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Sony Channel's Before They Were Famous: A Galaxy of Stars

  On Saturday 1st February, 2020, Sony Channel broadcast a day of vintage television episodes notable for featuring movie stars in their nascent acting form. From Charlie's Angels to Starsky & Hutch with a stop off at T.J. Hooker, a selection of celebrities, quite apart from the leads in the actual shows, appeal to anyone who is a fan of the films of the nineteen-eighties and nineties - and beyond. Let us have a closer look...

12:30 Charlie's Angels: Charlie's Angels Pilot, S1 Ep 1 - Tommy Lee Jones (orig. 21st March 1976)

Superproducer Aaron Spelling's Charlie's Angels was one of the biggest TV shows of the seventies, and made a superstar of Farrah Fawcett, or Farrah Fawcett-Majors as she was known then, married to The Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors. The other Angels in this debut were Jaclyn Smith, who stuck with the series throughout, and Kate Jackson, two brunettes to offset the blonde Farrah: this was diversity back then. In the Pilot, we dive straight in as the Angels, sort of a female Mission: Impossible team, are hired to wrest back a fortune for an heiress; Bo Hopkins and Diana Muldaur were among the villains, but on our heroines' side was Tommy Lee Jones, childhood sweetheart of the heiress who managed to be run off the road twice, by different Angels. It wasn't a huge role, but it was significant, and the oft-dour actor displayed some charm as the episode's regulation hunk, with a pet dog to sand off those rough edges.

14:00 Charlie's Angels: Angels In Chains, S1 Ep 5 - Kim Basinger (orig. 20th October 1976)

When the pilot was picked up, the series returned in the autumn and was quickly one of the biggest shows on TV, men tuning in for the pulchritude, women tuning in because the Angels were rare, capable female leads to appeal to both sexes. This particular episode was one of the highest rated, thanks to it essentially being a Women in Prison flick, and considered the height of eroticism on US TV in 1976, even though no nudity was allowed on network TV then (unlike on British TV, where it seemed to be compulsory). The Angels go undercover in a corrupt jail where the inmates are incarcerated on trumped up charges and forced to work in a local brothel, including Kim Basinger putting on her best sadface to be pushed around by villainous David Huddleston, Anthony James and most memorably, Mary Woronov as the lesbian guard. This was the episode where the leads were stripped, showered and, er, disinfected - steady on!

15:00 Charlie's Angels: Target: Angels, S1 Ep 6 - Tom Selleck (orig. 27th October 1976)

Up until this stage, the lead characters had not exactly been fleshed out, so evidently with this episode a decision was taken to provide precisely that, as we learn Sabrina (Jackson) has been divorced, and Kelly (Smith) grew up in an orphanage and has trouble holding down relationships. We know this because her current beau is Tom Selleck, a few years before turning TV 'tec himself, and despite getting on with him OK, breaks up the romance with the immortal line "It's not you, it's me!" Must have sounded new in '76. Elsewhere, an assassin is trying to kill the Angels and possibly Charlie (once again, his appearance teased not revealed, though famous face John Forsythe provided his voice), and you can marvel that Farrah became the most popular Angel not necessarily thanks to her Californian sunshine charisma, more her refusal to wear a bra, an attention-grabbing trick that worked. Oh, and fifties sci-fi star John Agar is Sabrina's dad!

16:00 Charlie's Angels: Fallen Angel, S4 Ep 6 - Timothy Dalton (orig. 5th December 1979)

By its fourth season, while still a hit show, it was looking different as Farrah had departed for a (failed) movie career after season one, and Kate Jackson had left the season before, leaving Shelley Hack, a tall Farrah clone, to replace her. Cheryl Ladd had joined in season two as Farrah's younger sister Kris, and reputedly did not get along with Hack, who found the experience resistible enough to leave after one season to be replaced by Tanya Roberts. But there were attractions yet: Timothy Dalton was the guest star this episode, a millionaire cat burglar who romances... Farrah's Jill, making a contractually obliged return! You imagine they could have shared anecdotes about Sextette and Somebody Killed Her Husband between takes. Also, Dalton (referred to in dialogue as "James Bondian") pits his wits against a cobra as he tries to steal an opera singer's diamond. But the most notable thing may be how massive all the girls' hair had become.

