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 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 their initial concept concerned 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.
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 and responsibilities. The series formally premiered on Wednesday, September 22, 1976 at 10:00pm.
In the initial concept, Sabrina Duncan, Jill Munroe, and Kelly Garrett have graduated from the police academy in Los Angeles, California. Despite proving their capability during training, all three have subsequently been assigned to be a meter maid, office worker, and crossing guard, respectively.
Dissatisfied 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, Charles "Charlie" Townsend, 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 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 will ever join them on assignment. In season two, San Francisco police academy graduate Kris Munroe takes the place of her older sister, Jill, in the trio; in the fourth season, Tiffany Welles, a Boston police academy graduate, takes Sabrina's place; and in the fifth and final season, model-turned-private investigator in training Julie Rogers 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 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, the show's most valuable asset, would knock the series off balance.
During the 1977 summer hiatus of the series, ABC and Fawcett 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 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. Fawcett 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 in what turned out to be her final appearances on the show.
As Fawcett 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, 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 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. 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". During the third season, Jackson was cast as Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) with Dustin Hoffman but the producers refused to reorganize the shooting schedule to allow Jackson time off to shoot the film. The part of Joanna ultimately went to Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for her performance. Upset by this situation, Jackson decided to leave the series. 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. In hiring Hack, Spelling's priority for season four was to "bring back the glamour" while 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 timeslot 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 timeslots 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 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."
Camille Paglia, an American academic and social critic, said that Charlie's Angels was an "effervescent action-adventure showing smart, bold women working side by side in fruitful collaboration."
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 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 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. 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 1978–79 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 1979–80 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: 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 1980–81 season. ABC thereby canceled the series after five seasons and 110 episodes.
Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Charlie's Angels on ABC.
Note: Each U.S. network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps. All times listed are North American Eastern Time.
Charlie's Angels played host to a number of well-known faces during its five seasons. Some of those individuals were long-established stars of film and television; others would find considerable fame and recognition many years after appearing in the program. Notable appearances of celebrities (whether famous then or later) include those of:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released all five seasons of Charlie's Angels on DVD in region one over the span of ten years, with the fifth and final season released as a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available exclusively through Amazon.com & WBShop.com and only in the U.S. Additionally, seasons 1–3 have been released on DVD in regions 2 and 4.
On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library including Charlie's Angels. They subsequently re-released the first season on DVD on January 21, 2014.
On September 6, 2016, Mill Creek re-released Charlie's Angels - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1. The 20-disc set contains all 110 episodes of the series.
Note: Episode count is based on the format in which episodes originally aired. Two-hour episodes are counted as one episode.
ABC attempted to create a spin-off of Charlie's Angels in 1980 called Toni's Boys. The backdoor pilot aired near the end of season four, simply titled "Toni's Boys" (season 4, episode 23). The concept was essentially a gender reversal of Charlie's Angels, and starred Barbara Stanwyck as Antonia "Toni" Blake, a wealthy widow and friend of Charlie's who ran a detective agency. The agency was staffed by three good looking male detectives—Cotton Harper (Stephen Shortridge), Matt Parrish (Bruce Bauer), and Bob Sorensen (Bob Seagren)—who took direction from Toni, and solved crimes in a manner similar to the Angels. The show was not picked up as a regular series for the following season.
The character Dan Tanna (played by Robert Urich) from the detective series Vega$ appeared in the episode "Angels in Vegas" a week before the Vega$ season one debut. (It is not considered a spin-off because Dan Tanna was introduced in the pilot that aired as an ABC TV Movie of the Week on the evening of Tuesday, April 25, 1978.) The crossover was simply used to reintroduce the Dan Tanna character and to promote Vega$ as an ongoing series.
In the episode "Love Boat Angels", the angels went on The Love Boat and met the crew. Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, and Lauren Tewes guest starred as their characters. The episode aired on September 12, 1979 as the fourth-season premiere, the debut episode of Shelley Hack as Tiffany Welles, and placed number one in the Nielson ratings for the week.
The Angels also appeared (as themselves) in the first episode of the Spelling-produced comedy series, The San Pedro Beach Bums, in the fall of 1977.
As of September, 2011, all five seasons of the show can be purchased in the USA on iTunes. The show previously aired in syndication on various network affiliates and on TNT, TV Land, Cloo and ION. Following the death of Farrah Fawcett in June 2009, WGN America aired a week of marathons of the show. As of 2009 the series is still available for syndication to local television stations in the United States. It is currently airing on the U.S. digital broadcast television network Cozi TV and FamilyNet.
