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 110 episodes. The series was created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and was produced by Aaron Spelling. It plots the adventures of three females working in a private detective agency in Los Angeles, California, and initially starred Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, and Jaclyn Smith in the leading roles, with David Doyle co-starring as a sidekick to the three women and John Forsythe providing the voice of their boss. Later additions to the cast were Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack, and Tanya Roberts.
Despite mixed reviews from critics and a reputation for merely being "Jiggle TV", the show enjoyed an astonishing popularity with audiences, and was a top ten hit for its first two seasons. Because later cast changes were not well-received and the public's taste changed, the show concluded a five-year run in the spring of 1981. The series continues to have a cult and pop culture following through syndication, DVD releases, and subsequent TV and film remakes.
Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts came up with the idea for a series about three beautiful female private investigators as a breakthrough but also 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-Majors was next cast as Jill Munroe, but much like Jackson, did not audition for a role. She was offered a part by Spelling after he had viewed her performance in the science-fiction film Logan's Run (1976). 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 the initial concept surrounding a brunette, blonde, and red-headed woman. Smith was the only brunette that auditioned for the role and was cast only after producers liked the on-screen chemistry she shared with Jackson and Fawcett-Majors.
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. However, 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. 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 Stiers as Scott Woodville, who would act as the chief back-up 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. Woodville also was the only regular known to meet Charlie face to face.
The 90-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 light-weight fluff 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. The series formally premiered on Wednesday, September 22, 1976 at 10:00pm.
In the initial concept, Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson), Jill Munroe (Farrah Fawcett-Majors), and Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith) have graduated from the police academy in Los Angeles, California, and have subsequently been assigned to be a meter maid, office worker, and crossing guard, respectively. Unsatisfied with these jobs, they are recruited to work for the Townsend Agency as private investigators. All of this is explained in the opening credit sequence; neither the pilot film nor subsequent series ever actually depicted an "origin story" as they are seen to have been working as investigators for some time as of the start of the pilot. Their boss, Charlie Townsend (voiced by John Forsythe), who nicknames them "Angels", is never seen full-face, but is often seen from the back, mostly in the company of beautiful women. Charlie gives the Angels and his associate John Bosley (David Doyle) their assignments via a Western Electric Speakerphone; he never meets them face-to-face, which leads to recurring queries from the Angels as to when or if he'll ever join them on assignment. In season two, San Francisco police academy graduate Kris Munroe (Cheryl Ladd) takes the place of her older sister, Jill, in the trio; in the fourth season, Tiffany Welles (Shelley Hack), a Boston police academy graduate, takes Sabrina's place; and in the fifth and final season, model-turned-private investigator in training, Julie Rogers (Tanya Roberts) fills the void left after Tiffany's departure when she is given a temporary private detective license.
Charlie's Angels was generally formatted in the way of a procedural drama much like the vast majority of other crime shows of the era. Many of the episodes follow a regular structure whereby a crime is committed, the Angels are given the case details, and then they go undercover to solve the crime. Inevitably, the final scene takes place back at the Townsend office with Charlie offering his congratulations for a job well done. Most episodes have stand-alone plots and are usually not referenced in future episodes. As such, cast changes notwithstanding, it's possible to view the episodes in any order (the first regular episode filmed, "The Killing Kind," was the sixth to be broadcast).
Over the course of its five-year-run, Charlie's Angels had a series of highly publicized cast changes. The first of the cast changes took place in the spring of 1977, just after the conclusion of the first season. Pivotal series actress Farrah Fawcett-Majors turned in her resignation just before the season one finale aired on May 4, 1977, commenting she wished to embark on a film career. ABC and show producer Aaron Spelling thought the exit of Fawcett-Majors, the show's most valuable asset, would knock the series off balance.
During the 1977 summer hiatus of the series, ABC and Fawcett-Majors entered a legal battle over her contract. At the beginning of the series, all three female leads signed five-year contracts, and the network was insistent that they live up to their commitments. Business partners Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling tried intensively to work out a deal with Fawcett-Majors and her agents. Goldberg and Spelling had arranged for her to make one theatrical film during her summer hiatuses and her choice over subsequent television shows and miniseries. ABC even agreed to raise her salary from $5,000 to $8,000 a week, but she declined the offers. ABC reluctantly released her from her series contract in the summer of 1977. However, she was assigned to another contract with ABC, stating that since she left her contract four years early that she would return to the series later on in its run for six guest appearances for a total of $1,000,000. Fawcett-Majors would return as Jill Munroe on Charlie's Angels for three guest appearances in season three. She again returned for three guest spots in season four, but by this time she had dropped the "Majors" from her surname.
As Fawcett-Majors departed the series, ABC began searching for her replacement. Executives eventually noticed singer-turned-actress Cheryl Ladd and offered her a screen test. Initially, Ladd refused the opportunity for a screen test, but after lobbying from studio executives, she relented. Although executives noticed Ladd was inexperienced, they saw promise in her performance and signed her to a four-year contract. In an effort to keep the hype the series had with Fawcett-Majors, Ladd was written in the series as her sister, San Francisco police academy graduate Kris Munroe.
