Mike Pingel. Angelic Heaven: A Fan Guide to Charlie’s Angles. Henderson, NV.: Signing Stars Publishing, 2006.
Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg first partnered together to produce the TV series “The Rookies” in 1972, a series that co-starred Kate Jackson. This partnership went on to producer other series including “Chopper One” in 1974 and “Starsky and Hutch” in 1975. In 1974, they got an idea for another detective show with three women named Alison, Catherine, and Lee with a title taken from their three names combined, “The Alley Cats.” The idea was pitched to ABC’s Barry Diller and Michael Eisner who responded it was the worse idea they’d ever heard.
Ironically, the same week “Alley Cats” was turned down, ABC approved a TV movie “Murder on Flight 502” starring Farrah Fawcett. A pilot was made from the movie called “The Family”, yet it was not picked up as a series.
Meanwhile, ABC had a contract paying the producers Spelling, Goldberg, Robert Wagner, and Natalie Wood $25,000 a week. Yet they were not producing anything for their contracted money as ABC had turned down their ideas. Eisner agreed to Goldberg’s suggestion that could create whatever they wanted. So Spelling and Goldberg produced what they wanted to do, which was “The Alley Cats”. A script was produced and ABC rejected it.
In 1975, Barry Diller went from CBS’s Director of Programming to accept third place ABC’s Director of Programming position. He came across the rejected ideas of “The Alley Cats” and “The Family.” He reignited interest in these ventures.
“The Alley Cats” was seen as a vehicle for Kate Jackson. The producers wanted an unseen boss. Jackson thought the title was inappropriate and pointing to a painting over Aaron Spelling’s desk offered the idea of naming the series “Harry’s Angels”.
The writers of the TV show “Maxim”, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, were hired to write the show. The pilot included an attorney portrayed by David Ogden Stiles. Neither male character was to be involved in the crime solving. Stiles’ character was deemed unnecessary and was cut from the series.
Farrah Fawcett Majors (then married to actor Lee Majors) was cast as the second “Angel”. Jacklyn Smith was chosen over Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter. Anderson and Carter would later be cast together in “Partners in Crime”. David Doyle was hired as the male office manager.
Michael Eisner did not like Jacklyn Smith and asked her part be recast. The producer refused to do this.
CBS had a show “Harry O” so the show was re-titled “Charlie’s Angels”.
John Forsythe and Aaron Spelling were old friends. Spelling asked Forsythe to be the telephone voice of Charlie.
Fred Pierce, ABC President, asked about the show’s background. Spelling instantly created an answer that the tree private detectives were Police Academy graduates given menial jobs that Charlie then lured to his crime solving agency. That because the basis for the opening title.
“Charlie’s Angels” went before a test audience. It had one of the worst tests in ABC history. It was taken out of the prospective fall 1976 lineup. The pilot was aired as a TV movie with no promotion. The movie drew a very high 59% audience share. “Charlie’s Angels” was then placed onto the fall lineup,
Wella Balsom Shampoo was fortunate to have signed the three lead actresses for commercials before the show was a hit.
The show’s formula involved several outfit changes. Some feminists protested the sexuality of the show. The actresses believed the show demonstrated women could be strong and do what men could do, from driving sports care to playing football. It was also the first hit TV show with three leading female characters.
The show spent $46,000 a year and two and a half hours a day on hair styling.
The show’s original $110,000 per episode budget increased to $2 million a show. Jackson received $10,000 a show while Fawcett Majors and Smith received $5,000 a show. Fawcett Majors and Smith though were given an extra $5,000 a week in product endorsements.
Merchandising of products connected to the show began. Dolls, toys, and jewelry were among these products.
The show received numerous Emmy nominations and won for Best New Series and Best Actress for Farrah Fawcett Majors.
Farrah Fawcett did a posted that sold eight million copies.
Fawcett in particular and the women in general became dissatisfied with the lack of character growth in the scripts. The producers insisted on keeping a successful formula.
Fawcett also had not signed a contract. She wanted 10% of merchandising. Fawcett quit filming the show. The producers sued her for breach of contract for $7 million. The producers claimed her working a year without a contract demonstrated a legal commitment to the show. The producers got the court to prevent Fawcett from accepting any other work. This almost killed her career, Fawcett lost out on filming two movies, “Foul Play” and “Coma”, which were both successful.
