Except for the year 1994, a Donald P. Bellisario-created series has been running on American TV screens since 1980. Bellisario has four genuine long-running hits to his name in "Magnum, P.I.," "Quantum Leap," "JAG" and "NCIS"; both "Magnum" and "NCIS" carved out lengthy stays in the Nielsen ratings top 10. Mid-level '80s hit "Airwolf" was also a Bellisario-produced show. Add to these his work on cult TV shows including "Tales of the Gold Monkey" and the original "Battlestar Galactica."
He is one of the great TV impresarios of the last 30 years, yet his name has never become a household one like Aaron Spelling's. Bellisario's shows were rarely the types of heavily serialized hits that became hits with critics and award voters (though both "Magnum" and "Quantum Leap" were nominated for the best drama series Emmy three times a piece), but their tight focus on small groups of people who undertook important missions or solved big cases, all with a heavy concentration on interesting characters, made them popular with audiences.
Bellisario said in a 2004 live chat with Washington Post readers that he tried to instill his series with a certain egalitarian spirit. "I have always believed that we should use the best in what we do and that goes for in front and behind the camera — sex, race, age should have nothing to do with it," he said. "I try to portray in my show an equal balance, good or bad, for all characters. We're all flawed to some extent, and we're all heroes to some extent."
Whatever his process, Bellisario's shows worked, and audiences gobbled them up, whether they followed rakish investigators, military men or time-traveling scientists and the holograms who guided them.