17:00 T.J. Hooker: Hollywood Starr, S4 Ep 17 - Sharon Stone (orig. 11th July 1986)

Now here's a thing: Sharon Stone had technically already starred in feature films before she appeared on William Shatner police show T.J. Hooker, but was still a cult actress rather than A-list, so when she was offered a pilot for a show called Hollywood Starr, where she played L.A. Detective Dani Starr (really), she agreed. Yet she was to be introduced in a different cop show as a spin-off, and this episode was it, where she teams up with the Shat to solve a gangland crime that has been mixed up in a film company and possibly the murder of her husband, which she would spend her own series investigating. This wasn't really a T.J. Hooker instalment, it was a Shazza showcase, giving her a quirky pet tortoise and blaring pop rock on the soundtrack: more Miami Vice than T.J. Nothing happened with it, she went back to movies, and Heather Locklear (and Adrian Zmed) fans were shortchanged. But it is a curio to see two cult stars sparring.

18:00 Starsky & Hutch: Murder On Stage 17, S2 Ep 24 - Jeff Goldblum (orig. 19th March 1977)

Onto another Aaron Spelling production, Starsky and Hutch quickly became the biggest cop show on television after its debut in 1975, both at home and abroad; the likes of Kojak and The Streets of San Francisco excelled too, but even they did not have the cultural cachet of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul here. The question of who was the coolest was never settled (it was Starsky, though), and in this episode they got to spoof their image as TV stars by guarding cowboy star Rory Calhoun undercover when an disgraced comedian with a grudge (Chuck McCann) starts bumping off his pals for abandoning him in his hour of need. But Jeff Goldblum, who played the director, would go onto lasting fame as much for his appealingly eccentric personality as his big movies; here he dialled that back and played it straight, not quite a foil to the leads, but popping up regularly throughout. Aptly, cowboy pictures were what shows like this one consigned to history.

19:00 Starsky & Hutch: The Collector, S3 Ep 11, Danny Devito (orig. 3rd December 1977)

The third season heard the third theme tune in as many years (the second being the most celebrated), but the core cast remained the same: Soul, Glaser, Antonio Fargas as streetwise informant Huggy Bear and Bernie Hamilton as the duo's Chief, Dobey. It was as popular as ever, but this episode was one of the stranger ones, how could it not be when it cast Susan Tyrrell, with her reputation as one of the scariest ladies in Hollywood, playing a shut-in former child star turned loan shark? The actual villain was the Irish-accented loner muscling in on her turf, Robert Viharo, who almost bested her in the weirdo stakes with this performance (you will be unsurprised to learn he was not from The Emerald Isle), but who was this as his newspaper vendor confidante but Danny DeVito, shortly before making his name in classic sitcom Taxi? You could tell how young he was by how much hair he still had, but his irascible persona was to the fore.

20:00 Starsky & Hutch: The Action, S3 Ep 13, Melanie Griffith (orig. 7th January 1978)

The boys had one more season to go after this one and Glaser grew reluctant to continue, having his eye on a directing career, but their easygoing chemistry was still very much apparent here in this episode where they went undercover again, this time as male strippers. No, only joking, they were high rolling gamblers infiltrating a men's health club to expose a scam run by owners who had hospitalised Hutch's pal James B. Sikking. His daughter was played by Melanie Griffith, the baby-voiced cult star who would see her career take off in the eighties, but here was relegated to girlfriend of the week, this time for Starsky. As an unusual presence anyway, she stood out here, and even got a bit to do as part of the operation; cult stars of different generations, John Carradine, (as a gambling expert) and M. Emmet Walsh (as an addict) appeared too. Also notable for the way the villains got away with their casino: it was in the back of an articulated truck!

Vintage television like this is a great refresher for reminding movie buffs of the stars of yesteryear, whether you remember them from first time around or are coming to them new. Tuning into Sony Channel is a fine way to enjoy these performances.

Sony Channel is available on Freeview 48, Sky 157, Freesat 142 and Virgin 189.
Author: Graeme Clark.


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