Tribute to Aaron Spelling

By Colin Mahan

Jun 30, 2006


The '60s and '70s

When Aaron Spelling passed away last week at age 83, he took a part of TV history with him. Chances are, no matter what age you are, you watched more than one of his shows regularly. Whether it was cop shows, over-the-top family soaps, or teen dramas, over the course of four decades Spelling had huge successes in almost every genre.

Spelling created so many of TV's lasting icons, it is almost impossible to imagine TV without him. Tomorrow, July 1, TV Land will pay tribute to Spelling by airing a repeat of its acclaimed 2004 special TV Land Moguls, from 10 a.m. to noon. You can also check out Spelling clips online at TV Land's Web Site. has recapped a few of Spelling's choicest shows for you to remember and enjoy. This is by no means a complete list, as you can see if you look at our Aaron Spelling page.

Burke's Law (1963-66).

One of Spelling's first big hits mixed elements that would become his trademarks: cops, millionaires, and guest stars.

Gene Barry played Amos Burke, a tough LA chief of detectives who also happened to be a chauffeur-driven millionaire. After a few seasons, Burke left the LAPD and became Amos Burke, Secret Agent. In 1994, Burke's Law was reimagined, with costar Peter Barton (The Powers of Matthew Star) joining Barry.

The Mod Squad (1968-73)

An attempt to redefine the heretofore stuffy cop show genre, this show was about three fashion-plate young crime-fighters who infiltrated high schools to bust crime rings. The main characters were cool as cucumbers: Pete (Michael Cole) was a Beverly Hills juvie who had stolen a car; Linc (Clarence Williams III) had been arrested in the infamous Watts Riots; and Julie (Peggy Lipton) was a hooker's daughter who lived the life of a vagrant.

A tough-but-fair police captain offered them an alternative to jail: become the Mod Squad and fight crime without guns, instead resorting to uber-trendy '60s fashions and slang, like Williams' use of the word "solid."

Lipton won a Golden Globe for her performance as a teen cop, and the show's "teen narc" concept is a perennial favorite (hello, 21 Jump Street). The show also featured many guest appearances by soon-to-be-famous actors, including a young Harrison Ford.

Charlie's Angels (1976-81).

This was the show that launched a thousand hairstyles and created the genre known as "jiggle TV" (see Baywatch, Elimidate). Often lambasted due to its exploitation of women during the feminist '70s, the show is now revered as a postmodern statement of female empowerment and "action-sploitation." That last part was made up.

Mysterious recluse Charlie owns a detective agency and hires three beautiful ladies to work for him. Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson) was the "smart angel," Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett-Majors) was the "athletic angel," and Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith) was the "street wise angel," and together, they fought crime while wearing as few clothes as logically possible within the narrative.

The show was a monster hit, but Farrah Fawcett pulled a David Caruso and decided she wanted out. Fawcett was taken to court, but she got what she wanted and didn't return to the show as a regular. Unlike David Caruso, she didn't get a second chance in CSI: Miami.

The Love Boat (1977-86)

In the 1970s, old actors never faded away, they just appeared on one of Spelling's shows. This series was about a cruise ship that invariably brought romantics together, and was populated by guest stars like Richard Shaft Roundtree, Soupy Sales, and the ubiquitous Willie Aames.

The Love Boat starred Gavin McLoed as Captain Stubing, the fatherly leader of the Pacific Princess crew. Bernie Koppel was Doc Bricker, Fred Grandy was Gopher, Lauren Tewes was cruise director Julie McCoy (until she had that coke problem), Jill Whelan was Vicki Stubing, the captain's daughter, and Ted Lange was the lovable bartender Isaac. Apparently, back then, TV actors could look like normal people instead of underwear models.

The theme song to The Love Boat was cheesy gold.

The Rookies (1972-76) and S.W.A.T. (1975-76).

The Rookies TV pilot featured the late, great Darren McGavin along with future Angel Kate Jackson. The series was such a hit that it produced a spin-off, S.W.A.T., which starred Robert Urich.

Movie? The Rookies, no. But if it weren't for the S.W.A.T. movie, Colin Farrell wouldn't have starred in one of his few box-office semi-hits.

Starsky and Hutch (1974).

The red-and-white Grand Torino that's emblazoned permanently in the pop-culture pantheon came from Spelling's fertile mind.

David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser portrayed two gritty cops working the bad side of Bay City (in the '70s, they never used real city names). Antonio Fargas played the flamboyant pimp-turned-police informant Huggy Bear, and Bernie Hamilton pretty much created the template for the tough police captain who yells about how many cars the heroes have crashed and how city hall is breathing down his neck.

