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'Charlie's Angels': The art of rebooting a classic TV show

Exec producers Miles Millar and Al Gough explain their strategy for revamping the ’70s hit

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Reworking a beloved franchise is a perilous challenge — kind of like doggy-paddling across a tank of blood-starved piranhas with a paper cut. We always relish the challenge. We spun our own revisionist history of Superman when we created Smallville, and when we signed on to bring Charlie’s Angels back to TV, it was daunting but also exciting. Fortunately, the powers that be graciously gave us free rein to give the series our own personal spin. We didn’t want to piss off the generations of women who grew up idolizing Farrah, Jaclyn, and Kate, but we also wanted to create something that stood on its own merits and surprised people.

Unlike a movie remake, which provides a one-off nostalgia fix, the challenge of a successful television reboot is that it has to sustain itself for multiple episodes. We approached Charlie’s Angels the same way we did the legend of Superman — we kept the essential DNA of the original but also evolved the characters, tone, and mythology so that the series feels distinctly new.

Our Angels (Minka Kelly, Annie Ilonzeh, and Rachael Taylor) are still beautiful private eyes who work for the mysterious Charles Townsend, but they weren’t plucked from crossing-guard duties at the LAPD. Instead, our trio have criminal pasts. They were rescued by Charlie, who offered them redemption and the chance to put their skill sets to use as detectives. They’re smart, confident, and beautiful, but also deeply flawed. They aren’t superheroes. We wanted them to feel dimensional, emotionally complex, and relatable. We also felt that the Bosley character could do with a major upgrade. Our Angels are strong, contemporary women who don’t need a middle-aged minder. So we made Bosley a bona fide fourth Angel who is young, hot, and Latin.

Perhaps the biggest departure is the radical tonal shift we made from previous iterations — kind of like going from Batman & Robin to Batman Begins. We wanted to keep the show grounded and real. No cheese and no camp. That doesn’t mean that our characters don’t have fun — we just wanted to keep the stakes real. People die in this world. The action is visceral and in your face. No slo-mo explosions or wire fu. Our Angels bleed (yes, even on their insanely expensive Alexander McQueen outfits). We also plucked the illustrious Charles Townsend Associates from the sleepy, crime-free boulevards of Beverly Hills and transplanted it into a beachfront building on Miami’s famed Ocean Drive. Maybe it’s because we were hardcore Miami Vice junkies growing up, but Miami just felt like a better tonal fit — it’s a tropical melting pot that radiates glamour, danger, and cool.

We also felt it was important to add a layer of mythology to the series. It would help the show stand out from the plethora of procedurals on TV today. The mystery surrounding Charlie Townsend’s identity provided the perfect opportunity. This is a mythological onion we’ll slowly peel back over the course of the series. As for Charlie — you won’t see him cavorting in a hot tub with Hef’s sloppy seconds. In fact, you won’t be seeing Charlie at all — at least not yet.

Charlie’s Angels was picked up on the same day that the series finale of Smallville aired. We took that as a fortuitous omen. The truth is, we won’t know if all our creative bets pay off until the show airs. We have our fingers crossed that the angels will be smiling on us.