Angel Knockoffs: Velvet

CHARLIE'S ANGELS KNOCKOFF SERIES

Once Charlie's Angels became a hit, the rest of the entertainment world suddenly shared an epiphany: women + teamwork = success! Somehow this formula failed to yield positive results when applied to a bunch of really, really bad copycat shows, and most quickly disappeared from the airwaves. Here's a closer look in memoriam of some Angel knockoff shows you may have forgotten.

In 1984, producers Aaron Spelling (Charlie's Angels) and Douglas S. Cramer (Wonder Woman) teamed up on a TV pilot called Velvet. Influences from both of their shows are evident. This may have been Spelling's first attempt to revive the Angels concept before Angels '88. The premise is four women work for a government agency under the guise of aerobics instructors. They each have a specialty and get to use them in solving the case.

I remember when it aired as a TV movie of the week on ABC and was hoping for the show to develop. Unfortunately, the movie was really bad. The writing was obvious, the acting was atrocious, and the production was lame. Did it stop me from watching? Hell, no. This is one of those "so bad, it's brilliant" movies. Throughout the years, I could catch it on a Sunday afternoon or as a late night feature and would make sure I got to see it. Sometime in the early 90's I remembered to tape it with my VCR. Then later, I transferred it to a new tape and cut out the commercials. Recently, I transferred it to DVD. The quality has degraded, but it doesn't stop me from watching it at least twice a year. My recent purchase of some photo stills from the film also included the official synopsis.  So for your enjoyment and reading pleasure:

Official Synopsis

"Velvet (1984): A woman of many accomplishments, Mrs. Evelyn Vance (Polly Bergen) is the organizer and prime motivator behind Velvet International, a chain of aerobics studios with branches in 160 major cities around the world. In actuality, Velvet International is a front for the N.S.I.A. (National Security Intelligence Agency), a unique government bureau.

Three of Velvet’s aerobics teachers are operatives. Each of the trim, athletic and beautiful girls possess a particular expertise necessary to handle the dangerous and challenging missions that take them to the Velvet clubs around the world.

The three girls are: Loren “Boots” Dawes (Mary-Margaret Humes), leader of the team. She is a weapons and demolitions expert and a covert activity rated frog-person;

Cass Dayton (Leah Ayres), a champion skydiver, parafoil expert and a pro-driver who can maneuver everything from a harvesting machine to an 18-wheeler;

and *Julie Rhodes (Shari Belafonte-Harper), a trained nurse, motorcycle jockey and survival expert.

Mrs. Vance receives Velvet’s latest assignment from a State Department official (William Windom) who informs her Professor Charles Vandemeer (Bo Brundin) and his young son Billy (David Faustino) were kidnapped immediately after landing in Los Angeles.

Vandemeer, the country’s top defense specialist, has been working on a new laser system that could render nuclear attack from any source completely useless. Velvet’s mission is to retrieve the professor. If this is not possible, they must eliminate him, because if he falls into enemy hands, his knowledge could tilt the balance of power.

Mrs. Vance gathers her three girls together in the hidden “war room” of Velvet’s Washington D.C. headquarters, the nerve center of the organization. She introduces them to Ellen Stockwell (Sheree J. Wilson) who, due to the nature of their assignment, will be working with them temporarily.

BACKGROUND CHECK

Townsend Agency original article by Len August 30, 2010

VELVET

YEAR 1984

RUN Pilot only

JIST 4 women as government agents / aerobics instructors

"ANGELS" Polly Bergen Leah Ayres Shari Belafonte Mary-Margaret Humes

PRODUCERS Aaron Spelling Douglas S. Cramer

Endowed with the same natural attributes as the others, Ellen possesses a superior intellect, can aerobicize as well as the others, and is an ace chopper pilot.

Before the girls embark on their mission, Stefan (Michael Ensign), the master craftsman who designs Velvet’s more unusual weapons, outfits Ellen with several innocuous bits of female paraphernalia, all lethal weapons.

