Back in 1998, PAX TV came on the national network scene like a bat out of hell. A Christian bat out of Christian hell, that is, because PAX tried to rival the major networks with sex-and-violence-free shows. Nice try, PAX, but you need more original programming than It's a Miracle, the Billy Ray Cyrus vehicle Doc, and Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye (that kind of cutesy spelling is inexcusable, even if you are a good Christian) to compete with all the great sex and violence that's on NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox every night. (Sorry, CW, you still don't count.) And do I really want to watch Montana doctor Billy Ray Cyrus teach Christian values to New Yorkers when I can hear Courteney Cox tell someone to suck her dick on a cable show like Dirt? Of course not! My TV time is limited and must be used wisely.
In 2005 PAX became "the i." CBS lawyers, did you notice this? Your network is "the Eye," and all of a sudden PAX is calling itself "the i." I don't know if "the i" had any original shows, and I'm not going to look it up either, but I'm pretty sure they dropped the Christian angle for the most part at this point.
Last month "the i" became Ion Television. The last three letters of "television" are "ion," see, but I prefer to think of Ion Television as dropping an atom bomb of great programming on regular TV every single weeknight! Here's their Monday-Friday prime-time lineup:
8/7c: Mama's Family
9/8c: Diagnosis: Murder
10/9c: Charlie's Angels
On weekends Ion shows movies and things like BodogFight: USA vs. Russia. (Would a formerly Christian network resort to canine death matches for ratings? Maybe if they promote Cold War-era patriotism. Is Sue Thomas's seeing-eye dog one of the competitors? If so, I'll tune in. Wait—according to Wikipedia, Sue Thomas was a deaf FBI agent. But I know she had a dog. What was the dog for? Was it a "hearing-ear" dog?)
The show that I'm happy to see on this lineup is Charlie's Angels, which probably made lots of conservative TV watchdogs uncomfortable 30 years ago. Charlie's Angels was known as a "jiggle" show because it featured its three lead characters running around in bikinis or other skimpy outfits or just plain bra-less quite a bit. I was five when this show was canceled after five seasons and four cast changes: Farrah Fawcett left after the first season (somewhere a 21-year-old David Caruso began to admire Farrah for more than just her feathered bangs and iconic swimsuit modeling) and was replaced by Cheryl Ladd; Kate Jackson left after the third season (apparently she was offered Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning role in Kramer Vs. Kramer but couldn't get out of her Angels contract to do the movie, so she quit in '79) and was replaced by Shelley Hack; and Hack was replaced after the fourth season with Tanya Roberts, who didn't bring up the low ratings that Hack was blamed for, but it was about time the Angels had a hot redhead on their staff. Jaclyn Smith was the only Angel to stay for five full seasons. Way to stick it out, Jaclyn.
What I love about Charlie's Angels, as viewed in 2007, is that it's so ... quaint. Thirty years ago there were only three networks, and cable was still a long way from being in everyone's home. Even when the show was canceled in 1981, cable was a new phenomenon, so I wouldn't be surprised if "low" ratings for Charlie's Angels were probably something like 12 million viewers a week, numbers that a show like The Office would love to have today.
Right now Ion is airing the fifth season of Charlie's Angels. I'm a sucker for final seasons of long-running shows, when the writers and cast are going through the motions and seem ready to move on. Pity poor Tanya Roberts, the newbie, but at least she got her big break on the show and was then ready to star in big-screen classics like The Beastmaster and Sheena, a movie that somehow got rated PG by the puritanical MPAA even though it features full-frontal nudity. (Not that I'm complaining ...)
An episode I saw last week featured a villain who dressed up like Robin Hood and went around the backlot of Mammoth Pictures shooting at people with arrows. The Angels posed as stuntwomen at the studio to find the masked archer.
See what I mean? Silly but charming, especially in light of current shows like CSI and 24, which usually deal with grim subject matter. Maybe post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America needed a lightweight detective "drama" like Charlie's Angels 30 years ago. And maybe, as our current "long national nightmare" winds down in the next few years, it'll be time for another show like Charlie's Angels that can become a top-ten hit.
(Never mind that I hated the Charlie's Angels movie from 2000 and skipped the 2003 sequel. It's tough to make Bill Murray look bad, but Charlie's Angels accomplished that task easily. No wonder Murray skipped the sequel too.)