"Once upon a time, there were three little girls ..."
The "little girls" part may not sit as well now, but the new "Charlie's Angels" quickly prove themselves quite capable in fighting crime. The expectedly glamorous, Miami-set ABC update of the female-detective series premieres Thursday, Sept. 22, with Minka Kelly ("Friday Night Lights"), Rachael Taylor and Annie Ilonzeh ("General Hospital") as the trio working for heard-but-not-seen Charlie (whose voice was to have been Robert Wagner's, but hadn't been recast at this writing).
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Only two of the women are sleuthing partners as the show begins, with a tragedy leaving an opening for which street racer Eve (Kelly) becomes a prime candidate during the resulting investigation by thief Abby (Taylor) and ex-cop Kate (Ilonzeh). Bosley, the go-between first played by fatherly David Doyle, gets younger and sleeker in the persona of co-star Ramon Rodriguez; Isaiah Mustafa, the hunky Old Spice pitchman, will recur as a police detective from Kate's past.
"Certainly, it's high-octane and it's exciting," says Australian actress-model Taylor ("Transformers"), "but I think there is a genuine chemistry and a genuine warmth between us, and you can't really fake that. I think we're part of something really special, because we like each other."
Drew Barrymore -- who produced and starred in two "Charlie's Angels" feature films -- is involved in making the new series, as is television veteran Leonard Goldberg, executive producer of the original show along with the late Aaron Spelling. He decided on the casting of original "Angels" Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and the then-named Farrah Fawcett-Majors in the mid-1970s, and he admits to having luck as well as expertise.
"There's something called 'stardust,' and you either have it or you don't," reasons Goldberg, whose credits also include CBS' "Blue Bloods" now. "We looked for a very long time at a lot of people for this show. When we selected Rachael and Annie and Minka, it was the qualities they had individually but also how they all go together with Ramon. It's something that either works or it doesn't, and I think we're very, very lucky."
The recent girlfriend of New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, Kelly believes her series training on NBC and DirecTV's widely acclaimed "Friday Night Lights" helped prepare her for her new role, which involves a lot that the other one didn't.
"It taught me everything," Kelly recalls of the high-school football drama. "I was so green when I started that; I had no idea what I was doing, I was in way over my head, and I really hit the jackpot with that show. At that level I was at, you're auditioning for everything, and you'll take any job you're hired for.
"I don't think any of us had any idea how golden that was," Kelly adds. "That gave me the confidence to be here today and do 'Charlie's Angels.' I'm a daredevil and an adrenaline junkie, so I pinch myself every time they tell me something like, 'Today, you're going to learn how to scuba-dive' or 'Today, you're going to learn how to salsa-dance I mean, someone's paying me to learn these things!"
The "Charlie's Angels" reboot also is being overseen by producers who know a lot about revisiting a famous franchise: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who mentored "Smallville," the long-running WB/CW adventure about Superman's younger years. "What we wanted to bring to the table," Gough explains, "was making it more grounded, making these women feel real, and giving them back stories.
"As you're following these characters, you want there to be something to come back to every week, so we gave them each a past. The show's really about Charlie giving them a second chance, a kind of redemption. I think Rachael actually had the best description of the show: She said if Jack Bauer ('24') and Carrie Bradshaw ('Sex and the City') had a love child, it would be 'Charlie's Angels.'"
Fox's try at a late-1980s "Charlie's Angels" revival that would have starred Tea Leoni never came to fruition. Co-star Ilonzeh was familiar with the original show and the Barrymore-made movies, but she says the new version "hit me like it hit my soul" when she read the pilot script.
"There wasn't really too much of a thought process. I had wanted to do something action-based, but also to empower myself as a woman, having that physical and mental toughness. I thought this was the perfect role for me."
Remaking an iconic series is one of the biggest gambles there is in television, and it doesn't always pay off ... "Knight Rider," "The Bionic Woman" and Goldberg's own "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" being among the examples. His production partners on "Charlie's Angels" feel their update is launching with better odds to succeed.
"It worked as a TV series, it worked as a film series, so there's a chance for it to work again," Millar reflects, "if we get enough of a freshness and originality to the take and the material, yet keep that DNA that's essential to 'Charlie's Angels.' We want our Angels to feel much more dimensional, and I think that for a modern audience, these women are contemporaries they can respond to and relate to."