To See an Angel (‘s Ratings) Die

Remembering when Wednesday nights were TGIW

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s, Wednesday night at my house was all about The Bionic Woman, Baretta and Charlie’s Angels on ABC. This was must see TV years before Cheers even aired a pilot. I mean, come on, I could take or leave Barretta but watching bionic heroics at 8pm, going to bed at 9, then sneaking a peek at Charlie’s Angels at 10pm was practically a ritual for my six year old mind. Of course in my household, at that age we were only allowed to watch one hour of television per night during the week, so at times I was torn between Fembots and the Farrah flip but the Angels usually won out. In fact for a long time, the Angels usually won out in the Wednesday, 9pm time slot and dominated the night for years before succumbing to network stupidity, tired writing and an ever-changing TV landscape.

But, oh, those first few years were golden.

It all started rather innocently enough when the pilot aired on Sunday night in March of 1976 as a TV movie. The pilot, despite being a rather de fanged version of what the weekly series would become (very little glamour or action in the pilot, and Farrah wears a wig?) the novelty of the estrogen rookies set ratings on fire and the Angels easily won their time slot and earned a shot as a full fledged series.

The series proper then debuted on Wednesday, September 22, 1976 at 10pm going up against an anthology series on NBC (Tales of the Unexpected) and the CBS Wednesday Night Movie. With no real competition for its demographic, Charlie's Angels soared and easily won not only its time slot but the hearts of the American viewing public.

BACKGROUND CHECK

Townsend Agency original article by Greg May 20, 2010

As a six year old at the time of the first season I saw very few of those episodes first run. Charlie’s Angels in its first season airing at ten became almost a no-no for kids of my age. It was like sneaking and staying up late to watch SNL. I knew it was good, I knew it was too grown up for me and I knew I needed to see it. Even the episodes themselves in that first season tended to lean more toward the Ashcan drama of that time as opposed to the escapist fluff that it would become. The 10pm time slot allowed for more violence and sexual innuendo than would be seen in subsequent seasons. On the downside, it left a lot of young viewers out in the cold due to its late time slot.

When the series returned in 1977 with a new Angel in tow, it also debuted an hour earlier at 9pm switching time slots with a dying Baretta and no longer relying on The Bionic Woman (which had moved to Saturdays on NBC) as a lead in Charlie’s Angels became the marquee show on hump day. The earlier time slot lent itself well to the introduction of Cheryl Ladd as Kris Munroe, whose youthful approachability lent itself more to kids watching at nine than Farrah’s smoldering sexuality ever did. This second season is when a lot of kids became Angels fans, and before long, the show itself became more suited for the whole family with the Angels transforming into Girl Scout-like super heroes capable of anything than the adult private detectives they had been the previous season. Sure, the show still had jiggle issues and double entendres, but the adventures of the Angels in season two could have been had by The Bionic Woman or Wonder Woman over at NBC and CBS, respectively.

Charlie's Angels dominated the 9pm time slot for the next two years, knocking out all challengers including NBC’s The Oregon Trail, Dear Detective and TV movies from NBC and CBS. In fact the Angels remained pretty much unchallenged until the 1979-80 season when the combination of Kate Jackson leaving, and a 8 year old Gary Coleman would present the Angels with their first real ratings challenge since the debut of the Pilot.

Now as most people know, Shelley Hack's turn as Tiffany Welles that season generally (and unfairly) is cited as the beginning of the downfall of the Angels, and some of that may be true (although again - I blame the show's writers and producers for handling the new character poorly more so than the lovely Ms. Hack for these problems.) At any rate, by the end of its fourth season, the Angels' ratings dominance showed some definite problems. Not wanting to cancel the show, and unsure about how to salvage it, ABC made matters worse by moving it all over the place. From Sunday back to Wednesday, then back to Saturday, Charlie’s Angels was being juggled instead of jiggled. The addition of yet another Angel (Tanya Roberts) and a new location (exciting Hawaii) didn’t exactly help the show find stability. By the end of the 1981 season, Charlie’s Angels was limping along airing in TV’s death slot of Saturday night at 8pm. How all the shifting ever helped the show or ABC is beyond me, but after 5 seasons, most in the top ten, the once-mighty ratings winner went out with a whimper.

It’s sad to because Wednesday night at 9pm for kids of my generation was must see TV. TGIW, if you will.