There are certain TV shows that define a generation, and this can surely be said of Charlie’s Angels. Launched in 1976, the light-hearted adventure series centred on a trio of female private investigators who specialised in going deep undercover – although this often seemed to involve being under-dressed.
A huge hit at the time, Charlie’s Angels remains a cult favourite to this day – but did you know the following facts about the original series?
20. It was originally pitched as ‘The Alley Cats’
When the show that would become Charlie’s Angels was first pitched back in 1975, it was a little different, series creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts entitled the show The Alley Cats. It was about a trio of female private eyes dressed in leather, sporting whips and chains. Kate Jackson, the first actress cast, hated this idea, and demanded a rethink.
As well as pushing for a more down-to-earth fashion choices, Jackson suggested that the women should be called Angels rather than Cats. After briefly considering the title Harry’s Angels, it finally became Charlie’s Angels.
19. Jaclyn Smith was the only Angel to remain for the entire series
The initial line-up for Charlie’s Angels consisted of Kate Jackson as Sabrina Duncan, Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe, and Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett. However, Fawcett quit after one season to be replaced by Cheryl Ladd. Later, Jackson quit after season three, at which point Shelley Hack took over. Finally, Hack was fired after one season, and replaced by the sixth and final angel, Tanya Roberts, in season five.
Jaclyn Smith was the only original Angel still there in the show’s last two seasons (although Bosley actor David Doyle and Charlie actor John Forsythe also remained for the duration). Smith’s longevity was rewarded, as she became the only original cast member to make on-camera cameos in the Charlie’s Angels movies.
18. There was originally a second male lead in David Ogden Stiers
Throughout the show’s many cast changes, one important thing stays the same: the Angels take their orders from John Forsythe’s Charlie, a mysterious benefactor who is never actually seen on camera, and David Doyle as Charlie’s right-hand man Bosley, played by David Doyle. This wasn’t always the plan, however, as the 1976 pilot episode featured a second male go-between named Woodville, played by David Ogden Stiers.
Unfortunately for Stiers, his character was deemed unnecessary and unappealing when the pilot was shown to test audiences. Woodville was entirely written out when the show went to series. Luckily for Stiers, he landed the role of Major Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H* the following year.
17. A lot of future Hollywood superstars appeared on the show
As well as the revolving door when it came to new women becoming one of Charlie’s Angels, every episode of Charlie’s Angels saw the three investigators get into all-new cases with all-new people. This meant there were a whole lot of guest stars over the five seasons, including some actors who went on to enjoy huge success in their own right.
The future big-name stars who made early appearances on Charlie’s Angels include but are not limited to: Timothy Dalton, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Selleck, Dirk Benedict, Craig T. Nelson, Kim Basinger, Kim Cattrall, Robert Englund and Jamie Lee Curtis.
16. The producers sued Farrah Fawcett when she quit after one season
With her endearing screen presence, much-imitated hairstyle and famously popular pin-up poster, Farrah Fawcett became the real breakout star of Charlie’s Angels. Because of this, she decided to quit after the first season, believing success in Hollywood was inevitable. The show’s producers were furious, and allegedly took out lawsuits against Fawcett for breach of contract.
Eventually, a compromise was found, and Fawcett agreed to make six guest appearances across seasons two and three. Sadly, her risky career move didn’t pay off: beyond supporting parts in Logan’s Run and The Cannonball Run, Fawcett wound up having little success in the movies and her career soon faltered.
15. Cheryl Ladd wore a funny T-shirt for her first day on set
When Cheryl Ladd joined Charlie’s Angels in 1977 as Jill Munroe’s little sister Kris, there were naturally concerns that she wouldn’t have the charisma to fill in for Farrah Fawcett. Well aware of this, Ladd wore a specially printed T-shirt for her first day on set in hopes of lightening the mood, and breaking the ice amongst her new castmates.
Fawcett was professionally known as Farrah Fawcett-Majors at the time, thanks to her marriage to actor Lee Majors. In a humorous play on this, Ladd turned up to the Charlie’s Angels set in a T-shirt that read Farrah Fawcett-Minor. According to sources, the T-shirt worked its magic, with several crew members laughing when they saw it.
14. Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith had to turn down major movie roles because of their commitment to the show
While Fawcett may have been happy to break her Charlie’s Angels contract in the hopes of boosting her career, the same could not be said of her co-stars. Kate Jackson was offered the female lead in 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman, but had to pass as it clashed with production on Charlie’s Angels season three.
