Megaproducer Aaron Spelling had a distinct style and his influence will not be shaken out of your television set for some time to come. Here are four ways his legacy lives on:
1. He invented Los Angeles. Or at least the modern city we see on TV. Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place were youth-oriented dramas set on a West Coast scrubbed clean of all the gunk that came after the trippy, hip cynicism of the ’60s and ’70s. Spelling’s city was a place where you could be sexy, young, glamorous and yet, for all that, nice. This wasn’t a formula so much as a postcard, and it traveled well – eventually leading to today’s hits like The O.C. and Laguna Beach. Wherever sex kittens cry by a pool, there too is Aaron Spelling.
2. Even silly can get smart. Spelling knew how to create hits, and new generations have picked them up and made them smarter. Would we have Lost without Fantasy Island? The show was silly fun, with Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize dressed in matching white tuxes of very different sizes and smiling as they welcomed a new planeload of visitors each week. But there was always the mystery. What is this place, anyway? What is this show? Are all getaways a form of death? Oh, and next time you watch Dr. Evil and Mini-Me, show a little respect and remember Ricardo and Herve. And Desperate Housewives isn’t very many blocks removed from Melrose Place, which also starred Marcia Cross. She was even crazier in Spelling’s version.
3. The C list = the A list. Today we understand camp and have a laugh with it. We know that any actress who once starred on some lousy series or had a below-the-title role in an ’80s movie can play herself on Dancing With the Stars. But Spelling was no cynic. He was genuinely enchanted by ensemble dramas full of second-rate celebrities. Most famously there was The Love Boat. But even Dynasty, a signature show of the ’80s, was filled with, one might say, seasoned performers like Joan Collins and John Forsythe. The point is that Spelling embraced his stars, and paved the way for an era of celebrity comebacks. Thanks to him, no has-been (as Teri Hatcher described herself in her pre-Housewives days) need ever starve again.
4. Tori Spelling. Now 33 and still known for her role on Beverly Hills, 90210, Tori knows her father’s brand of sexy glamorous soap now appeals chiefly as camp or satire, so she has reinvented herself as a uniquely comedic actress. On her recent VH1 sitcom she parodied herself as a tizzily glamorous Hollywood princess. Her mother was played by Loni Anderson (see point 3), her father was reduced to a voice on a speakerphone (a clever little joke on Spelling’s Charlie’s Angels) and she flounced around L.A. with a cheerful band of cute friends (see point 1). Tori is both Aaron’s daughter and his programming legacy.