Charlie's Angels is an American crime drama television series that aired on ABC from September 22, 1976 to June 24, 1981, producing five seasons and 115 episodes. The series was created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and was produced by Aaron Spelling. It follows the crime-fighting adventures of three women working at a private detective agency in Los Angeles, California, and originally starred Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett(billed as Farrah Fawcett-Majors), and Jaclyn Smith in the leading roles and John Forsythe providing the voice of their boss, the unseen Charlie Townsend, who directed the crime-fighting operations of the "Angels" over a speakerphone. There were a few casting changes: after the departure of Fawcett, Cheryl Laddjoined; after Jackson departed, Shelley Hack joined, who was subsequently replaced by Tanya Roberts.
Despite mixed reviews from critics and a reputation for merely being "jiggle television" (specifically emphasizing the sex appeal of the female leads), Charlie's Angels enjoyed great popularity with audiences, as it was a top ten hit in the Nielsen ratings for its first two seasons. By the third season, however, the show had fallen from the top 10. In the fifth season, the show fell out of the Top 30.
After the success of "Police Woman", the first hour-long drama starring a woman, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts came up with the idea for a series about three beautiful female private investigators as a breakthrough but also as an escapist television series. Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg first considered actress Kate Jackson during the early pre-production stages of the series. She had proven popular with viewers in another police television drama, "The Rookies:. Jackson was initially cast as Kelly Garrett, but was more attracted to the role of Sabrina Duncan, and her request to switch roles was granted. Farrah Fawcett was next cast as Jill Munroe but, like Jackson, did not audition for a role. She was offered a part by Spelling after he had viewed her performance in the 1976 film "Logan's Run". Jaclyn Smith was among the hundreds of actresses who auditioned for the role of Kelly Garrett. Despite liking Smith, Spelling and Goldberg were wary about hiring her because their initial concept concerned a brunette, blonde, and red-headed woman. Smith was the only brunette who auditioned for the role and was cast only after producers liked the on-screen chemistry she shared with Jackson and Fawcett.
Producer Leonard Goldberg had the initial idea, three years previously, for a show that would be a cross between The Avengers and Honey West, a short-lived drama from the 1960s about a female private investigator. Goff and Roberts had first titled the series The Alley Cats in which the three females (named Allison, Lee, and Catherine) would reside in alleys and wear whips and chains. Jackson disapproved of the title and, since she was given semi-control over the development of the series, she encouraged producers to find a new title. It was Jackson who decided the three women would be called "Angels" after seeing a picture of three angels hanging in Spelling's office, and the series became known as Harry's Angels. This title was dropped, however, when ABC did not want to run into conflict with the series Harry O, and was thereby changed to Charlie's Angels.
In the initial concept of the series, the three females' boss would be a millionaire who often aided them in their assignments; however, Jackson and Spelling decided it would be more interesting to have the boss's identity remain a secret. With this, millionaire Charlie Townsend was an unseen character on the series who only spoke to the Angels via a Western Electric speakerphone. John Forsythe, who played the unseen Charlie Townsend, recorded his lines in an audio studio and was never on set. Thus, Forsythe rarely met any of his female co-stars. Some years later, he bumped into Farrah Fawcett at a tennis court, as he recalled, "I was coming off the court when she came up to me and said, 'Charlie! I finally met Charlie!'". Forsythe was offered the 'Charlie' role in a panicky late-night phone call from Spelling after the original choice, Gig Young, showed up too intoxicated to read his lines: "I didn't even take my pajamas off – I just put on my topcoat and drove over to Fox. When it was finished, Aaron Spelling said, 'That's perfect'. And I went home and went back to bed".
Spelling and Goldberg decided to add actor David Doyle to the cast as John Bosley, an employee of Charlie, who would frequently aid the Angels in their assignments. Although ABC had approved of a pilot film, they were concerned about how audiences would accept three women fighting crime on their own. ABC executives brought in David Ogden Stiersas Scott Woodville, who would act as the chief backup to the Angels and Bosley's superior; he would also be depicted as the organizer of the plan, in similar fashion to Jim Phelps in "Mission: Impossible", a series for which Goff and Roberts had written.
The 74-minute pilot film initially aired on March 21, 1976. The story focuses heavily on Kelly Garrett (a role intended for Jackson before she and Smith swapped) who poses as an heiress who returns home to gain her father's successful winery. In the end of the film the three women are caught in a bind and Scott attempts to save them, but to no avail, leaving them to solve the dilemma on their own (and with the help of allies made during the story). ABC executives were somewhat disappointed in this initial project, fearing there was more emphasis on camp than serious drama. After viewing the pilot, Spelling encouraged executives to delete Scott Woodville from the series; according to The Charlie's Angels Casebook, audiences also reacted negatively to the character. Bosley was kept, made slightly less inept than depicted in the pilot, and was given many of Woodville's attributes and responsibilities. The series formally premiered on Wednesday, September 22, 1976 at 10:00pm.
The pilot film received enormous ratings, but ABC - who thought this was one of the worst ideas for a TV series they had ever heard - didn't believe the figures and showed the pilot again at a later date to check. The ratings were just as high, even for a repeat screening.
In the spring of 1977, Fawcett left Charlie's Angels after only one season. After a series of legal battles over her contract with ABC, Cheryl Ladd replaced her on the show, portraying Jill Munroe's younger sister Kris Munroe. Over the years, numerous explanations were offered for Fawcett's precipitous withdrawal from the show. Because her husband, Lee Majors, was the star of an established television show as well (ABC's Six Million Dollar Man, which aired from 1974 to 1978), the strain on her marriage due to filming schedules that kept them apart for long periods was frequently cited, but her ambition to broaden her acting abilities in films has also been given as an explanation. She never officially signed her series contract with Spelling, owing to protracted negotiations over royalties from her image's use in peripheral products, which led to an even more protracted $7 million dollar breach of contract lawsuit filed by Spelling and his company when she left the show. As a result of leaving her contract four years early, she reluctantly signed a new contract with ABC, stating that she would make six guest appearances on the series over a two-year period (1978–1980).
Charlie's Angels was a global success, maintaining its appeal in syndication and spawning, particularly in the show's first three seasons, a cottage industry of peripheral products, including several series of bubble gum cards, two sets of fashion dolls, numerous posters, puzzles, and school supplies, novelizations of episodes, toy vans, and a board game, all featuring Fawcett's likeness. The "Angels" also appeared on the covers of magazines around the world, from countless fan magazines to TV Guide (four times) to Time.
Charlie's Angels continues to have a 1970's American cult and pop culture following through syndication, DVD releases, and subsequent television shows. The show also spawned a media franchise with a film series started in 2000, which is a continuation of the series story with later generations of Angels. A reboot television series was broadcast in 2011, but was canceled after seven episodes.
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