‘TV Tales: Charlie’s Angels’
It was the ultimate expression of Girl Power.
Yes, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ changed the landscape of prime time TV forever— and paved the way for women of all walks of life to feel empowered and inspired to kick some serious butt.
In this two-hour episode of TV Tales, I take the viewer on a journey behind the scenes to see just how ‘Charlie’s Angels’ found prime time heaven on earth in the 1970s. For the first time ever, all six original Angels from the hit TV series share their personal stories of triumph and tragedy during the phenomenal series run and beyond.
Ultimately, we explore the lingering question: Was there a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ curse?
Hop in this Super Seventies time capsule and find out for yourself!
THE MAKING OF ‘TV TALES’
I’ve interviewed a veritable galaxy of stars— and I never get star struck. However, when Jaclyn Smith walked in for her interview with me on the set of ‘The District’ in Culver City I WAS star struck! Many have often remarked about how beautiful she is—but I can tell you after seeing her in person that pictures, TV, and film don’t do justice to how strikingly beautiful a woman she really is.
We quickly bonded over our shared love for the Lone Star State and the little town where Jaclyn’s brother has a farm which I used to drive by quite often. But what solidified my fate to no longer remain a Hollywood producer was my commitment to those Lone Star values. During my interview with her, Jaclyn broke down on camera while talking about her daughter. (I knew I had achieved TV heaven from this Angel!) But through her publicist, Ms. Smith later requested I not air that portion of the interview. I decided to honor her request, and so I withheld the ‘money shot’ from the entire show. Not a very Hollywood thing to do. But that’s why I’m a Texan.
In 2006, our paths crossed again. I interviewed Jaclyn at a special event with Farrah’s famed hair stylist Jose Eber back in Houston…where Jaclyn was far more relaxed and feeling at home. And yes, even four years later…she was still quite striking and as lovely as an Angel.
Still, a high point of my career remains interviewing one of the Top 5 most powerful men in Hollywood: Aaron Spelling, yet another Texan. Although Mr. Spelling was dealing with an illness at the time of this interview, he was quite candid and very honest and open. At times, though, you can hear in his voice the health battle he was fighting. All around his office at Spelling Entertainment were treasures of his remarkable career, including a giant model ship on his desk of ‘The Love Boat.’ He also had the largest office aquarium I’d ever seen! (You can spot part of it over his shoulder in the shot.) And all around the room were tokens of what must have been his favorite series to produce: ’Beverly Hills 90210.’ Since his daughter, Tori, had starred in the show— pictures of her from the series were everywhere. Years later after Mr. Spelling passed, I could never understand the estate situation because of what I had personally witnessed myself. He was a very proud, doting father. But a proud father of his many successful series, too, since they were also his babies.
Being in the presence of greatness is always a memorable experience. In Mr. Spelling’s case, he was great even before his own personal triumphs. During Hollywood’s Golden Era, Mr. Spelling was surrounded by greatness early on. Here was a man who as an actor took direction from the Master of Suspense himself, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, while appearing in an early Hitchcock-directed episode of the series, ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’ Years later, Mr. Spelling had the great Dick Powell as his mentor to teach him everything he needed to know about television and Tinseltown. It’s no wonder Aaron Spelling achieved the heights he did in Hollywood, yet he still remained accessible and so candid in looking back for this interview about the show which was his crowning achievement in breaking out his career.
Another real character in this special is Farrah’s former agent, Jay Bernstein. This guy was a piece of work! He was as Hollywood as they come, and when I went to his home in Beverly Hills it was filled with young, wannabe starlets flocking around his pool. Bernstein not only managed Farrah through her rocky exit from Charlie’s Angels, he also played manager to Suzanne Somers and Lynda Carter during the turbulent 70s– and steered them off their respective shows, too. Jay’s impressive mansion was also full of mementos and awards from the ‘Mike Hammer’ series he produced in the 80s starring Stacy Keach. Jay also had an amazing collection of Rat Pack memorabilia because he was Sammy Davis, Jr.’s manager back in the early 60s as well. The stories Jay shared about the Rat Pack would make even a sailor blush– and I wish I had been able to do another special with him just on that alone! Sadly, Jay died a few years later, but he called me up in 2003 after the show aired to remark how much Farrah LOVED this special. She even requested several personal copies for herself.
The one thing about Jay was that despite all his decades in Hollywood, he was still very down to earth. He was genuinely warm and friendly….and talked just like any guy who might belly up to a bar and have a drink with you. We had an instant rapport from my earliest conversations with Jay. His little daughter was the apple of his eye. Truly, he never lost his sense of self and where he came from back in the heartland. In that regard, I know Jay is deeply missed by his friends and loved ones.
Kate Jackson is quite funny and candid in her remarks for this show as well. She was originally the first Angel cast– and was considered the Smart Angel. In later years as I’ve watched reruns of the original series, I really believe Jackson deserved top billing for the show. She was a solid actress– and clearly went to lengths to be believable and compelling. Her character was often a major plot device and really held the show together. In my view, she was as much a key to the show’s success as anyone– and after her departure, I think it’s no coincidence the show never quite recovered. It was never the same again.
And then there was Cheryl Ladd. I met her at the W Hotel in Westwood where we booked a suite to light and conduct the interview– a common practice for many ‘THS’ and ‘TV Tales’ shoots. When her limo from Santa Barbara pulled up, I greeted Cheryl and told her, “I have to tell you, I actually had your poster when I was growing up.” (True story, of course.) She smiled and quipped, “Well, at least we know you had good taste.” Yep, that was Cheryl. And that same candid bravado and quick wit comes across nicely in her interview.
Yet, while I was growing up, my favorite Charlie’s Angel was actually Tanya Roberts—and I was thrilled to interview her at her home– albeit fresh off her departure from ‘That 70s Show.’
Tanya lived in the Hollywood Hills in a beautiful cliff-side home, but her husband was bed-ridden and in bad shape when we taped this interview. She was in a lot of pain dealing with the situation since she said he had contracted encephalitis from a mosquito bite and was now paralyzed. Tragically, Barry Roberts passed away just two years later.
But visiting with Tanya was like a dream come true for me. As a kid, I always found her to be my favorite Angel. It wasn’t hard to see why. Her entrance in Hawaii didn’t hurt, either. But I was already a fan after seeing her in the ‘B’ horror movie she starred in with Chuck Connors called ‘Tourist Trap.’ She definitely shined and stood out in that post-Psycho slasher flick.
As we set up in her living room, she and I actually shared the same glass of water together. So I can truly say, I drank with an Angel!
Even in her bloopers at the end of this special, Tanya shines. You can’t watch her and not just fall in love with her. She’s truly one of a kind!
Another fascinating individual was Season 1 Angels producer Barney Rosenzweig. Barney flew in from Florida for this discussion, and we met at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to shoot the interview, the same hotel made famous by Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman.’ The Emmy Award-winning producer didn’t have a lot of fond memories working for Spelling-Goldberg Productions, but he probably would concede the success of Charlie’s Angels blazed the trail for the next female cop show he wrote and produced: ‘Cagney & Lacey.’ Not only did Barney gain a ton of success riding the wave of Cagney & Lacey, he eventually gained a wife, too. In 1991, Barney married actress Sharon Gless, who played Cagney and had also starred in one of my favorite 70s shows: ‘Switch.’ Today, the multi Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning couple remain happily married.
Finally, I have to mention the indispensable help of an Angels super fan: Mike Pingle. We were only able to give Mike a special thanks credit in this show, but he was a phenomenal source of Angelic info and his Angel IQ is truly off the charts! Mike had a collection of some extremely rare Angels memorabilia, too. I remember as well at the time he was good friends with actress Charlene Tilton. Mike called me with a pitch for a reality show Charlene wanted to do– and personally being a huge fan of “Lucy Ewing” on ‘Dallas’ while growing up– I was very interested. But alas, the stars didn’t align for such a project at that time.
THE CURSE OF AN ANGEL?
Imagine if James Dean and Marilyn Monroe had both died on the same day. It would have been a terrible travesty for grieving fans. What happened to Farrah Fawcett— an icon of the 70s— was pretty much just that, since Michael Jackson’s death the same day quickly overshadowed the ex-Angel’s exit. She was even snubbed by the Motion Picture and Television Academies to not receive a decent send-off. But maybe my TV Tales special for E! Networks gave her some proper due credit before she left us several years later.
The tale of a Charlie’s Angels curse has long been spread through the years— and if such a curse does exist, looking at Farrah’s demise would certainly seem to give it some credence. But this special is about much more than just the Farrah Phenomenon.
Then again, the unfair treatment and fate of Angel actress Shelley Hack also lends itself to the Angels Curse. And then there’s Tanya Roberts, plagued by not one but two curses: Charlie’s Angels AND being a Bond Girl. Poor Tanya has dealt with plenty of hardship after she left ‘That 70s Show.’
