We gave it a B-
As a child of immigrants growing up in Dallas, Aaron Spelling used to make himself sick rather than go to school, where the other kids called him ”Jew boy” and beat him up. When he was 9, he got so depressed he went to bed, literally, for a year.
Some 60 years later, as a stupendously successful TV producer with more than 50 series and dozens of small-screen movies to his credit, Spelling still takes it hard when one of his shows is canceled. ”If I come home with a certain look on my face,” Spelling writes in his new autobiography, A Prime-Time Life, ”Candy immediately prepares the bed. She knows one of my shows has been given the pink slip, and that I won’t get out of bed or take any telephone calls for three days. I get that depressed.”
But don’t be fooled. Those snippets of angst are just about the only downers you’ll get in A Prime-Time Life, cowritten by USA Today TV scribe Jefferson Graham. Rather than tell what surely must be the grueling, gritty story of his rise from child outcast to consummate Hollywood insider, Spelling has crafted an autobiography as glossy and superficial as one of his hit shows. It’s a cruise through his life as smoothly outlined as an episode of The Love Boat, a tale of dreams fulfilled as pat and formulaic as Fantasy Island.
Which is not to say, however, that it’s not a fun read. Once you realize that Spelling is going to describe nearly everyone he’s ever worked with — including some of the most ruthless people in Hollywood — as ”terrific” and among his closest friends, you can relax and enjoy this literary cheese for just what it is.
That means, don’t look for Spelling to get down and dirty about some of his more notorious stars. For instance, Farrah Fawcett, who bailed out of Charlie’s Angels after it made her a pop-culture idol in just one year, was merely the victim of ”bad career advice,” Spelling writes charitably. Perpetual bad girl Shannen Doherty, bounced from Beverly Hills 90210, simply ”had a hard time dealing with instant stardom,” Spelling says, adding, of course, that he wishes her ”only the best.”
Being so politic doesn’t make for great dish, but it certainly explains how Spelling has managed to survive — and thrive — in show business for more than 35 years. The best part of the book involves the producer’s early career, when he churned out innovative scripts for anthology shows like Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater and created Burke’s Law and Honey West. Spelling includes excerpts from the scripts of many of his most successful series, and you’ll note how they seem to decline in quality and creativity over the years. It’s hard to believe that the Silent Sentry screenplay for Zane Grey Theater (a story of two opposing soldiers from the Civil War who meet by chance and end up brainstorming about how to end the war) and Melrose Place are the work of the same man.
Still, you can’t argue with a guy who was as in tune with what audiences wanted in 1956 as he is in 1996. Spelling may have chosen to dumb down his life story, but his smarts shine through his folksiness. He complains, and rightfully so, that he’s remembered more for jigglefests like Charlie’s Angels (his biggest hit) and Nightingales than for shows like the Emmy Award-winning Family and TV movies like And the Band Played On and Day One. Even so, he clearly relates to his schlockiest characters. ”Thanks, Mr. Roarke,” he writes, ”for making my dreams come true.” B-