Aaron Spelling (April 22, 1923 – June 23, 2006) was an American film and television producer, writer and actor. Aaron Spelling is one of television's most prolific and successful producers of dramatic series and made-for-television films. IMDb lists 219 titles which he produced, 18 titles which he wrote, and 28 titles in which he acted.
Spelling was born in Dallas, Texas. His father was an immigrant from Russia and his mother was an immigrant from Poland. Aaron spelling served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. He entertained on a troop ship and eventually wrote for Stars and Stripes. A wound from a sniper left lasting damage to one hand and earned him a Purple Heart. After the war, Spelling attended Southern Methodist University where he won an award for the best original one-act play and was the only student to direct a major play in the history of SMU. After graduating in 1950 and spending a few years directing plays in the Dallas area and trying less than successfully to make his way on Broadway, Spelling moved to Hollywood.
In 1954, Powell sold his first TV script, to Jane Wyman Presents aka Fireside Theatre. He also wrote episodes for Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, Playhouse 90, and Wagon Train, among other shows. He also worked minor roles as an actor, including parts in Dragnet, I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke. After writing his first pilot he became a producer for Powell's Four Star Television, where he helped create such series as Johnny Ringo, The Lloyd Bridges Show, Burke's Law, Honey West, and The Smothers Brothers Show.
After Powell's death, Spelling left Four Star Television in 1966, forming Thomas-Spelling Productions with Danny Thomas. Their first success was with the series The Mod Squad, which earned six Emmy Award nominations during its five-year run, including one for outstanding dramatic series of the 1969-70 season. Spelling and Thomas produced two 1960s series for Walter Brennan, both on ABC: The Tycoon; and The Guns of Will Sonnett. He also began collaboration with associate producer Shelley Hull, who, in addition to Mod Squad, worked with Spelling on The Rookies and Charlie's Angels. Hull also worked with Spelling in 1976 on the successful ABC movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, which starred a young John Travolta. Spelling directed only once, on "The Conchita Vasquez Story," a 1959 episode of Wagon Train.
In 1969, Spelling created Spelling Television, originally under the name Aaron Spelling Productions. Three years later, he formed another co-production company with Leonard Goldberg. Spelling took his own company public in 1986 as Spelling Entertainment, later buying Worldvision Enterprises from Taft/Great American Broadcasting (including the remnants of Taft International Pictures and predecessor Sunn Classic Pictures, and the Quinn Martin library), and George A. Romero's Laurel Entertainment. Spelling continued expanding his entertainment holdings, buying Republic Pictures in 1994 – by the time his company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Viacom (through then-owned Blockbuster Video), it had five main operating units: Republic Pictures served as the home video arm and copyright holder for all the theatrical feature films and short subjects in the Spelling library as well as the direct-to-video titles owned by Spelling, TV production companies Spelling Television and Big Ticket Television, TV syndication distributor Worldvision Enterprises, and film production company Spelling Films.
Spelling found success in almost every genre, including westerns, police shows, family drama, escapist anthology, glossy adult soap opera and youth-oriented soaps. Among the recurring thematic features that characterized Spelling's productions over the years were socially relevant issues such as the disaffected militant youth of the 1960s, the institutional discrimination against women, racism, and homophobia; altruistic capitalism; conspicuous consumption and valorization of the wealthy; the optimistic, moralistic maxims that people can be both economically and morally successful; good ultimately triumphs over evil; the grass often looks greener but rarely is; and the affirmation of the "caring company" work family as well as the traditional kinship family. Stylistically, his productions typically included high key lighting, gratuitous displays of women's bodies, heavily orchestrated musical themes, lavish sets, and what Spelling himself thought was the most important thing in television—"style and attention to detail." Spelling did, however, largely avoid comedy outside of telefilms; half-hour sitcoms did not emerge from any unit of Spelling on a regular basis until 1995, when the Big Ticket Television division began operations (and even then Spelling himself had no involvement in any of Big Ticket's shows). Prior to the launch of Big Ticket, Spelling had only produced two sitcoms: Life with Lucy, intended as a comeback vehicle for Lucille Ball (whose first two sitcoms, I Love Lucy - including the seasons reran as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour - and The Lucy Show, ended up under common ownership with Life with Lucy in later years), and Madman of the People. Neither lasted more than one season.
Spelling never quite had the same success in cinema that he did with television, although he did give some early exposure to Julia Roberts - Spelling produced the film Satisfaction (one of the few big-screen ventures for NBC).
In 1999, Spelling was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most prolific producer of television drama. According to Guinness' calculations, by that time Spelling had produced 3,842 hours of television — enough to fill about 3½ years of prime time seven nights a week without any reruns. Spelling won two Emmys in his career, and of all his projects, he said he was proudest of 7th Heaven with Stephen Collins and Catherine Hicks, for its presentation of a family he describes as "not at all dysfunctional". His estate has remained profitable following his death in 2006. Spelling was named to Forbes's list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities in 2009.