This must have stung, as Meryl Streep took the role and won an Oscar for her efforts. In a similar vein, Jaclyn Smith had been the first choice for another major movie role: Dr Holly Goodhead in the James Bond movie Moonraker. She too was forced to decline because of Charlie’s Angels, and the role instead went to Lois Chiles.
13. Barbara Bach and Michelle Pfeiffer unsuccessfully auditioned to play fifth Angel Tiffany Welles
When Kate Jackson left Charlie’s Angels after the third season, her character Sabrina Duncan was ultimately replaced with Tiffany Welles, the role going to former model Shelley Hack. However, the auditions were long and drawn out, and several other big-name stars were also considered for the role before it went to Welles. Among the actresses who unsuccessfully auditioned for the part were Barbara Bach, star of the 1977 Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.
Another contender was a young unknown named Michelle Pfeiffer, who went on to become one of the most successful film actresses of the 80s and 90s. Who knows how her career trajectory might have changed had she actually gotten to be an angel.
12. A male-based spin-off called Toni’s Boys failed to get off the ground
In 1980, the producers of Charlie’s Angels hit upon the idea of a gender-reversed spin-off. They pitched a show called it Toni’s Boys, centred on three handsome male detectives who took orders from an unseen female boss. The new characters, played by Stephen Shortridge, Bob Seagren, and Bruce Bauer, were introduced in a season four episode of Charlie’s Angels.
The hope was that they would catch the audience’s attention and ignite interest for the spinoff. Sadly, this plan completely failed, audiences failed to respond to the idea and Toni’s Boys never happened.
11. A TV reboot starring Tea Leoni was attempted in 1988
In the years since Charlie’s Angels ended its initial run, the franchise has been revived with the 2000 movie Charlie’s Angels and its sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, plus the short-lived 2011 TV reboot and most recently the 2019 movie. However, a much lesser-known Charlie’s Angels revival was attempted far earlier.
In 1988, a new series called Angels ’88 was pitched, with a cast that included future Bad Boys actress Tea Leoni. However, the show was instantly hit by behind the scenes problems, which led to it being cancelled prematurely, even before a pilot could be filmed. It would take several decades before the next reboot was attempted.
10. ABC hated the show’s initial pitch
Not only was the original Charlie’s Angels hugely successful in its own right, but the initial idea has been captivating enough to spawn several movies, a TV reboot, and another, separate movie over multiple decades. The staying power of the idea of crime-fighting angels with a mysterious, disembodied boss is undeniable, which is why its initial reception is so surprising.
When Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling pitched the idea to ABC, they didn’t exactly get good feedback. Instead, they were promptly told that it was the worst idea that had ever passed through the executive’s office, and that they were only getting a green light because Spelling had a previous arrangement with the network.
9. All the angels wore the exact same make-up
If you watch the credits of Charlie’s Angels closely, you’ll notice that each of the main trio have their own hair and make-up artists, and they rarely share. However, the styling of all three women is remarkably cohesive, almost too cohesive in many seasons. In fact, for a significant portion of the show, all three women wear the exact same eye and lip colour.
Not only are the eye and lip colours the same, but they are also applied in the exact same fashion on each girl. Not only that, but the shared make-up changed over the seasons. While the seasons featuring Farrah Fawcett saw Sabrina and Jill wearing the same coffee coloured lipgloss every episode, later seasons saw every woman wearing the same orange-red blush and lipstick that was once Tanya Roberts’ signature.
8. A charm necklace links Charlie’s Angels to Starsky & Hutch
Coffee coloured lipgloss, orange-toned foundation and copious amounts of hairspray weren’t the only fashion staples that set Charlie’s Angels apart. Eagle-eyed fans of the show will be familiar with Sabrina’s signature necklace; a delicate gold chain that features an enamel crescent moon, two delicate stars and an etched pendant.
Though it might seem like a totally banal choice, Sabrina’s favourite charm necklace is actually an Easter Egg. David Soul wore a similar one in his role as Detective Ken Hutchinson in Starsky and Hutch, another 70s TV hit from producers Leonard Goldberg and Aaron Spelling.