Fantasy Island (1978-84)

Only the '70s and Aaron Spelling could have produced a show about rich people heading to a mysterious island and living out their decadent sexual and adventurous fantasies, all while being nurtured by an impeccable Latino man and a cute dwarf. Every week, when Herve Villachez's Tattoo exclaimed "De plane! De plane!" viewers rushed to the TV to see a cavalcade of B-list actors coming to Fantasy Island for some answers to life and a paycheck.

Maybe it was Red Buttons playing a bitter millionaire who looks at a picture of his dead wife before heading into a cave obviously built on the Universal backlot. Maybe it was Harry Gaurdino playing a cop who wanted to go back in time and fight in the old West. Whatever the case, things wouldn't work out as planned, and on cue Ricardo Montalban's smoothly reassuring Mr. Rourke would step in and give the moral point of the week. In later seasons, a puma would sometimes menace Mr. Rourke himself.

The show remained the high watermark for shows about soapy drama on a possibly supernatural island until ABC's Lost came along.

Hart to Hart (1979-84)

Another frothy knockoff of a similar show--in this case, McMillan and Wife. Hart was cocreated by Sidney Sheldon, and starred Robert Wagner (long before his turn as Dr. Evil's Number 2) and Stephanie Powers as, what else, millionaire crime-fighters.

The two leads had good chemistry, and the show gave the mundane detective genre a shot in the arm with a healthy does of tongue-in-cheek humor and gratuitous globe-trotting.

The '80s

T.J. Hooker (1982-86)

Shatner was back, big time, with this police action show. Shatner's T.J. Hooker was a plainclothes detective whose partner was killed while protecting the streets of Lake City (in the '80s, they never used real city names). Hooker once more donned a uniform to be closer to the streets and to rid the city of vermin.

Not only did the former Starfleet Captain throw his baton at drug-dealing street trash, he gave fatherly, staccato advice to Adrian Zmed and a young Heather Locklear while they were eating at the local burrito joint. This show also featured Shatner with a toupee that still looked plausible.

Dynasty (1981-89)

If Dallas was People magazine, then Dynasty was In Touch Weekly--a slightly trashier, shallower version of the nighttime soap opera. The show was about the Carrington family, a bunch of oil richies from Denver. John Forsythe was at his craggily, bastardy best as family patriarch Blake Carrington, and Joan Collins was campily marvelous as Alexis, his catty ex-wife. Linda Evans held her own against Collins as Krystle, Blake's new wife (whom he divorced and remarried during the run of the show).

The series begat a spin-off, The Colbys, which was top-lined by the one and only Charlton Heston. Katherine Ross also starred as the unfortunately named Francesca Scott Colby Hamilton Langdon. The Colbys cost a reported $1 million per episode, and it "jumped the shark" when a main character was abducted by a UFO.

Finder of Lost Loves (1984).

This one-season show was like a cross between Columbo and Miss Match. A wealthy widower (Anthony Franciosa) decides to go into the detective business in order to help people find their lost loves. The show was based on a real-life LA-area detective who did the same thing.

The show featured the well-worn Spelling structure of multiple storylines populated by guest stars. And Dionne Warwick sang the theme song. Spelling told TV Guide he wanted "all the stories to have a twist, like O. Henry stories."

Strike Force (1982).

Robert Stack stoically, forcefully strode down a hallway in the intro to this police drama. That pretty much summed up the show: Robert Stack forcefully looked at a map of the city; Robert Stack forcefully beat up a criminal; Robert Stack was forcefully moved around the prime-time schedule; and Robert Stack was forcefully canceled after one season.

The '90s and Beyond

Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)

Spelling took this show over in 1995 from Darren Star, but his hands were all over it from the beginning. This series helped establish Fox as a network and launched the careers of Jason Priestly, Luke Perry, Jennie Garth, Ian Zeiring, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, and Shannen Doherty.

This show was one of the first teen series to be taken seriously as a drama, partly because many of the actors playing teens were in their 40s when it aired.

Melrose Place (1992-99)

This spin-off of 90210 told the story of a group of attractive young people who all lived in a courtyard apartment on LA's famed Melrose Ave. The series featured two future stars of Desperate Housewives, Marcia Cross and Doug Savant, and ex-T.J. Hooker partner Heather Locklear.

The episode where "crazy character" Marcia Cross took off her wig and revealed her bald head is still talked about in the hallways of Pop Culture University.

The Heights (1991)

Spelling executive-produced this series about a rock band of young, attractive people. It lasted one season and was mainly notable for its number one single and MTV staple "How Do I Talk To An Angel?"