Cheryl Ladd was hired to replace Fawcett. She arrived on set wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Farrah Fawcett Minor”. Ladd had worked with Spelling and Goldberg in a movie “Satan’s School for Girls” which also starred Kate Jackson.
Ladd at first declined Spelling’s offer to test for the role. She feared replacing a popular actress. The lawsuit threatened to delay the second season filming and all hopes of getting Fawcett back were abandoned. Spelling offered that the new character would be more comedic and very different from Fawcett’s character. Ladd filmed an episode with the knowledge that her role could easily be reshot should Fawcett return. A limo was sent daily in hopes Fawcett would get in and return to work.
Fawcett agreed to appear on six episodes over two seasons and was obligated to fulfill her five year contract
The stars received death threats. The FBI investigated a kidnapping threat.
The audience accepted Ladd and the show’s success continued. The show even increased its ratings and its standing improved to fifth place.
Ladd did a poster that sold one million copies
Jackson negotiated a $6 million three movie deal with ABC. Smith and Forsythe did an ABC TV movie “The Users”.
Fawcett did a movie “Somebody Killed Her Husband” for Spelling and Goldberg.
Jackson wanted to film “Kramer vs. Kramer” on weekends while filming the TV show on weekdays. She was upset when the producers refused to allow this.
When Fawcett returned to film the show, she and Ladd agreed to break the tension for all on the set with a practical joke. They ran towards each other for a hug, missed each others, and kept running past each. This broke the tension.
Fawcett received a salary similar to the $15,000 to $20,000 per episode paid to Jackson and Smith.
Lee Strasberg taught acting at the The Actors Studio. He refused to allow any students to act on TV. A student, Sally Kirkland, pleaded that she needed the money to appear on an episode of “Charlie’s Angels”. Strasberg relented. When Strasberg saw the episode, he announced that Kirkland was “doing feature film acting on episodic TV” and that she and Ladd were both excellent. He dropped his prohibition against having students who appear on TV.
Jackson was upset over losing the role in “Kramer vs. Kramer” as it became a big hit. Jackson then argued over scripts and help up shoots. The producers agreed to let er out of her contract.
150 actresses were considered to replace Jackson. Shelley Hack was picked. When Hack was told she had to take a personality test with a screen test, she replied “I didn’t rehearse my personality this morning.” Spelling stated Hack was chosen 60% from her personality test indicating how nice she was and 40% from her screen test.
Forsythe recorded his voice in a recording studio away from the show’s film studio.
The ratings dropped, even on the episodes where Fawcett appeared. The show was 20th in ratings. Hack was dropped from the show but professionally finished the season. Hack then landed a role on the TV series “Dallas”.
Tanya Roberts was added to the show at $12,000 per episode. The producers tried to reignite interest in the show by filming the first five episodes in Hawaii with many swimsuit costume changes. A SAG strike led to three months without filming. “Charlie’s Angels” was slotted against other hit shows “Archie Bunker’s Place” on CBS and “Chips” on NBC.
Wagner and Wood sued Spelling and Goldberg claiming they had been denied $30,000 per episode of profits they claimed were due them. Spelling and Goldberg took money from “Charlie’s Angels” and applied it to a show they did not co-own with Wagner and Wood, “Starsky and Hutch”. ABC paid an unknown term “exclusivity fee” to Spelling and Goldberg that was hidden from Wagner and Wood. An attorney at ABC, Jennifer Martin, discovered this, was praised for his discovery, and then was fired. The matter was settled out of court.
“Charlie’s Angels” finished the season at 47th place. The show was moved to Saturdays but ratings did not improve. It was cancelled after 109 episodes. It aired in over 90 countries including being the first American TV show broadcast in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
In 1999, Telemundo reshot “Charlie’s Angels” scripts for a new series “Angeles”.
A “Charlie’s Angels” movie was made by Drew Barrymore’s production company. 15 screenwriters were involved with the script. The movie starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Bill Murray. John Forsythe returned as Charlie. It grossed $264 million worldwide. A sequel earned $259 million worldwide.