Go ahead, tell Aaron Spelling he’s washed up. Everyone else has.
”My demise has occurred about 16 times in print,” says the genial 71-year-old producer. ”I’ll never forget when Dynasty [went off the air], and one of the trade papers had a big headline that said, ‘Spelling Dynasty Over’ — but Dynasty wasn’t in quotes. That really hurt.”
Pain, it seems, is a great motivator. The Teflon TV titan defied naysayers by building a new and improved empire: Spelling Television currently has eight dramas on the air, including recent hits like 7th Heaven and Lifetime’s Any Day Now, and aging mainstays like Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 (which handily outrates upstart time-slot competitor Dawson’s Creek). His latest success, The WB’s witchy gem Charmed, proves the diminutive mastermind hasn’t lost his knack for translating zeitgeist themes — from ’70s T&A escapism (Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island) to ’80s materialistic mayhem (Dynasty, The Colbys) — into playfully profitable TV. ”He’s willing to take risks,” says Charmed exec producer Constance Burge. ”Many people would have been so terrified of [Charmed‘s] subject matter, but he’s fearless, and trusting of the audience.”
That’s for sure. Spelling has such faith in his fans that he picks their brains. ”Those tour buses stop by my house a lot,” he says, referring to his famed 123-room domicile in Los Angeles. ”I go out and talk to them…. You can learn a lot. They made my career, they built my house, and they know television.”
The Trailways crowd can’t take all the credit. After more than 40 years in the biz, Spelling has sickle-sharp instincts about what the masses want to see. ”What he does better than anybody else is cast people who are interesting as individuals,” says ex-Charlie’s Angel Kate Jackson. ”But when you put them together, the charisma is just incredible.”
Spelling’s work doesn’t stop with picking pretty faces. In fact, as exec producer of seven of his shows, the man is so involved it’s scary: He approves every story concept, makes notes on every script, and has final cut on each episode. Not to mention keeping tabs on wardrobe and hair, even requiring actors to notify him before changing their ‘dos. ”I know it sounds silly,” he says, ”but [viewers] get so used to people’s hair. Heather Locklear’s never changed hers, and they love that.”
With 15 shows currently in development, Spelling may have to hire a mane-monitoring assistant. Besides Rescue 77, a mid-season WB drama about paramedics, he’s planning an NBC project about crime-fighting female robots (tentatively titled Fembots), an ABC series about amateur sleuths, and, like, the best idea ever, 90210: The New Years (a.k.a. West Beverly High) for Fox. Spelling says he’s considering airing the spin-off next mid-season or summer, even if the original 90210 is still on. And while Ian Ziering may do a crossover for the New Years‘ premiere, the producer says the show will otherwise be a separate entity. ”We want to start fresh,” explains Spelling. Why not? He does it every decade.