Tuesday, April 5, 2016

“My name is Charlie.”

Amazing how immortalized those words have become in the pop cultural vernacular, isn’t it?

It started off as a modest, schlocky entry into the coveted mid-seventies ratings sweepstakes and wound up, despite none-too-glowing reviews and plenty of feminist backlash, as a beloved fixture of our television heritage.

You gotta give credit to producer Aaron Spelling for accurately reading the zeitgeist. While Norman Lear was making CBS the number-one network in the early seventies with his socially-relevant, indomitable sitcom machine, Spelling saw another America: one weary from the turmoil of Vietnam and Watergate, thirsting for something on TV of the more escapist variety, And yes, something with… sex. As cinema was relaxing its belt after years of strict Hays-code standards of morality and decency, television, in the interest of competition, followed suit, or at least as much as the FCC would allow. Nothing could disturb the almighty family hour from 8 to 9, but after that, the adults could play a little bit, and play they did. Jiggle TV was born. And Charlie’s Angels, more than any other show, for better or worse, paved the way.

TV writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, known primarily for the shows Ironside and Mannix, conceived the premise of three sexy detectives in 1975. Shortly thereafter they brought the idea to producer Aaron Spelling, until then known for The Mod Squad, The Rookies, and S.W.A.T., who was looking for a fresh take on a genre fast becoming shopworn. He instantly knew he wanted his Rookies star Kate Jackson as Kelly Garrett; Kate much preferred the more intellectual role of Sabrina Duncan, and so it was in that role she was cast. Farrah Fawcett-Majors won her part of Jill Monroe by impressing Spelling with her performance in the sci-fi sleeper Logan’s Run, and Jaclyn Smith rounded out the trio as Kelly, after having auditioned and beating out hundreds of other applicants.

The show assumed its title after Kate Jackson rejected Goff and Roberts’s initial concept of three
1976 Publicity Still
chain-wearing woman called The Alley Cats (thank God!). She instead suggested their moniker be changed to “Angels,” and more specifically, Harry’s Angels, as they’d be working for a man who gives them their assignments. But to avoid confusion with another current network series, Harry O, they changed it yet again, to the title we all now and love: Charlie’s Angels. Work began on the pilot in early 1976, but it was soon decided that Charlie would be best unseen – he would explain, through a speakerphone, the Angels’ mission at the beginning of the show and then not be heard from again. But the producers knew greater male presence was needed, so they introduced a man named Bosley (David Doyle), who would help the women in their adventures. Also in the pilot, although not in the series itself, was Scott Woodville, Charlie’s proxy presence and main back-up to the Angels, played by David Ogden Stiers (answering the age-old question: What do Charlie’s Angels and M*A*S*H have in common?).

And so, on March 21st, 1976, ABC aired the 90-minute pilot, simply titled “Charlie’s Angels” at 9:30PM. Ratings were good enough that he show was picked up the following season, and the rest is history. (Or, should we say, HERstory?) The show remained in the top 10 Nielsen ratings for its first two seasons before slipping down even further until its eventual cancellation after season 5. But it remained strong in reruns, and even developed a cult following through the years. Of course, Hollywood couldn’t resist, and so out came the star-studded movie version in 2000, followed by a sequel. The less said about those the better.

But back in the 70s, Wednesday night was Angel night, and if you wanted to turn to some mindless escapism, with some T&A thrown in for good measure, one needn’t go any further than the likes of Kelly, Sabrina and Jill. So let’s do this – all 110 episodes - in as honest and affectionate an analysis as you’ve come to expect from the Rocket.

Here we go – gentlemen, start your disco balls!  

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