By Scott Brown
Updated June 26, 2006 at 07:46 PM EDT
Aaron Spelling: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Let’s try something new. Let’s try discussing Aaron Spelling without irony.

The occasion, sadly, is the highly prolific, much-maligned TV producer’s death, at age 83. He leaves behind him a retinue of classic shows that both delighted a nation and (according to critics) lowered its collective IQ. He never got the respect accorded Stephen Bochco or Norman Lear, nor did he necessarily deserve it. Spelling was a populist in the best sense and a schlockmeister in the worst. Above all, he was a producer. And boy, did he produce: He’d clocked more than 3,842 hours of television — mostly drama, with the occasional unintentional comedy — at the time of his death. Like Teddy Roosevelt, he believed it isn’t the critic who counts, but the audience. And you know what? He was right.

One can YouTube oneself into a coma, hunting up all of Spelling’s credits. When talk of his legacy kicked up, he liked to point to his more prestigious small-screen contributions. But that wasn’t why we, as a viewing public, kept going back to the Spelling well; not why we, as critics and snarkmeisters, so loved him as a punchline.

Spelling was a known quantity. He spoke to certain simple tastes, but that doesn’t mean what he did was easy. Any hack TV producer can pander to the American addiction to glitter, teenage skin, oversimplified class and gender warfare, and the like — and most do. And most fail. Spelling had a master entertainer’s ease with concept and storytelling. And while some would label his canon the ultimate in cynical entertainment, I think I’d disagree. On a very basic level, Spelling’s greatest shows are totally sincere. That’s because he took crap seriously, and his viewers thanked him for it. Because we take it seriously too.