ABC has ordered a “reboot” of the classic 1970s detective series Charlie’s Angels so in this months ‘Flashback’ strand we take a look at the original series which starred Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Farrah Fawcett.
The past week has seen announcements that Thunderbirds, Charlie’s Angels, Randall & Hopkirk Deceased and Dynasty are all set to return in some form; be they remakes or movie prequels. Two of those shows were produced by the legendary Aaron Spelling; Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty. They are just two shows out of Spelling’s many hits across his long and varied career but both are still fondly remembered today so its hardly a surprise that Charlie’s Angels is to be remade for television while Dynasty is to get a movie prequel.
Charlie’s Angels launched on ABC in 1976; created by Ben Roberts and Ivan Goff under the original title of The Alley Cats. The basic premise of Charlie’s Angels was three young women, who had trained a police academy, were taken out of the force and hired by reclusive millionaire Charlie Townsend to work for him as private detectives. Clients would turn to Charlie when they police had proven no use for them and the angels would investigate their cases for them; be they kidnap, murder, miscarriages of justice and other such crimes. Usually the three angels would go undercover only to be exposed as they neared the truth and their lives would be placed in danger. Aiding the three angels in their detective work was Charlie’s right-hand man Bosley (David Doyle).
A recurring ‘joke’ throughout the series of Charlie’s Angels was that the three angels never saw Charlie – he would communicate with them via phone. However, he would often tease the angels by revealing he had been present during their investigation usually disguised – the angels would never realise though. The voice of Charlie Townsend was provided by actor John Forsythe who would later find greater fame as ruthless oil tycoon in Dynasty. The original line-up of angels consisted of Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Jill Munroe, Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan and Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett.
Charlie’s Angels was a hit almost instantly with viewers although the critics weren’t always so favourable to do; it was dubbed “jiggle tv” by some. However, the lack of critical acclaim was not a major problem seeing as it was one of the top-rated dramas and the stars were propelled into the lime-light. There were so negative side effects though with the punishing schedules and round of interviews and photo shoots taking their tolls.
There were also issues with the direction of the series as Kate Jackson wasn’t too happy with the “cop story of the week” format the series was quickly becoming. Barney Rosenzweig (later creator of Cagney and Lacey) joined as a producer but clashed with Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg over his ideas – he wanted to improve the show while the other two were happy with the ratings it was pulling in. Eventually Rosenzweig left the series and he wasn’t the only one.
Despite the huge success of Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett decided not to return for the second series. Fawcett was under contract to return and her decision to quit the series prompted Aaron Spelling to sue her for breach of contract. As the case went on the search for Fawcett’s replacement on the series began.
Rather than re-cast the role it was decided to introduce a new character, Jill’s younger sister. The role of Kris Munroe was awarded to Cheryl Ladd who, to begin with, hesitate on accepting because she felt the character was too similar to Fawcett’s. After talking with Spelling changes were made to the character and Ladd accepted the role.
The court case with Fawcett ended with the actress loosing and agreeing to return for a string of episodes; three in the third series and a further three in the fourth series. The departure of Farrah Fawcett didn’t impact on the ratings for Charlie’s Angels even though she was hugely popular with audiences. In fact in many ways the actress was the “breakout” star of the first series. Despite this the audience took to her replacement Cheryl Ladd and the series continued to perform well throughout its second and third seasons.
However, the end of the third series saw another Angel departure; Kate Jackson. There are conflicting reports over Jackson’s departure from the series; some state that the actress was unhappy with the series and the long hours and decided to quit. Others claim that the relationship between Jackson and Spelling had broken down and she was not asked to return. Whatever the reason for Jackson’s departure it marked the beginning of the end for the series.
Another hunt began for a new angel to join the series with considerable press speculation as to whom would join the series. Press reports linked Michelle Pfeiffer, Barbara Bach and Jayne Kennedy to the series. Ultimately though the new angel would be played by former model Shelley Hack joining as graduate Tiffany Wells. The fourth series saw changes to the format of the series with episodes focusing more on one ‘angel’ instead of being an ensemble piece like previous seasons.
This meant more time off for the actresses and a reduced filming schedule but it also meant the two angels not being focused on had less to do in episodes. With this new format viewers found it hard to take to the new angel Tiffany who was underused in early episodes of the fourth season – ratings soon began to drop.It was during the fourth season that ABC decided to attempt a spin-off from the series; a backdoor pilot airing during the series to test the waters.
The spin-off would, in basic terms, by a reversal of Charlie’s Angels with three male detectives working for a female boss; Toni. The episode Toni’s Boys saw an attempt made on Charlie Townsend’s life and so he hires another detective agency to investigate. The role of Toni was played by actress Barbara Stanwyck who would later play Connie Colby in Dynasty and its spin-off The Colbys. The backdoor pilot for the proposed spin-off never amounted to more than that; ABC decided not to pursue the project possibly because of declining ratings for the parent series.
A fifth season was ordered by ABC but Shelley Hack did not return; instead Tanya Roberts joined as new ‘Angel’ Julie Rogers. Several episodes saw the series shift to Hawaii in an attempt to add some variety to the series. While ratings improved for a while it wasn’t long before they once again began to fall. ABC shifted the series about in the schedules which only prompted further rating decline. In 1981 with four episodes of the fifth season remaining ABC announced it was cancelling the series. By this time actress Jaclyn Smith had already indicated she wouldn’t return for a sixth series had one been ordered.
In the late 1980s attempts were made to revive the series under the title Angels 88, later Angels 89 as production shifted back to 1989. While there were several actresses attached to the project it was scrapped before any filming began on the series. In the 1990s there were rumours of a revival or remakes but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Charlie’s Angels returned; as two Hollywood movies.
The first film, simply Charlie’s Angels, was released in 2000 with Leonard Goldberg, Nancy Juvonen and Drew Barrymore as producers (all three are producers on the announced ABC remake). Drew Barrymore also starred in the film alongside Cameron Diaz, Lucy Lui and Bill Murray. John Forsythe returned to once again provide the voice of the ever reclusive Charlie. In 2003 Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle was released with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Lui and John Forsythe all returning. Jaclyn Smith had a cameo appearance in the film in a scene which its hinted she is playing her character, Kelly, from the original series.
Ever since the second Hollywood film in 2003 there have been rumours of further sequels but so far none have ever been made. This is perhaps because in the American market the second film did not perform well and it was only in the International Market that the film performed and helped make a profit. The franchise though, despite that set back, didn’t die thanks to DVD releases of the original series. In more recent years a remake of the original series has been rumoured with producers Leonard Goldberg, Nancy Juvonen and Drew Barrymore working on the planned revival. Last week ABC announced it had indeed given the go ahead for a pilot episode.