Miami is the new city of angels — at least the city of “Charlie’s Angels.”
ABC is jumping into the reboot game this fall with an updated version of the classic series that kicks off the network’s Thursday night prime-time lineup. Moving its setting and production from Los Angeles to South Florida, the new show gets a fresh start in a new city.
The remake tries to distance itself from the camp of the 1970s version, striving to be a more grounded action series. The first episode begins with two Angels — a former thief played by Rachael Taylor and a disgraced police officer played by Annie Ilonzeh — seeing the third member of their team killed during a mission. Their boss Charlie Townsend and his assistant Bosley — played by Ramon Rodriguez — persuade the survivors to recruit a new Angel, a street racer played by Minka Kelly.
With Drew Barrymore — an Angel in the 2000 and 2003 films — serving as an executive producer, the show was developed by Al Gough and Miles Millar, the duo behind the hit WB show “Smallville,” which followed the exploits of a young, pre-Superman Clark Kent. ABC had been planning to bring back “Charlie’s Angels” for several years when Gough and Millar got involved last spring.
They acknowledge that fans have certain expectations and will scream if they aren’t met. The original “Charlie’s Angels” was a cultural phenomenon when it debuted in 1976, making stars of Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. Fawcett proved particularly popular, with boys posting her iconic poster in their rooms and girls copying her feathered hair. The first episode of the new “Charlie’s Angels” is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday, the 35th anniversary of the original’s premiere.
“When you say you’re going to reboot Charlie’s Angels, you certainly are just hanging a big target on your back,” Gough said. “What you want to do ideally is reconnect with an audience that loved the show when they were younger and also bring new fans to it.”
But the new show starts fresh: These Angels aren’t saints. In the original, the women had all trained to become L.A. police officers but sexism in the department had left them relegated to menial positions, so Charlie recruited them to be real detectives. In the new series, the Angels all have sketchy pasts. Charlie recruits them to give them a second chance, using the skills they developed as criminals to do good.
“They’resort of Angels with dirty faces,” Gough said.
Taylor said she and her co-stars are looking forward to putting a modern twist on the mythology.
“Even though they were extremely cool and successful, we just want to do our own version,” Taylor said.
According to Ilonzeh, the chemistry among the different characters is what drove the old series and the movies.
“The action and the cases and the bad guys and the explosions and all the sparks and the glamour and the fashion and the makeup, those are just the extras,” Ilonzeh said. “But it’s the relationship that’s really going to grab everyone.”
The new show promises plenty of action, but producers are trying to go for a more realistic feel, moving away from the gravity defying “Wire Fu” acrobatics featured in the films.
“We do a little bit of everything,” stunt coordinator Artie Malesci said. “We’re on the water. We’re under water. We have boats. We have helicopters. We do some car work. We do a lot of fighting. We do a lot of gun play. We do a lot of scaling buildings.”
The actresses do many of the stunts themselves, Malesci said.
“They train a lot,” he said. “I know them well enough to know what they can do and what they can’t do. There’s a certain point where I say no, and they hate that.”
Kelly said doing the stunts is one of her favorite things about the show.
“I love my job. I love being an actor,” Kelly said. “But then when you get to go and be physical and learn how to drift cars and scuba dive and horseback ride and learn to fight Krav Maga (an Israeli martial arts technique). Those are things I’ll have with me for the rest of my life.”
Filming extensively in South Florida during the summertime doesn’t come without its problems. On one recent shoot — a daytime fashion show scene at a downtown park — the actresses hidout in an air-conditioned van between takes to keep their makeup from melting. Meanwhile, dozens of extras sought shade and fans, trying not to sweat through their formal wear.
Still present in the new show is Charlie’s speakerphone, where the unseen maestro tells his Angels about their new missions. Gough said one challenge was creating a good reason to use it in the reboot.
“Charlie’s on a box, on a speakerphone, which in 1976 was probably the height of technology,” Gough said. “In 2011, not so much. You have Skype. You have video conferencing. Why is this guy still on a box?”
While Charlie remained a mystery in the original series and in the two films, Gough said viewers will learn more about him in the new series and possibly why he’s so secretive.
Bosley is also getting a bigger role.
“In the old series, Bosley felt a little like the girls’ valet, and we didn’t want to do that,” Gough said.
The new Bosley is closer to the Angels in age and much more involved in the missions.
“He is basically the fourth Angel,” Gough said.
Rodriguez said he was surprised when he was first approached to fill the role, previously held by David Doyle, Bill Murray and Bernie Mack.
More than just comedy relief, Bosley now hacks computers and beats up bad guys, while hiding his own shady past.
“He’s definitely got a lot going on,” Rodriguez said.
“Charlie’s Angels” is ABC’s first big attempt at remaking a major series. The practice might seem a surefire recipe for success, but for every “Battlestar Galactica” or “Hawaii Five-0,” there’s a “Bionic Woman” or “Knight Rider” that died during its first season. Gough said CBS’s “Hawaii Five-0” is a great example of mixing fun characters, exciting action scenes and beautiful locations — a model for his “Charlie’s Angels.”
Partof achieving those beautiful locations for “Charlie’s Angels” was filming the show in Miami instead of Los Angeles. South Florida has the high fashion and cultural diversity of New York, the warm weather and beautiful beaches of Los Angeles, and is a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
“When you come down here, you feel it,” executive producer and director Marcos Siega said. “There are a lot of South Americans, a lot of Europeans. I think the city itself felt like an exciting change.”