Charlie's Angels


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

Charlie's Angels, the critically panned female detective series that heralded the age of "jiggle TV," aired on ABC from 1976-81. The show, which featured three shapely, often scantily clad women solving crimes undercover for a boss they knew only as a Godly voice from a phone speaker, was an immediate sensation, landing the number five spot in the Nielsen ratings during the 1976-77 TV season. (This premiere-season record would remain unbroken until 1994-95, when NBC's new medical drama ER finished number two for the year.) In its second year, following the departure of its most popular star, Charlie's Angels tied for number four with, ironically, the critically acclaimed 60 Minutes and All in the Family. But by its third season, Charlie's Angels' slipped out of the top ten. And in 1980-81, the show's novelty had worn as thin as the Angels' slinky outfits, and Charlie's Angels, placing 59 out of 65 shows, was cancelled after 115 episodes.

Deemed sexploitation by its detractors, Charlie's Angels was the brainchild of producer Aaron Spelling, who in the early 1970s had found success in the TV detective genre with The Mod Squad and The Rookies, hip series shooting for young-adult audiences. With Charlie's Angels, Spelling spun a new formula that would attract desirable demographics among young men and women: He combined detective drama with the glamorous fantasy that would become his staple in the 1980s with Dynasty and the 1990s with Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place. Not only were his Angels beautiful and sexy, they were smart and powerful heroines who used provocative attraction (and feminine, often feigned, vulnerability) to lure and capture unsuspecting male criminals. Though Charlie's Angels was among TV's first dramas to instill female characters with typically male "powers" via a dominant subject position, the show's critics, inluding infuriated feminists, countered that Charlie's Angels was little more than a patriarchal production that sexually objectified its characters.

Charlie's Angels' premise placed its feminine heroes in a male-dominated work place and a woman-as-victim society. The Angels--once "three little girls who went to the police academy"--worked under the auspices of a patriarchal, narrative voice they called Charlie (the never-seen John Forsythe), who ran from remote locations the Charles Townsend Detective Agency in Los Angeles. Bosley, Charlie's asexual (and thus unthreatening) representative (played by David Doyle), helped direct the Angels meet Charlie's desired ends. Working undercover in women's prison camps, as showgirls, as prostitutes, and in other sexually suggestive locales and professions, the Angels inevitably found themselves in jeopardy each week, victimized either by evil men or unattractive (which in Spelling's lexicon meant "bad") women who underestimated the Angels' smarts and strengths as beautiful, seemingly frail decoys.

The three original Angels included two decoys--brunette Kelly Garret (played by Jaclyn Smith, the only Angel to remain through the series' entire run) and blonde Jill Munroe (played by Farrah Fawcett, whose fluffy, feathered hairstyle became a nationwide 1970s fad and whose sexy posters became bestsellers). By contrast, the third, less glamorous Angel, Sabrina Duncan (played by Kate Jackson, who also starred in Spelling's The Rookies), became known as "the smart one." Sabrina's impish qualities--independence, athleticism, adventurism and asexuality--often kept her working behind the scenes with Bosley, helping to rescue other Angels, and consequently often kept her out of the bikinis, braless t-shirts and tight dresses with plunging necklines that her co-workers opted to wear. Sabrina, Jill and Kelly (a martial arts expert) all participated in the show's choreographed violence, which included karate chops, kicks to the groin and other sanitized brutality (guns seldom were fired).

Fawcett (then Farrah Fawcett-Majors during her brief marriage to Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors) broke her contract and left the series after one season to become a movie star. She was replaced by blonde actress Cheryl Ladd, who played Jill's younger sister, Kris, also a decoy character. (As part of her exit agreement, Fawcett was forced to make guest appearances through the show's fourth season.) After two seasons and struggles to insert more meaningful characterizations into the show, Kate Jackson also retired her wings. She was replaced in 1979 by blonde actress Shelly Hack, who in 1980 was replaced by brunette actress Tanya Roberts for the show's final season. Throughout these cast changes, the formula remained consistent, save the loss of the impish Sabrina.

All six Angels, especially Fawcett, Smith, Jackson and Ladd, became media icons whose faces--and heavenly bodies--were plastered on magazine covers, posters, lunch boxes and loads of other toys and related merchandise. Charlie's Angels was undoubtedly a fantasy whose trappings appealed to males and females, young and old. Whether the show ultimately helped or hurt female portrayals in TV drama remains debatable. But as pure camp, the show, highlighted by episodes with titles like "Angels in Chains," remains a cult classic. As the omniscient Charlie would say, "Good work, Angels."

-Chris Mann

CAST

Sabrina Duncan (1976-79)...................... Kate Jackson  

Jill Munroe (l976-77).................. Farrah Fawcett-Majors  

Kelly Garrett........................................... Jaclyn Smith  

Kris Munroe (1977-81)............................... Cheryl Ladd  

Tiffany Welles (1979-80)......................... Shelley Hack  

Julie Rogers (1980-81).......................... Tanya Roberts  

John Bosley............................................. David Doyle  

Charlie Townsend (voice only)................ John Forsythe

PRODUCERS

Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Spelling, Rich Husky, David Levinson, Barney Rosenzweig, Ronald Austin, James David Buchanan, Edward J. Lasko, Robert Janes, Elaine Rich

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

115 Episodes

ABC

September 1976-August 1977   Wednesday 10:00-11:00

August 1977-October 1980   Wednesday 9:00-10:00

November 1980-January 1981   Sunday 8:00-9:00

January 1981-February 1981   Saturday 8:00-9:00

June 1981-August 1981   Wednesday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

D'Acci, Julie. Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney & Lacey. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Fiske, John. Television Culture. New York: Routledge, 1987.

