In the late 1970s, producer Aaron Spelling and network exec Fred Silverman created a new genre of programming: "Jiggle TV."Â The focus was all body, never body copy, and the results were roundly panned by critics. Audiences, however, didn't mind.
1. The Launch of "Jiggle TV"
The series that actually inspired a critic to first utter the phrase "jiggle TV" was a short-lived sitcom called Sugar Time!, which starred Barbi Benton, the one-time main squeeze of Playboy honcho Hugh Hefner. But the show that defined the genre was Charlie's Angels, which was originally pitched to the network as Alley Cats. The Powers-That-Be decided that sexy bra-less female detectives that regularly man-handled perps while wearing designer clothes might be a hit, but only if they were projected in a more positive light. So, instead of calling them "Alley Cats," they called them Angels.
Whatever you think of the shows, the idea to focus more on the women and less on the plot translated into massive commercial success. Not only did Aaron Spelling and Fred Silverman sell plenty of expensive ad time around their mindless eye-candy programming, their shows minted money on posters, dolls and other premiums.
2. Smart Girls Get Stereotyped!
Kate Jackson was the first Angel hired, and the only one with any substantial credits on her rÃ©sumÃ© (she'd co-starred on another Spelling production, The Rookies). Much to her dismay, she was cast as the "smart one," and was often portrayed as the ambiguous asexual member of the detective team--meaning she was the flat-chested Angel. Both Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith had worked in commercials, and they had that all-important luxurious hair (among other assets), so they were cast as the Angels most likely to appear in bikinis. All three actresses were born and raised in the American South and had to try to un-learn their accents.
3. Charlie Gets Drunk, Loses His Voice
Academy Award-winning actor (and notorious alcoholic) Gig Young was originally hired as the unseen Charlie Townsend, but he showed up for his first day of work so pickled he couldn't recite his lines without slurring them. Frustrated, the producers had no choice but to fire him. Worse still, the team was left without a voice for Charlie late on Friday night, and the pilot was due Monday. Panicking, Aaron Spelling called his old pal John Forsythe at home late that night, and Forsythe obligingly drove to the studio (reportedly still wearing his pajamas), recorded his dialog, and returned home.
4. Farrah gets Posterized
The Pro Arts Company of Ohio was run by two brothers who specialized in selling youth-oriented posters. They hit pay dirt in the early 1970s when their "Fonzie" poster sold a quarter of a million copies. In early 1976, one of Pro Arts' founders heard from a friend that many of his dorm-mates at college were buying women's magazines just for the Wella Balsam shampoo ads that featured a blonde beauty named Farrah Fawcett. Pro Arts tracked down Fawcett and arranged a photo shoot beside the pool at her Bel-Air, California, home. Photographer Bruce McBroom used an Indian blanket that doubled as a seat cover in his Chevy as a backdrop. Farrah chose a red one-piece bathing suit in lieu of a bikini in order to cover a scar on her stomach. In the ultimate example of serendipity, between the time Farrah posed for the poster and it was finally released in late 1976, she had been hired as one of Charlie's Angels and the first few episodes had aired. The free publicity provided by the show sent poster sales into the stratosphere, and made Pro Arts a multi-million dollar company.
5. The Angels use their Wings
Farrah was the first Angel to bail. She left after just one season, convinced that she had a future in films. Her first big screen efforts, Somebody Killed Her Husband and Sunburn tanked majorly, and it wasn't until 1984's The Burning Bed that she started gaining respect as a serious actress. Cheryl Ladd was brought on board as Kris Munroe, Jill's (Farrah's) younger sister.
Kate Jackson was offered the female lead opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer, but the Charlie's Angels producers refused to give her the necessary time off and the role went to Meryl Streep (who won an Oscar for the effort). Jackson was understandably bitter, and left the series at the end of the third season. "Charlie" perfume model Shelley Hack was brought in as a replacement, but only lasted one season.
Charlie's Angels limped along one last season, with Tanya Roberts replacing Shelley Hack, and was finally put out of its misery. And while Cheryl Ladd was a pretty good Farrah substitute, most fans agree that there was no replacing the chemistry of the original trio. In case you weren't an adolescent male glued to his TV on Wednesday nights in the late 1970s and don't understand the show's appeal, take a look at this mini-version of the classic episode entitled "Angels in Chains." It's a time capsule of every element that made critics scoff and viewers leer and drool.