The girls wing their way to Los Angeles and check into a hotel. Ellen and Julie head for Velvet’s L.A. club where they receive additional instructions from Mrs. Vance, via the club’s sophisticated computer, then teach a class before regrouping with their co-workers.

Meanwhile, at the hotel, Cass and Boots have finished a poolside aerobics demonstration and, soon after, meet their L.A. contact (Paul Tuerpe) who identifies himself to Cass and informs her that the kidnappers have sent a ransom note. He arranges to meet the girls in their suite, but when they arrive, they find him submerged in a tub full of water, dead. A manila envelope rests beside the tub.

Directions inside the envelope lead the girls to an amusement park where a courier hands them another envelope which sends them on a treacherous path to a second location—a lighthouse—where yet another envelope awaits them. This time, the girls learn the kidnappers’ ransom demands…$10 million in emeralds, to be placed inside a tote bag. The girls will be contacted soon with the final instructions for its delivery.

Professor Vandemeer’s terror-stricken wife, Nora (Ellen Geer), hospitalized for injuries sustained in the kidnapping, gives the girls’ mission an added sense of urgency. Her son, Billy, has only 48 hours to live. He suffers from kidney disease and requires a delicate operation that only two doctors in the world can perform. One of them, Dr. Edward Yashima (Clyde Kusatsu) of L.A., had scheduled his surgery in a matter of hours.

Boots and Cass interview the professor’s brilliant young assistant, James Barstow (Leigh McCloskey), at his hotel. He, too, is concerned for Billy, his godson, but he’s unable to provide them any clues to the kidnappers’ identities.

angel-knockoffs-velvet-shari-belafonteThe two Velvet operatives are followed as they leave Barstow’s hotel. Cass uses her driving expertise to throw off the driver of the other car, but in the process, discovers he, too, is a pro-driver. A few telephone calls provide Cass with the names of a handful of drivers. Placing those names in the computer, she comes up with a suspect—Mats Edholm (Judson Scott)—a Swedish stuntman who dropped out of sight two years ago. In a televised appeal to the kidnappers, the Velvets superimpose an on-screen message in Swedish to Mats, offering him money and immunity from prosecution in return for his help.

Their strategy works. Late that night, Mats arrives at the hospital’s emergency entrance with the sick Vandemeer boy. As soon as the boy is safely placed on a gurney, the four girls surround Mats and take him back to their hotel for questioning. Barstow is called in hopes he can identify Mats. An all-night interrogation produces nothing. Mats is afraid to talk. The girls go into another room momentarily, leaving Barstow to watch Mats. The girls are stunned when, seconds later, Barstow informs them Mats jumped from the balcony to his death.

Barstow and the Velvets crash the elegant lawn party at Dr. Yashima’s palatial mansion so the girls can talk to Yashima, who they’ve been unable to reach. Five of the kidnappers also crash the party and, in the melee that follows, two of them are shot, Dr. Yashima is killed, and Boots deliberately allows herself to be captured by the other three, who flee the scene. Boots has recognized one of the kidnappers, Erika (Andrea Marcovicci), a former college classmate.

Later, dressed in full black fatigues and wearing ski masks, like four of the kidnappers at the party, Cass and Julie break into Barstow’s room and trick him into exposing his part in the kidnap plot. This comes as a shock to Ellen, who is with him at the time and had begun to fall for his charms. Barstow knows only that the professor is being held captive on a boat; he doesn’t know where. Mrs. Vance has arranged to fly in the other doctor able to perform Billy’s surgery, and before turning Barstow over to the police, the girls accompany him to the hospital to lend the boy a few encouraging words before facing surgery. While there, a message in a bouquet of flowers delivered to the boy’s room gives the Velvets final instructions for the delivery of the emeralds.

Ellen waits in the chopper at the airport, while Cass and Julie, following instructions, turn the jewel-filled tote bag over to an outlandishly dressed courier at Marineland. He hurls the bag over the cliff and into the arms of Erika, who takes off across the water on a jet ski to a waiting speed boat. Cass and Julie watch helplessly as the speed boat disappears around a peninsula.

