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Spelling realm renewed

Producer's TV legacy lives on in 'Heaven'

Aaron Spelling’s legacy lives on this fall, as the CW — in an almost serendipitous move — last month gave an 11th-hour reprieve to longrunning family drama “7th Heaven.”

Had “7th Heaven” left the airwaves — as originally planned — it would have repped the first time in 17 years that Spelling wasn’t on the primetime skeds.

Spelling’s TV shingle also remains in business, under head Jonathan Levin, albeit as a much smaller production pod inside CBS Paramount Network TV. Until recently, Spelling TV had still operated as a separate entity under the CBS Par umbrella; but after a wave of downsizing in December, the company moved forward with just a core development staff.

It’s unclear how Spelling’s passing will impact the production entity’s long-term future. As Viacom honcho and Spelling friend Sumner Redstone noted, the producer was still heavily involved in the company’s affairs until the end of his life.

“Through the very end, if I called Aaron at home, he was in his office,” Redstone said. “He worked and worked to the bitter end. … He was a workaholic. And absolutely successful.”

Following his string of TV smashes on ABC in the 1970s, Spelling first launched his own shingle (then known as Aaron Spelling Prods.) in 1977. Soon after, he again hit it big both in TV (“Dynasty”) and in film (“Mr. Mom”).

The company went public in 1986, and was acquired by a string of companies — first by Great American Communications, then the Charter Co. At the same time, Spelling made several smart strategic moves — such as acquiring distribution entity Worldvision Enterprises, which gave the company an entry into the first-run and off-net syndication world. (Worldvision — which was once ABC’s syndication arm before the networks were forced to sell off their distribution companies in the early 1970s — would later purchase Republic Pictures’ library, adding to its heft).

By the early 1990s, Spelling was riding a renewed wave of success, thanks to Fox hits “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Melrose Place.” In the midst of that renaissance, the renamed Spelling Entertainment Group was acquired by Blockbuster Entertainment in 1993.

A year later, Viacom acquired Blockbuster and put Spelling Entertainment up for sale. Spelling continued to expand, launching its Big Ticket arm to venture into comedy (“Moesha”). Big Ticket also created Spelling’s biggest syndie success, the court strip “Judge Judy.”

Viacom wound up purchasing the portion it didn’t own in 1999 and set about integrating it into Paramount. Par eventually absorbed Worldvision, and later shut down its film division and Big Ticket TV production banner.

Spelling was best known for sexy shows like “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat” and “Beverly Hills, 90210.” But Spelling managed to reinvent himself several times, and in the end, “7th Heaven” even wound up securing the record as primetime’s longest-running family drama.

“I can remember a meeting some time ago when I was chairman-CEO of the original Viacom, and Aaron was talking about producing ‘7th Heaven,’ ” Redstone said. “Everyone was against him, that it wouldn’t work. I said, ‘We’re going to produce “7th Heaven” because Aaron wants it, and I have great faith in the taste and judgment of Aaron Spelling.’ ”

Spelling TV emptied its Miracle Mile offices in May and, coincidentally, the CW briefly flirted with taking over the vacant space. It was the end of an era for Spelling TV — which now must also adjust to a future without its namesake.

Former WB topper Jordan Levin, who worked closely with his fellow Texan, said it’s ironic that Spelling’s death “comes so close to the passing of not only The WB, but the passing of an era defined by television’s overall dominance.

“In an age when shows have become referred to as content, and distribution of such content occurs across multiple platforms, Mr. Spelling’s departure seems almost natural, for as television as we know it is disappearing, so has its master showman,” Levin said. “After all, Mr. Spelling wasn’t much for narrowcasting or small screens.”

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