kindred: The Embraced, bowing on Fox in April (think The Godfather with fangs).

This flurry of activity is not accidental: Spelling could use another hit. His 90210 and Melrose Place are peaking, and subsequent efforts (Models Inc., University Hospital, and Robin’s Hoods) have flopped. But he faces obstacles that may be beyond his control.

In the case of Savannah, the handicap is the WB, a network still in search of an identity and loyal viewers. Canny scheduling (including a repeat airing of the pilot opposite the State of the Union address) has helped the soap bring the year-old WB some of its highest ratings to date. Even so, Savannah ranks 121st out of 135 shows.

WB chief executive Jamie Kellner, an ex-president of Fox TV, had seen what 90210 and Melrose did for his former network and figured that the Spelling formula (when bad things happen to good-looking people) could bring the WB the attention its humor-free sitcoms had failed to grab. And it has. Reviews have hailed the soap as campy Southern gothic — a kind of Gone With the Breeze. ”It’s like candy or popcorn,” says Kellner, who first suggested the Southern-women theme to Spelling. ”It’s not gourmet, but you certainly do enjoy eating it.” Whether viewers become addicted remains to be seen.

At least Savannah can claim enthusiastic network support, something Malibu Shores has yet to inspire. Indeed, NBC has relegated the teen soap to one of the most inhospitable time slots: Saturdays at 8 p.m. ”I’m scared to death that the young people will be out on dates,” says Spelling, 69. He can count on at least two viewers: Daughter Tori considers it one of the best things Dad has done, and son Randy (more shades of 90210) just happens to be one of the show’s stars.

Shores’ premise mines an age-old formula: After an earthquake, working-class kids are bused to a Malibu school of the pampered and privileged, and much falling for guys from the wrong side of the freeway ensues. ”It’s a little bit of Romeo and Juliet, and a lot of West Side Story,” says Spelling, who argues that Shores is very different from 90210. For one thing, there are rich kids and poor kids. (Oh, the range!) And family issues will be emphasized. Shores will, however, serve up all the requisite ”Spelling qualities,” says one of the show’s stars, Keri Russell: ”gorgeous guys, and girls in tight dresses.” For lovers of camp, the cast includes starlets named Essence Atkins and Charisma Carpenter. Better yet, Randy Spelling plays Flipper, one of the poor kids. With any luck, he’ll be a better actor than his aquatic namesake.

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