The series has inspired many remakes and reinterpretations throughout the years and in different countries. It has also been featured in various other media.
Four women (including future star Tea Leoni were selected to be in a show called Angels '88, which was to serve as an updated version of the show. The show was later named Angels '89 after production delays, but the project was abandoned before notice was taken. From 1998–1999, Telemundo and Sony produced a show called Ángeles. The weekly hour format did not catch on with Hispanic viewers, who are accustomed to watching telenovelas nightly and the series was soon canceled. In 2002, a German version of Charlie's Angels, Wilde Engel, was produced by the German channel RTL. The show was known as Anges de choc in French-speaking countries, and as Three Wild Angels in English-speaking ones.
In 2004, a television movie entitled Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie's Angels aired on NBC.
In November 2009, ABC announced that it was considering a television revival of Charlie's Angels, with Josh Friedman handling both writing and executive producing duties, and Drew Barrymore and Leonard Goldberg sharing co-production duties. The 2011 series premiered on September 22, 2011 on ABC and was cancelled after one season.
The series inspired Flower Films production company's two films, Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003), with John Forsythe returning as Charlie. Whereas most movie remakes of 1970s TV shows, like Starsky and Hutch, are actually remakes, the Charlie's Angels films are set in a different time and thus closer to a film revival. The mythology goes that whenever an Angel leaves, she is replaced so there are always three. The second film had more nods to the TV series than the first film, with Jaclyn Smith making a brief cameo as Kelly Garrett.
At the 8th Annual TV Land Awards in 2010, Charlie's Angels received the Pop-Culture Award, which was introduced by Pamela Anderson and accepted by Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd.
The series has also inspired more shows and films, including:The 1979 film Angels Revenge, featured a similar concept with seven women joining to stop a drug operation. This film was poorly received and viewed by many as little more than a cheap knockoff and was even mocked in a 1995 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The 1984 ABC/Aaron Spelling produced television movie Velvet, also featured a similar concept. A female team of government agents played by Sheree J. Wilson, Shari Belafonte, Leah Ayres, and Mary Margaret Humes, under the guise of owners of a popular worldwide franchise of aerobic centers, match wits with a group of criminals who have kidnapped a top defensive specialist and his ailing son, intending to sell him to the highest bidder.
The animated series Totally Spies!, about three young girls similarly working as undercover agents.
The Dexter's Laboratory episode "G.I.R.L. Squad" parodied Charlie's Angels.
Another animated series, Codename: Kids Next Door, featured five ten-year-old children who are undercover agents. This series is notable for its title card, which was inspired by that of Charlie's Angels.
The syndicated series V.I.P. and She Spies.
In 2000, the show was remade in India with the title of C.A.T.S. (starring Nafisa Joseph, Kuljeet Randhawa and Malini Sharma produced by Sony Entertainment Television Asia. It gave credit to Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts and also to Columbia Pictures.
In 1987, Saturday Night Live aired an opening sketch entitled, "The New Charlie's Angels". The "new Angels" were Jessica Hahn (whose affair with televangelist Jim Bakker had brought down his ministry), Fawn Hall (secretary to Oliver North during the Iran-Contra Scandal), and Donna Rice (whose alleged affair with former Senator Gary Hart had ended his presidential candidacy). In the sketch, a mysterious man named "Charlie" was directing the "Angels" to cause these scandals, in order to eliminate presidential candidates. Seen from behind, sitting in a chair at an office desk, "Charlie's" face was not revealed, but his Boston accent implied that it was Senator Ted Kennedy. As the sketch ended, "Charlie" gave the "Angels" a new assignment – "Operation Pineapple", targeting Senator Robert Dole.
One episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks titled "Alvie's Angels" was an entire spoof of Charlie's Angels with Alvin parodying Charlie as "Alvie", Theodore parodying Bosley as "Bumbly" and Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor parodying the Angels.
One episode of Baywatch included a fantasy sequence with C.J. as Jill, Caroline as Kelly and Stephanie as Sabrina.
"All the Way" from season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, depicts ex-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) dressed in short shorts, a tank top and roller skates. ""This is a special kind of angel called a 'Charlie'. We don't have wings. We just skate around with perfect hair, fighting crimes."
