Legendary producer Aaron Spelling died yesterday at the age of 83. The Archive of American Television interviewed him about his life and career for over 3 hours in 1999. Below are some excerpts from that interview:
On what it takes to be a good producer.
You have to be a good storyteller. It all starts with a script. We have a way that we work and I hope a lot of people work this way. We meet with the producers, they tell us a story concept, we work on the story concept with them or say “that’s great.” Then we get an outline and it’s broken down in all four acts of an hour show. If you have any notes to give, you give it on the outline, so that when your script comes in, you know the show the is going to work because the outline is proving it.
If there’s anything that is heartbreaking it’s casting. The hardest thing is to say “no” to somebody. We don’t do that. We also have a rule, if any lady walks in to read something, everybody sitting better stand up or they’re not going to be invited anymore. And we talk to people, “where are you from?” When I was an actor and you’d go in to read, they’d say, “don’t tell us your life story, just read.” I remember this on Gunsmoke, I was nervous enough. But those are the sensitivities a producer should have and must have.
On his legendary ability to remember most scenes in dailies.
I think you have to love what you’re doing. I’m a big football and baseball fan, but I can’t remember the name of the first baseman of the Dodgers, but I can tell you that you didn’t get that shot or you trimmed that shot of the man at the bar. You have to read these scripts and get an imprint in your mind of what the show is. I think if I can’t do that, I’ll quit, because to me, that’s the fun — adding input. The credits should go, as I said before, to the great writers on all of our shows.
On Starsky & Hutch.
We hadn’t seen a buddy-buddy relationship on television, where one disagrees with the other but really, they adore each other. They can argue and fight and then do their job. We were lucky with casting, we didn’t know how the show would do. And it just exploded. We said many times, it was the first heterosexual love affair on television.
We found that people who watch television they’re not all rich and they love to see that rich people have problems, and more problems than they have. So money doesn’t solve everything. Then the wardrobe and the sets and the hairdos and Nolan Miller gowns that cost a fortune, all blended into it, so they had something beautiful to watch. But they said, “oh, that guy’s worth ten million dollars, and he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing!” That was the fun of Dynasty.
On Beverly Hills, 90210.
I got a call from Barry Diller, who was the head of Fox, and he said, “I’d like you to do a high school show.” I said, “Barry, at my age, what the hell do I know about high school?” And he said, ‘you have two kids idiot!” And I listened to my kids and spied on them when their friends from high school would come over. I listened a lot, learned a lot. Darren Starr had never done anything that I knew. I met him, a terrific guy, and I love working with him, and we kind of developed this together. It was a great experience.
On his legacy.
The only thing that bothers me every time people do biographies of me, critics always talk about Charlie’s Angels, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and they never talk about the issue shows that we have done. The issues that we did on 90210 and Melrose Place. They never talk about Day One, that movie we won an Emmy for. They never talk about And The Band Played On, the movie we won an Emmy for. They never talk about my movies, the Anne Baxter movie with the young lady, her daughter, who was going to commit suicide. They never talk about that, and that pains me a lot. I love being an entertainer, but I think you should get credit for whatever you do, like Family, like Seventh Heaven, family shows that no one has done before. But I know my epitaph will be, “he was Tori Spelling’s father and he did Charlie’s Angels.”
The video interview is not yet available online, but can be screened at the Archive’s headquarters in North Hollywood, CA.
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