Despite a mixed reception from critics at the beginning of season two in September 1977, Charlie's Angels lost just a small percentage of its season one audience with the introduction of Ladd. But show star Kate Jackson believed the inclusion of Ladd damaged the series considerably. Jackson and Ladd reportedly never got along with one another.
Ratings remained steady throughout the third season. With three highly publicized guest appearances from Fawcett-Majors during the season, ratings temporarily revitalized. Jackson began to complain about the show's diminishing script quality and stated that initially the series focused on "classic detective work", but had become more of a "cop story of the week". After producers refused to reorganize their shooting schedule to allow Jackson to star in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) with Dustin Hoffman, she decided to leave the series. The part of Joanna Kramer was given to Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for her performance.
Casting calls for Jackson's replacement began during the summer of 1979. Several up-and-coming actresses were considered for the role, including Barbara Bach, Connie Sellecca, Shari Belafonte, and newcomer Michelle Pfeiffer. Although considered for the part, Bo Derek and Melanie Griffith did not audition. Pfeiffer was a personal favorite with most of the producers, however, her screen test showed her inexperienced acting talents and she was passed over for the part. ABC producers noticed Charlie perfume girl Shelley Hack in an ad and cast her as Jackson's replacement. Hack debuted in the fourth season premiere as Tiffany Welles, an elegant police graduate from Boston. ABC hoped Hack's sophisticated personality would bring an interesting new mystique and intrigue to the series.
However, Hack's performance received disappointing reviews from critics and the series lost 40 percent of its audience during her time on the series. Television host Johnny Carson said that Charlie's Angels was supposed to be "Jiggle TV" and that "When Hack's 'A' (ass) is put where her 'T' (tits) should be, it still doesn't jiggle."
To revitalize the show and regain popularity, ABC released Hack from her contract in February 1980. In a People magazine interview, Hack told reporters, "They can say I didn't work out, but it isn't true. What happened was a network war. A business decision was made. Change the time slot or bring on some new publicity. How to get publicity? A new Angel hunt. Who is the obvious person to replace? I am—the new kid on the block."
During casting calls for Hack's replacement, some two thousand candidates were auditioned. After a series of false commitments, ABC selected model and former dance instructor, Tanya Roberts. She was pictured on the cover of People magazine and featured in an article surrounding the series. The article, entitled "Is the Jiggle Up?", asked if Roberts could save Charlie's Angels from cancellation. Executive Brett Garwood stated, "We hope to keep the show going for next year, but nothing's certain."
Roberts debuted in the fifth season premiere as Julie Rogers, a streetwise fighter and model, but the season premiere episode drew mild ratings. Between November 1980 and June 1981, the series was broadcast in three different time slots and its ratings further declined, so ABC cancelled the show in the spring of 1981.
The show became known as "Jiggle TV" and "T&A TV" (or "Tits & Ass Television") by critics who believed that the show had no intelligence or substance and that the scantily or provocatively dressed Angels - generally as part of their undercover characters (including roller derby girl, beauty pageant contestant, maid, female prisoner, or just bikini-clad) - did so to showcase the figures and/or sexuality of the actresses as a sole means of attracting viewers. Farrah Fawcett-Majors once attributed the show's success to this fact: "When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra."
Charlie's Angels proved to be a runaway hit in the 1976–77 season in its first of five time slots, Wednesdays at 10:00pm, where it followed Baretta. Facing little competition from CBS and NBC, Charlie's Angels finished fifth in Nielsen ratings in the spring of 1977 with an average 26.0 rating. The three lead actresses were suddenly propelled to stardom, with Kate Jackson later commenting that the first few months were like being in the eye of a storm. Farrah Fawcett-Majors became hugely popular and was branded a phenomenon. However, the situation off screen was not as rewarding. The long working hours on set, combined with numerous calls for photo shoots, wardrobe fittings, and promotional interviews, took their toll on the trio. Jackson was especially unhappy as she felt the quality of scripts was declining and the format was now more "cop story of the week" rather than classy undercover drama, which had been the intention with the pilot film.
With season two, the series moved up an hour to the Wednesday 9:00pm time slot, where it stayed for three years. During that time, the series competed with such popular shows as One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, and Diff'rent Strokes. The transition from Fawcett-Majors to Cheryl Ladd in the second season proved to be popular with viewers. While viewership dipped marginally in the second season, the series still remained in the top five for the 1977–78 season, placing fourth in the ratings, tying with 60 Minutes and All in the Family. With the highly publicized return of Fawcett-Majors for guest appearances in the third season, viewership stabilized, but the series began losing traction as it ranked twelfth behind newcomers Mork & Mindy, The Ropers, and Taxi for the 1978–1979 season. With Jackson's departure and Shelley Hack entering the cast, the show's fourth season saw some ratings erosion as it ranked seventeenth for the 1979–1980 season.
The fifth season saw the final cast change with Tanya Roberts. The final season was plagued by the 1980 actors' strike, causing a delayed premier date. In addition, the series was shuffled around with three different time slots in its final season: Sundays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 8:00pm, and finally Wednesdays at 8:00pm, where it remained for the remainder of its run. Despite generally receiving mild competition from its rival networks on these time slots, Charlie's Angels placed fifty-ninth out of sixty-five shows for the 1980–1981 season. ABC thereby canceled the series after five seasons and 110 episodes.