Connie Bates (1988–1989), played by Claire Yarlett, Angels '89
Pam Ryan (1988–1989), played by Karen Kopins, Angels '89
Trisha Lawrence (1988–1989), played by Sandra Canning, Angels '89
Bernie Colter (1988–1989), played by Téa Leoni, Angels '89
Adriana Vega (1998–1999), played by Patricia Manterola, Ángeles
Elena Sanchez (1998–1999), played by Sandra Vidal, Ángeles
Gina Navarro (1998–1999), played by Cole Pitman, Ángeles
Natalie Cook (2000–2003), played by Cameron Diaz, Charlie's Angels & Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Dylan Sanders (2000–2003), played by Drew Barrymore, Charlie's Angels & Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Alex Munday (2000–2003), played by Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels & Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Madison Lee (2003), played by Demi Moore, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Christina "Chris" Rabe (2003), played by Birgit Stauber, Wild Engel
Franziska Borgardt (2003), played by Susann Uplegger, Wild Engel
Lena Heitmann (2003), played by Eva Habermann, Wild Engel
Kate Prince (2011), played by Annie Ilonzeh, Charlie's Angels (2011).
Eve French (2011), played by Minka Kelly, Charlie's Angels (2011).
Abby Simpson (2011), Played by Rachael Taylor, Charlie's Angels (2011).
Gloria Martinez (2011), Played by Nadine Velazquez, Charlie's Angels (2011).
During the show's run, a countless variety of collectible items were produced, including two versions of dolls, boardgames, several posters, several sets of trading cards, notebooks, a lunchbox & thermos, Charlie's Angels van, children's beauty products and even record albums.
In the UK, as was common with many popular US programs of the era, a series of tie-in hardcover annuals were published by World International Publishing Ltd, containing stories, comics, photos, puzzles and features on the stars. There are four Charlie's Angels annuals in total.
Although it was not connected to the show, a 1976 poster of Farrah Fawcett sporting a red bathing suit became the biggest selling poster in history with 20 million copies sold. This poster also helped the burgeoning popularity of the series.
Two British comic strip versions were produced. The first appeared in the Polystyle publication Target in April 1978, drawn by John Canning. Target was a sister title to the long-running TV Comic aimed at older children and featuring TV action and crime shows of the day. Proving unpopular, it folded in August and merged back into TV Comic where Canning's Angels strip continued until October 1979. The second strip was printed in Junior TV Times Look-in, debuting in November 1979 (as soon as Polystyle's deal expired), written by Angus Allan and drawn by Jim Baikie and Bill Titcombe.
In the on-line comic Erfworld, one side in The Battle for Gobwin Knob hires three glowing, flying female combatants from an unseen "Charlie". One is blond and two are dark-haired. They first appear in silhouette in page 42 of the comic and in the final frame of page 69, after dispensing with some "Dwagons" of the opposing side, once again take up the iconic pose of Charlie's Angels. They are referred to as "Charlie's Archons". In Gnosticism, an archon occupies a role similar to the angels of the Old Testament.
Angel's "Proper" Charlies was a British comic strip published in the weekly Jackpot. It first appeared in 1979, drawn by Trevor Metcalfe. Angel was a beautiful teenage girl who was worshiped by three not-so-very-mature boys called the Charlies. Angel's beauty hid a conniving mind, in that she took advantage of the love-struck trio in order to get her own way, such as slipping into parties and concerts and attracting the attention of more suitable boyfriends, while the Charlies ended up bruised and battered as a result of their efforts to impress her (in vain).
Brelan de dames (Three Queens of a Kind), a Belgian comic strip by artist Renaud Denauw and writer Jean-Luc Vernal, was also about a trio of action women, though in this case they came from various countries and racial backgrounds and, after a short stint in the secret service, became independent operators. Again, one is blond and the others are dark-haired. Their adventures were published in the 1980s in Tintin magazine.
In the Sonic the Hedgehog comics, Issue #152 has a reference to Charlie's Angels called "Sonic's Angels".
In July 2003, three Charlie's Angels games were released on three different gaming platforms: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, and the mobile phone. The versions released on both the GameCube and PlayStation 2 were virtually the same and were both titled Charlie's Angels. The version released for the mobile phone was fundamentally toned down to fit the technical restrictions of the platform, and was titled Charlie's Angels: Road Cyclone.
In April 2008, Ojom announced a new Charlie's Angels mobile phone game entitled Charlie's Angels: Hellfire. The game is now available on operator portals across Europe.