Back on board their main craft, Erika can’t resist harassing Boots, whom she’s always envied. Going through her purse, Erika unknowingly triggers a radio transmitter which allows Ellen to get a fix on the boat.

While the Velvet operatives speed toward the marina, the three kidnappers, Breed (Bruce Abbot), Cullom (Stoney Bower) and Erika, plan a trip for their two captives. The professor will be sold to the Russians, while Boots will have an unfortunate accident. The boat is loaded onto a huge cradle attached to a tractor-trailer. With their prisoners securely bound in the boat, Erika and Breed sit in the truck’s cab beside Cullom, who pulls it out onto the highway.

Unknown to them, Ellen pilots the chopper overhead. Seated beside her is Cass who parafoils down onto the boat to free Boots. Breed and Erika have spotted the girls and move from the trailer to the boat to do battle. Meanwhile, Julie, on her motorbike, positions herself next to the cab, lands on the door, knocks out Collum, and attempts to gain control of the truck. A shot from Breed’s gun, ignites a fire in the gas tank, lending added danger to the situation. Cass knocks Bred out, while Boots sends Erika flying off the boat and into an oleander bush along the highway. Julie is having difficulty gaining control of the truck because Collum’s feet and arms are in her way, and the gas tank fire is raging out of control. Ellen drops a cargo net from the chopper, picking up Boots and Vandemeer, while Julie and Cass leap off the truck onto the shoulder of the road. Seconds later, the huge tractor-trailer and boat plunge off a cliff onto the rocks below.

Professor Vandemeer is safe; Billy’s operation is a complete success; Barstow faces federal conspiracy and kidnapping charges before the State of California tries him for the murder of Mats Edholm; and Erika, who is wanted on three continents, will be in a full body cast for a year.

The Velvets rendezvous with Mrs. Vance and Stefan, return the emeralds, and, to their delight, learn that Ellen will be a permanent member of their team."

Sadly, the show didn’t develop.

Polly Bergen returned to the spotlight a few years later with War and Rememberance and most recently appeared on Desperate Housewives.  Michael Ensign has stayed busy with guest appearances in TV and films.

Leah Ayres' next claim to fame was taking over the role of Marcia Brady from Maureen McCormick when The Brady Bunch returned as a dramatic show called The Bradys.  Leah was saddled with trying to portray Marcia as an alcoholic, which unfortunately was the last thing I wanted to see.

Shari Belafonte continued her collaboration with Aaron Spelling in Hotel, the landlocked Love Boat.  Mary-Margaret Humes was notable for playing James Van Der Beek’s mother in Dawson’s Creek.

My favorite of the ladies has to be Sheree J. Wilson.  She went on to star as the conniving April Stevens on Dallas.  Her character softened and married Bobby Ewing before being kidnapped by Susan Lucci on her honeymoon.  In her final scenes, she was struck down by a hail of machine gun bullets and died in Bobby’s arms.  It was too tragic and has been voted one of the best death scenes by Soap Opera Digest.  Sheree later starred with Chuck Norris in the film Hellbound.  This led to her being cast as his leading lady in his show Walker, Texas Ranger for eight years.

There are many people who feel this was the dumbest thing on television or at least make it to the top ten of bad TV, but they don’t appreciate it the way fans of shows like Charlie’s Angels would.  You have four empowered women who solve the case, save the boy, save the scientist, and bring down the bad guys through their teamwork.

* I guess Aaron wanted to use his lucky charm name "Julie" like he did in The Mod Squad (Julie Barnes played by Peggy Lipton), Charlie's Angels (Julie Rogers played by Tanya Roberts), The Love Boat (Julie McCoy played by Lauren Tewes), Fantasy Island (Wendy Schaal played Mr. Roarke's god-daughter Julie), Models Inc. (Kylie Travis played Julie Dante), and Hotel (the character of Julie Gillette was played by Shari Belafonte!)