The Spelling Entertainment Group library was split due to the Viacom breakup of 2006. Its film library, not only including the Republic Pictures library but also including other films once distributed by National Telefilm Associates (except for the pre-1949 20th Century Fox library, which NTA only had a now-expired license to syndicate on TV and is now owned by Disney) and films inherited from Taft Entertainment, lies with Paramount through its in-name-only unit Melange Pictures (a number of films in the Melange library; however, are only owned by Paramount for TV and streaming distribution, such as the Carolco Pictures library; these films had been licensed to Worldvision prior to 1999). CBS Studios, previously known as CBS Paramount Television and CBS Television Studios, owns the Spelling Entertainment Group TV library under another in-name-only unit, Spelling Television (barring any produced with Columbia Pictures Television and/or Leonard Goldberg - those are now with Sony Pictures Television), which not only includes Spelling's own productions but also acquired properties like the QM Productions library (with some exceptions), the pre-1973 ABC and NBC libraries (much of which is TV syndication rights only, with some exceptions like Bonanza, which CBS holds lock, stock and barrel except for the copyright, which remains with original production company NBC except for a handful of episodes that fell into the public domain), and other shows inherited from Taft Entertainment. As of 2019, the content library of Spelling Entertainment Group has been re-united with the merger of Viacom and CBS into the present-day Paramount Global, which initially operated as ViacomCBS.
US home video rights to the former Spelling Entertainment Group library have been fractured since 2006. Most of the film library was from 2006-12 distributed on US home video by Lionsgate under a new deal that succeeded one that lasted from 1998-2005 originally signed by Artisan Entertainment, which merged with Lionsgate in 2004. From 2012 to 2022, the film library was released on home video by Olive Films, except for It's a Wonderful Life which Paramount handles in-house; also, Paramount assumed direct responsibility for home video releases of The Running Man, produced by Taft, beginning in 2022 as the film was given a 4K Blu-ray release that year for its 35th anniversary, with Paramount also assuming home video rights to The Quiet Man, a Republic picture, at the same time and first issuing it on home media themselves the next year; Olive has since been replaced by Kino Lorber. Home video rights to the TV library are nominally held by CBS Home Entertainment with distribution by Paramount. However, some of the TV titles in the Spelling library have been instead released manufactured-on-demand by CBS without Paramount's involvement or licensed out to Canada-based home video distributor Visual Entertainment Inc. (in the latter case, examples include Barnaby Jones and The Mod Squad, though initial releases of both shows came from CBS/Paramount, while examples of the former include the QM Productions series Most Wanted and the Taft-produced telefilm The Stepford Children, a made-for-TV sequel to the 1975 version of The Stepford Wives).
Spelling has appeared as a character in two works. In 2004, Spelling was portrayed by Dan Castellaneta in the NBC TV movie Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie's Angels. The following year, he was portrayed by Nicholas Hammond in the ABC TV movie Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure.
- 7th Heavennote
- Any Day Nownote
- Beverly Hills, 90210 (which starred his daughter, Tori.)
- The Colbys
- Melrose Place
- Models Inc.
- Burke's Law
- Charlie's Angels
- Charmed (1998)
- Dynasty (1981)
- Fantasy Island
- Hart to Hart
- Honey West
- The Love Boat
- Matt Houston
- Pacific Palisades
- The Rookies
- Starsky & Hutch
- Sunset Beach
- S.W.A.T. (1975)
- The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
- T.J. Hooker
- Wagon Train: Directed "The Conchita Vasquez Story."
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Played a road worker in "Breakdown".
- Dragnet: Several minor parts in the 1950's TV version.
- I Love Lucy: Gas station attendent.
- Gunsmoke: Weed Pindle in "The Guitar"
- Vicki as Harry Williams
Emmy Awards and Nominations
- 1970: Outstanding Dramatic Series - Nominee
- 1977: Outstanding Drama Series - Nominee
- 1978: Outstanding Drama Series - Nominee
- 1980: Outstanding Drama Series - Nominee
- 1982: Outstanding Drama Series - Nominee
- 1989: Outstanding Drama/Comedy Special - Winner
- 1994: Outstanding Made for Television Movie - Winner
Tropes associated with Aaron Spelling's work
- Cop Show: The police shows he has worked on include Dragnet, Starsky & Hutch, S.W.A.T. (1975), and T.J. Hooker.
- Family Drama: His company produced the family dramas 7th Heaven and Family.
- Soap Opera and Prime Time Soap: His soap opera work includes Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Dynasty (1981).
- The Western: Spelling has worked with several Western Series, including Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Johnny Ringo.