On March 21st, 1976, ABC premiered the pilot for a sexy new P.I. show starring relative newcomers Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson. At the time, the pilot was relatively routine in terms of cast and crew: pretty actresses who had appeared in several TV movies and in bit roles in feature films; ludicrously prolific John Llewellyn Moxey, a veteran TV man whose recent claim to fame was directing "The Night Stalker," at the time the highest-rated TV movie in history; and executive producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling.
Both producers were beginning their ride into TV history, with "S.W.A.T.," "Family," and "Starsky and Hutch" enjoying good ratings, solid audiences, and second season runs on various networks. The golden boys of Hollywood TV, the prolific duo specialized in commercial material, and "Charlie's Angels" was no exception. When he was toasted on March 7th, 1998 in the prime time TV special "All Star Party For Aaron Spelling," the original 'angels' appeared in a pre-recorded clip, and recalled being approached by the executive producers with the show's concept. "You men you should be ashamed of yourselves," was apparently one of the responses given by the actresses, yet they recognized the show was a mix of standard private eye conceits, with three independent ex-coppers who always won at the end of a show. The risky part involved the blatant T&A that would either ruin their careers, or make them ephemeral stars, with better income and feature film possibilities.
In the end, the latter won out, and generations of men, women, young girls, and really happy young boys grew up watching the show during its original run from 1976-81, and for years in perpetual reruns. After the show's premiere in September of '76, the actresses became immortal pop culture icons. Fawcett was responsible for not only selling countless bottles of Breck hair shampoo, but a beckoning bathing suit poster, that became the norm in male dorms, boys bedrooms, not too mention a few ceilings. Trading cards, games, and stickers with headings like "Fabulous Farrah!" were sold, along with other kitschy merchandise that today fetch premium dollars.
"Charlie's Angels" offered babes galore in the safe environment of an average living room, and the most vibrant hair. Ever. Even in the pilot, Kate Jackson sports a lengthy do, although being the smart, yet perky/pretty girl-next-door, hair length was reduced to differentiate her persona from the more sexual co-workers. Fawcett's golden locks, glimmering teeth and teenage grin defined her character's playful sexuality, while Jaclyn Smith remained the more seductive, statuesque beauty who could knock out a hired goon with a few mock karate chops. (She also benefited from partaking in the most exhilarating edit in any Main Title design: adjusting a wide-brimmed sun hat outdoors, Smith arises from some bed in a mid-head tussle, with that patented hair shimmering for a memorable beat.)
Columbia's release of the show's complete first season on five discs presents all 22 episodes in their best-ever condition. In syndication, "Charlie's Angels" were shown via grainy 16mm prints; and in more recent years, the edits, time compression, and other nasty conforming for more commercials pretty much wrecked the enjoyment of watching any episode. Remember, that back in 1976, the show's pilot (also included in this set) ran 79 minutes in a 90 minute time slot, and each episode clocked in at 50 minutes for a 1 hour slot; as a point of comparison, most hour shows today can run as low as 41 minutes, with shorter episode chunks, longer ad breaks, and the viewer ultimately sensing a cheat in the works.
Though in mono, the sound for each episode is quite good, and the pilot shows the most wear - probably because the original 79 minute version was given some editing for syndication, and the original print sat on a shelf for a while.
Fans and passing fans will find some differences between the pilot and regular episodes, with David Ogden Stiers (from "M*A*S*H") playing the legal liaison between the angels, their sexually non-threatening male buddy John Bosley (played by gravel-voiced David Doyle), and never-seen boss Charles Townsend (voiced by the inimitable John Forsythe). The office colours are darker, and you can feel creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts were still figuring out who their characters would become by the end of the show.
Goff and Roberts had enjoyed decent writing careers, penning individually and together several films in the Fifties (including James Cagney's "White Heat," and "Shake Hands With The Devil"), though it wasn't until meeting Spelling for TV's Burke's Law" that the team pretty much devoted their writing to the Idiot Box. "Burke's Law," which they created, ran for three successful years, and after penning various "Mannix" episodes, the team found their calling with "Charlie's Angels."
Columbia Tristar's featurette, "Angels Forever," combines interviews with original and current-day fans (including Emily Proctor), plus some material with co-exec producer Goldberg; and overall covers every beloved cliché, hairstyle, and the show's perfected trademarks, using plenty of clips and witty sound edits from the show's lengthy run. There's a balance between the subsequent angels, beginning in 1977 with Cheryl Ladd, after Fawcett left for a big screen career; and Shelley Hack in 1979, with Tanya Roberts being the last angel in 1980 before the show folded.
Happily, there's some admission regarding the show's failure to change and mature scripts beyond the familiar scenarios, though hopefully in the next sets Columbia will include some vintage promo material, or publicity spots that haven't been seen in decades. A lot of famous actors guest starred on the show (much like Spelling's "Love Boat," in which the angels also appeared in a 2-part crossover, in 1979), along with some up-and-coming thespians, including Tommy Lee Jones (in the pilot), Kim Basinger, Tom Selleck, and Dirk Benedict in the first season; even pre-"Love Boat" Lauren Tewes makes an appearance in the chicks-in-chains variation. Bill Bixby directed in the first season as well, and during the 4th and 5th season, Kim Manners, later one of the "X-Files" best directors, moved up to full-fledged director.
The DVD set includes a full-colour booklet, with plot breakdowns for each episode, though the guest stars aren't listed - you'll just have to watch the lot to see who pops up. The signature 'angels' jingle originated with pilot and show staff composers, Jack Elliot and Allyn Ferguson, and fans will find amusement in seeing an early version of the angels logo in the pilot, silhouetted around ad breaks, and in full color right after the pilot's end credits.
The discs are mounted in thin clear coloured sleeves, and held in a bright box with that recognizable logo. Also included are theatrical trailers for the two spin-off films, and a promo for additional Seventies shows.
Only qualm: besides chapter indexes for each episode's Main Titles and Opening Credits, you'll have to shuttle long stretches if you happen to stop the player completely. Hopefully the next sets will include proper chapters, making it easier to jump through a show.
In addition to the Pilot episode, the set includes the episodes entitled: "Hellride," "The Mexican Connection," "Night of the Strangler," "Angels in Chains," "Target: Angels," "The Killing Kind," "To Kill an Angel," "Lady Killer," "Bullseye," "Consenting Adults," "The Séance," "Angels on Wheels," "Angel Trap," "The Big Tap-Out," "Angels on a String," "Dirty Business," "The Vegas Connection," "Terror on Ward One," "Dancing in the dark," "I Will Be Remembered," "Angels at Sea," and "The Blue Angels."
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan