The popular prime-time American TV show ‘Charlie’s Angels’ comes from the moment when mainstream television inadvertantly started to flirt with girl power …
Cop and P.I. shows had already proved very popular with the viewing public, but all the really big hitters were fronted by men; Kojak, Columbo and the tough but sensitive twinned engine dream team of Starsky and Hutch. Inspired by this format, producer Aaron Spelling decided to throw his hat in the cop show ring, but with a really big wow novelty factor…in HIS new show the crime busters would be women!! Imagine!! Obviously it would take three women to do the job of one man, and they would at all times be overseen by another man who would take care of them, plus they would of course be under the instruction and pay of yet another man who was ultimately in charge, but hey this was 1976 what did you expect?
With a working title of ‘The Alley Cats’, the proposed show would be fronted by three female leads called Al, Lee and Cat, (wince cringe) until actress Kate Jackson who had already been brought onboard, suggested the collective noun “Angels” might be a better way to describe the team. She was right.
From the pilot episode onwards, the opening credits give a skeleton of their backstory, and we learn that the trio started as “three little girls” (wince cringe) who went to the Police Academy. After graduation, and despite being sharp shooters, skateboard experts and no nonsense martial arts officianados, all were assigned menial or desk jobs. Inexplicably recruited by the mysterious Private Investigator Charlie Townsend, ‘the girls’ would be given proper assignments and could get out in the field to use their best crime-busting moves, often in a variety of undercover roles and very often in a variety of skimpy outfits. What’s not to like?
With an initial cast of Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett-Majors the show’s first full season aired in September 1976.
Critics absolutely hated it, they claimed the show had neither style nor substance. The feminist lobby also hated it, their ire was especially ignited by the way the good looking cast appeared in revealing or tight fitting outfits and were under the control of … MEN. In short everyone agreed that it was totally trashy. Everyone except the viewers that is…
Unlike its critics, the viewers didn’t see the show as a tired well-worn format with cliched storylines, thin scripts and inherent sexism around every corner. Instead they saw three fiercely independent professional women, all with really good haircuts, who were capable of out-running, out-smarting and out-playing the most hardened of despicable underhanded crims, who they would hunt down, out-fox and bring to justice. Viewers liked that they could be tough, calculating, calm in a fix, and still look good in a bikini. For a show slammed as ‘fluff’ it became one of TVs first and most loved examples of strong women, and was an instant hit, with its ratings off the charts.