7. The original Charlie was fired for drinking
Despite his role being uncredited and only featuring his voice, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of the titular Charlie other than John Forsythe. However, he actually wasn’t anybody’s first choice for the role, despite his popularity at the time. Instead, it was seasoned actor Gig Young (a Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner for 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) who was originally chosen to deliver the Angels’ assignments.
Unfortunately, Young is said to have showed up to the voice booth too drunk to coherently record his lines. He was fired unceremoniously, and the producers were left scrambling to find a brand new voice actor on incredibly short notice, leading to John Forsythe recording the lines just one day before the pilot was aired.
6. Farrah Fawcett had a contract clause to be home in time for dinner
With her iconic look, bubbly personality and much-imitated haircut, Farrah Fawcett became a star on Charlie’s Angels – but she always put her personal life before the show, prioritising her marriage to actor Lee Majors (then also a TV star, on The Six Million Dollar Man). So steadfast was she in her desire to be the perfect housewife, that she even included a clause in her contract that said she would always be home for 7pm so that she could cook her husband dinner.
Considering that TV actors are often required to work 16-hour days, this was quite the demand, yet the network agreed at the time. Fawcett’s marriage to Majors was not to last, however; they divorced in 1982, nine years after tying the knot.
5. Shelley Hack was picked on by her co-stars
While Cheryl Ladd had been quickly accepted as Farrah Fawcett’s replacement on Charlie’s Angels, the same could not be said when Shelley Hack took over from Kate Jackson on season four. Rumours spread that she was bullied by her cast mates Ladd and Jaclyn Smith, as well as writer Ed J. Lasko. The papers disagreed about whether the course of the resentment was Hack’s liberal politics or her height and beauty, but whatever the reason, she was tormented relentlessly on set.
When Hack’s contract was not renewed after a single season, the producers claimed it was down to a negative response to her performance from critics and audiences. They also blamed Hack for the show’s declining ratings.
4. They cast Tanya Roberts and relocated to Hawaii in the hopes of boosting ratings
By the time Charlie’s Angels hit its fifth season, the producers were anxious about the show’s waning popularity. In the hopes of correcting this, they heavily publicised the casting of Tanya Roberts as the sixth Angel, Julie Rogers, who differed from the others as she was an ex-model with no police training. To up the glamour further, the action was also moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii.
Unfortunately, this move did not pay off. After only 17 episodes (less than the usual 22-26 episodes that make up a standard TV show season), Charlie’s Angels’ fifth season proved to be its last. Roberts (who sadly passed away in January 2021) went on to appear in such movies as A View to a Kill and The Beastmaster.
3. John Forsythe was the highest-paid actor on the show
Charlie’s Angels titular Charlie might not physically appear in the show very often, or have very many lines at a time when he shows up, but he’s an essential cog in the structure of every episode. Even so, it would be a stretch to call Forsythe the most indispensable part of the show – yet he earned the most money during the show’s original run, being paid more per appearance than any of the angels.
This would also be the case on Forsythe’s later TV hit, Dynasty, in which he took the lead role of Blake Carrington, but frequently had the spotlight stolen by his glamorous female co-stars including Linda Evans and Joan Collins.
2. The angels consistently made the worst dressed lists
Like Dynasty, which started the year that Charlie’s Angels finished, a significant portion of Charlie’s Angels budget every episode went to wardrobe. A whopping $22,000 was allotted each episode to dress the three Angels, with each of them having a signature style and colours. Unfortunately, they weren’t exactly the right colours.
Famous designer Nolan Miller joined the show to consult on wardrobe in season four, and he set each woman up with signature colours that were supposed to flatter them the best. However, he gave every woman the wrong colours, placing Autumn Shelley Hack in bright colours like electric blue, and giving Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd the same dark plum colour that washed them out. As a result of this, the Angels consistently made the worst-dressed lists.
1. It spawned three spin-off movies and a short-lived TV reboot
19 years after the original series ended, Charlie’s Angels exploded back onto screens in the 2000 movie starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu, which Barrymore also produced alongside original showrunner Leonard Goldberg. Reviews were mixed, but a sequel followed in 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Put together, the films earned over $523 million at the box office.
In 2011, a new Charlie’s Angels TV series hit the air starring Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor, but low ratings saw it cancelled with only nine episodes filmed. Later, Elizabeth Banks wrote and directed a 2019 Charlie’s Angels movie starring Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott, but this proved a critical and commercial flop.