Any curse might be traced to the day Kate Jackson vacated the show. That might have marked the beginning of the end for the beloved Angels. Kate’s Smart Angel character was then dissected as a plot device and dispersed among the three Angels in scripts for every episode thereafter. But that abrupt change seemed out of place for the remaining characters, leaving each episode somewhat disjointed and off pace. The show’s entire formula changed, too. The Angels really lost their way; whereas the first season was magical in showing women doing tough things without needing men, the latter seasons began showing the Angels in a more vulnerable light, as in the failed spinoff attempt, Season 4’s “Toni’s Boys.” And instead of continuing to present clever, creative scripts with interesting twists and characteristics, the show fell into crazy tangents like “Chorus Line Angels” (even directed by David Doyle) and “Dancing Angels.” These tangent episodes lacked the contemporary feel and ‘tough girl’ qualities of the first few seasons. By Season 4, the show really departed from the successful formula of grabbing the viewer right off the bat with a gripping crisis and putting the Angels on the case right away. Producers even experimented in Season 4 with making the show more like an evening soap, bringing in ‘Dallas’ star Patrick Duffy for “One Love…Two Angels.” It felt like desperation, and it really came off poorly. In trying to be different, the show’s producers ended up getting lost.
All these failures generated massive pressure to make Season 5 a successful comeback. But it seemed like everything was against the show from the start: it took longer to find a replacement for dropped Angel, Shelley Hack, and so shooting with Tanya Roberts started late…..delaying the season rollout. Jaclyn Smith had already announced she would be leaving at the end of the season, so there was intense pressure on all the actors to ‘up their game.’ Still, the cast seemed clearly tired and a bit too laid back at times in Season 5. Then the network brass started playing games with the scheduling- which really was a nail in the coffin for disinterested fans who could no longer keep up with what time slot their favorite Angels found themselves in this week. It seemed a perfect storm conspired to bring down the Angels for good. But did a curse conjure up that storm?
One of the worst episodes of the entire series run has to be “Hula Angels” in Season 5, with really bad acting throughout and a flimsy story line in the first place. Even though I feel Farrah’s return episode in Season 3, “Angel Come Home,” had some of the worst acting Ever in the series, the hokey acting in Hula Angels seemed as bad, if not worse.
A lot of undue pressure was placed on Tanya Roberts to ‘save’ the final season, too. She was not a veteran actress who could step in and elevate a show franchise like this one. She was a stunning beauty who, if given the time and support Farrah had in the first season with a veteran like Kate Jackson leading, might have grown into a sensation all her own. But her performances showed she was inconsistent and needed better direction and development. She sort of arrived at the party too late, which is a real shame since she showed promise in certain episodes like “Island Angels.”
Of course, David Doyle was also part of the glue which at least gave the show a fifth season. His comedic timing and charisma carried so many episodes which otherwise may have seemed lackluster and cookie-cutter formulaic.
But perhaps it was one of writer-producer Ed Lakso’s final Angel scripts– “Stuntwomen Angels”– which indicted the show’s executive producers with a cursing rant. At the end of the prophetic episode, the psychopathic villain lashes out at an out-of-touch Hollywood producer….charging “You’ve lost your audience! You’ve lost the people who care…you’ve lost your sense of decency and good taste.” That latter part may be arguable when confronting ‘Charlie’s Angels’ in pop culture, but at least in terms of following the formula audiences loved– the former seemed to be true. Even Ed himself told us in his interview the final shows had really bad scripts. So, maybe Ed– either consciously or subconsciously– decided to make his point with this episode which showcased pretty poor acting. I blame the director, since production was obviously rushed and they just went with poor takes instead of getting it right. But in the end, maybe Ed’s villainous rant should have closed out the series instead of the flashback episode, “Let Our Angel Live.”
No curse took hold of Jaclyn Smith after the series ended, however. Like Farrah, she bloomed into a fine actress for the TV movie genre. And then she became one very successful female entrepreneur with her Jaclyn Smith Collection at Kmart. Yes, Kmart. But all the original Angels had their battles with cancer….and in any form, cancer truly is a curse.
But if there is a curse, it seems to have evaded Cheryl Ladd, at least. In recent years, she has found real happiness in a small Texas town. Never in a million years could I have dreamed that one of Charlie’s Angels would move to my old stomping ground, but she certainly did.
Today, Cheryl Ladd lives in Boerne, Texas, a town I grew up in— and the place where I lived when I used to watch ‘Charlie’s Angels’ as a kid. I even collected the bubblegum cards of the Angels back then. So, irony of ironies that Cheryl would move to my boyhood hometown. These days, as she continues her Hollywood acting career Cheryl has reportedly blended right in with the Boerne locals and was even spotted with her shopping cart at the HEB grocery store there.
Set in the beautiful Texas foothills, Boerne remains a little slice of hill country heaven.
So, in the end, maybe at least one of Charlie’s Angels discovered you can have it all— and have it all be perfect.