Models Inc. (1994)

This genius show featured gorgeous models all living in the same beach house. Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Linda Gray, and a pre-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss sashayed their way into an icy, sexy, lady drama in this Melrose spin-off.

7th Heaven (1996-current)

This show told the story of Minister Camden and his family, which contained Jessica Biel until she began a successful film career.

Heaven was canceled at the end of the 2005-2006 season when The WB and UPN merged into The CW. Then, as if providence shone down upon it, the show was renewed for another season.


A magical show about sexy witches, kind of a cross between Buffy and Sex and the City. Spelling did what most were afraid to do: He worked with Shannen Doherty again.


And the Band Played On (1993)

This HBO movie was one of the first to tell the story of the AIDS problem. Matthew Modin starred as a doctor who was attempting to trace the origin of AIDS, from 1978 to the present. The film showed the frustration within the scientific community as they tried to find a cure for a disease most people didn't want to hear about.

Satisfaction (1988)

At one time, Justine Bateman headlined a movie and Julia Roberts took third or fourth billing. Most important factoid: Julia Robert sports a unibrow.

Surrender (1987)

Steve Guttenberg. Sally Field. Michael Caine. How could this have missed?

Soapdish (1991)

Spelling executive-produced this underrated farce about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at a TV soap opera. Kevin Kline is marvelous as the stupid male lead actor.

Mr. Mom (1983)

Michael Keaton's shining moment. The way-ahead-of-its-time comedy about a guy who loses his job and must stay at home with the kids while his wife goes out and earns the bacon.

Cruise Into Terror (1978)

The kind of TV movie that made the '70s so great. In the cargo hold of a cruise ship sits an Egyptian sarcophagus housing the son of Satan. Rent this along with the Shatner classic Terror At 20,000 Feet.

Boy In the Plastic Bubble (1976)

Yes, the one, the only. John Travolta stars as a kid who lives in a bubble because he can't be exposed to germs.

  • Comments (57)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • harmania Aug 28, 2006

    Aaron Spelling was the greatest person tv could offer. Only Charmed could have been made by a successful, and creative man like Aaron Spelling. May we remember, and treasure his life's work, as he goes on to a better place.

    Thank You for making the only show I looked forward to watching everyday since 12 years old, Charmed.

    We'll miss you Aaron.

  • sally83 Aug 27, 2006

    Aaron Spelling was a great at bringing great shows on the air for us to enjoy. It was very sad news and a great loss to the television industry.

  • 7thheavenluver Jul 30, 2006

    He had so many great shows beverly hills 90210 7th heaven and charmed are all great shows and as soon as 7th heaven is over none of his shows will be left he will be greatly missed

  • balletmonkey Jul 18, 2006

    I have been really thinking about all the shows I watch. I am a teenager and hooked on soaps. I realized that so many of the shows I love so dearly were produced by Aaron Spelling. Bevery Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Charmed, 7th Heaven, He was an important asset to the world of television and will be greatly missed by so many people. I am included in those people. Here's a tribute to an amazing man who made the world of television an amazing place.

  • Fishmomma Jul 14, 2006

    He will be missed rest in peace.

  • Leann15 Jul 10, 2006

    In the month of August 1996, I got HOOKED on the Television series Seventh Heaven. Today I am looking foward to see the show again. Since I don't have a grandfather on both sides of my parents, it was hard to have Aaron Spelling die. Even thought I never knew him he was a great man who enjoyed making families happy with what they wanted to see on television.

  • medeva Jul 08, 2006

    His creative genius will be missed. Who else will be willing to take the chances he took? His shows were so much more fun to watch than some of the current "hits". He breathed life into a lot of tired careers. RIP Mr. Spelling.

  • mystarx Jul 07, 2006

    Aaron Spelling had an unbelievable gift of creating hit tv series and no one will ever compare to him and his success.

  • chiayitay Jul 07, 2006

    Aaron Spelling was really a cool guy. I mean he must had been a cool guy to produce hit series like Charmed and the others. Although he's body was gone forever, he's soul always remains with us, within our heart through his fantastic work of great TV series.

  • flipper2001 Jul 07, 2006

    Carolyn Jones really made him famous, she pushed his talents of writing while he was trying hard (unsucessfully) to be an actor.

    He later fought hard when she said she did not want kids, he tried for many years to change her mind but she stood her ground and they parted.

    His dream of kids came true but he really never got over the loss of Carolyn who passed away in 1983 as a result of colon cancer.

  • See More Comments (47)