Meehan, Diana. Ladies of the Evening: Women Characters of Prime-Time Television. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1983.

Highlights
Aaron Spelling on coming up with the main title sequence of Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on the critics' reception of Charlie's Angels and "jiggle television"
John Forsythe on providing the voice of "Charlie" on Charlie's Angels for producer Aaron Spelling
Jaclyn Smith on the various adventures of her Charlie's Angels character "Kelly Garrett "and her favorite episodes
Fred Silverman on how Charlie's Angels  is a feminist show
Who talked about this show

Howard Anderson, Jr.

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Howard Anderson Jr. on creating the opening titles and special effects for Charlie's Angels

Tommy Cole

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Make-up artist Tommy Cole on working on the pilot of Charlie's Angels

Warren Cowan

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Publicist Warren Cowan on the publicity challenge of Farrah Fawcett's departure from Charlie's Angels

Charles Dubin

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Charles S. Dubin on directing various series including Charlie's Angles, Trapper John, MD, and Supertrain

John Forsythe

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John Forsythe on providing the voice of "Charlie" on Charlie's Angels for producer Aaron Spelling
John Forsythe on getting involved with the movie version of Charlie's Angels

Leonard Goldberg

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Leonard Goldberg on the critics' reception of Charlie's Angels and "jiggle television"
Leonard Goldberg on the sudden stardom of Farrah Fawcett on Charlie's Angels; on THE poster and her leaving the show
Leonard Goldberg on Prince Charles meeting the leads of Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on the creation of Charlie's Angels, originally titled "The Alley Cats"
Leonard Goldberg on casting Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on starting production and promotions on Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on issues with Standards & Practices and complaints from the lead actresses on Charlie's Angels; on the wardrobe for the show
Leonard Goldberg on replacing Farrah Fawcett on Charlie's Angels and re-casting the show
Leonard Goldberg on why Charlie's Angels went off the air
Leonard Goldberg on the supporting cast of Charlie's Angels: David Doyle (Bosley)
Leonard Goldberg on Charlie's Angels and casting John Forsythe as "Charlie"
Leonard Goldberg on the production of Charlie's Angels with Aaron Spelling
Leonard Goldberg on his and Aaron Spelling's relationship with ABC during the production of Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on censorship issues on Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on how the many cast changes on Charlie's Angels weakened the show
Leonard Goldberg on the movie version of Charlie's Angels
Leonard Goldberg on the 2000 movie version of Charlie's Angels, contd.

Leonard H. Goldenson

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Leonard Goldenson on "jiggle television" at ABC, personified by Charlie's Angels

Leslie Hoffman

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Leslie Hoffman on doing stunts for Charlie's Angels

Eddie Foy III

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Eddie Foy III on casting Charlie's Angels 

Julie Ann Johnson

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Julie Ann Johnson on doing stunt work on Charlie's Angels where she was injured doing a stunt
Julie Ann Johnson on her efforts to let producer Aaron Spelling know about the unsafe conditions on the set of Charlie's Angels
Julie Ann Johnson on being blackballed after her injury on Charlie's Angels and on how being a female stunt person made it worse for her

Gene LeBell

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Gene LeBell on stunt work on Charlie's Angels

Randolph Mantooth

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Randolph Mantooth on guest-starring on Charlie's Angels

Nolan Miller

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Costume designer Nolan Miller on working on Charlie's Angels
Costume designer Nolan Miller on working on Charlie's Angels (continued)

Diana Muldaur

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Diana Muldaur on appearing in the pilot of Charlie's Angels

Hugh O'Brian

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Hugh O'Brian on playing Hugh Hefner on an episode of Charlie's Angels

Barney Rosenzweig

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Barney Rosenzweig on the long road to getting hired on Charlie's Angels and changes he brought to the show
Barney Rosenzweig on the stars of Charlie's Angels

Fred Silverman

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Fred Silverman on bringing projects in development at ABC to pilot stage and beyond, including Charlie's Angels

Jaclyn Smith

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Jaclyn Smith on the various adventures of her Charlie's Angels character "Kelly Garrett "and her favorite episodes
Jaclyn Smith on being cast in Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on the premise of Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on her Charlie's Angels character "Kelly Garrett"
Jaclyn Smith on dealing with the criticism of Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on the pilot of Charlie's Angels and her co-stars
Jaclyn Smith on her Charlie's Angels boss, Aaron Spelling
Jaclyn Smith on filming the Charlie's Angels pilot
Jaclyn Smith on Charlie's Angels being an overnight sensation and the popularity of Farrah Fawcett
Jaclyn Smith on the many cast changes of Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on the public reaction to Charlie's Angels  
Jaclyn Smith on the fashions of Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on the filming of Charlie's Angels and the stunt work
Jaclyn Smith on the effect of Charlie's Angels on pop culture and the merchandising of the show
Jaclyn Smith on doing publicity for Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on a Charlie's Angels production week
Jaclyn Smith on "forced calls" on Charlie's Angels and the scripts
Jaclyn Smith on the final episode of Charlie's Angels
Jaclyn Smith on the legacy of Charlie's Angels and Aaron Spelling
Jaclyn Smith on Charlie's Angels producer Leonard Goldberg

Aaron Spelling

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Aaron Spelling on Charlie's Angels

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