Newly ‘Charmed’ life

Mak­ers of re­booted sis­terly power series cast a dif­fer­ent spell

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Yvonne Vil­lar­real

VAN­COU­VER — On a driz­zly morn­ing in late Septem­ber, Sarah Jef­fery — one-third of the sis­ter­hood at the cen­ter of the CW’s mildly con­tro­ver­sial “Charmed” re­boot — is pass­ing her phone around to her cast mates dur­ing a break in pro­duc­tion of an up­com­ing episode.

There’s ex­cit­ing news on the screen: a photo of New York’s bustling Times Square, where the area’s usual bill­board raz­zle-daz­zle now in­cludes a jumbo pro­mo­tional im­age of the show among its ranks.

“Peo­ple have been send­ing me pic­tures of our bill­boards in ev­ery city,” says the 22-year-old Jef­fery, whose cred­its in­clude “Way­ward Pines” and “Shades of Blue.” “It’s, like, what is hap-

pen­ing? I saw one from a dis­tance re­cently and I squealed. But Times Square — are you kid­ding me?”

“Oh, my God, this is such a mo­ment,” says costar Melonie Diaz (“Fruit­vale Sta­tion”), lean­ing in to stretch her fin­gers across the phone’s screen to zoom in.

It’s a wel­come feel-good mo­ment in what has oth­er­wise been an un­nerv­ing lead-up to the launch of the show. When it was an­nounced that the CW was putting “Charmed,” a young adult drama about sis­ters who dis­cover they are witches, through tele­vi­sion’s busy re­boot ma­chine, a spell wasn’t ex­actly cast.

Some fans of the orig­i­nal series — a cult fa­vorite that starred Alyssa Mi­lano, Holly Marie Combs, Shan­nen Do­herty and later Rose Mc­Gowan, and ran from 1998 to 2006 on the WB — scoffed at the idea. And some mem­bers of the orig­i­nal cast were vo­cal with their dis­may or reser­va­tions about a re­boot.

“I’m not go­ing to lie, it kind of bummed me out a lit­tle bit,” says Diaz, 34, who was jammed with her cast mates on a leather couch of an apart­ment rented for this day of film­ing. “You want peo­ple to be in sup­port of what you do. But at the same time, there are peo­ple who are re­ally, re­ally, re­ally ex­cited about our show and it would be a dis­ser­vice to them if we don’t lean into that.

“And it’s, like, … there’s a lot of things hap­pen­ing right now and I just want to be as pos­i­tive as pos­si­ble and en­joy these mo­ments of see­ing our bill­board in Times Square and work­ing hard,” she adds. “So, yeah, it is what it is.”

“There’s al­ways go­ing to be neg­a­tive noise,” adds fel­low cast mem­ber Madeleine Man­tock, 28. “You just have to tune it out … it’s been a bit of a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for us.”

Whether “Charmed” 2.0 can charm its naysay­ers is one of those ques­tions that likely won’t ever have one an­swer. But view­ers can at least de­cide for them­selves when the show pre­mieres Sun­day, 20 years af­ter the orig­i­nal.

It’s yet an­other re­boot of a fan-fa­vorite TV series to test whether au­di­ences still have an ap­petite for com­fort food re­heated — or, in this case, re­made — years later. No stranger to bring­ing back pop­u­lar ti­tles (see: “90210” and “Mel­rose Place”), the CW has more rid­ing on the suc­cess of “Charmed.”

The net­work, of­ten the un­der­dog in the broad­cast hi­er­ar­chy, is ex­pand­ing its prime-time sched­ule by open­ing up shop on Sun­day nights this fall for the first time in nearly a decade. And it’s count­ing on the name recog­ni­tion of “Charmed” — whose cult fol­low­ing has grown since it went off the air thanks to a heavy ro­ta­tion in syn­di­ca­tion and its avail­abil­ity on Net­flix — to help the net­work es­tab­lish it­self on the com­pet­i­tive night. (The CW’s re­turn­ing series, “Su­per­girl,” has also been en­listed to as­sist.)

“We felt for the night we needed a show that had some brand eq­uity,” says CW Pres­i­dent Mark Pe­dowitz by phone. “‘Charmed’ has a lot of brand eq­uity. That said, this [ver­sion] is dif­fer­ent. There are el­e­ments of it that are very much the same, but it is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry­telling.”

The new it­er­a­tion from the writer-pro­ducer team of Jen­nie Sny­der Ur­man, Jes­sica O’Toole and Amy Rardin (who all have worked to­gether on “Jane the Vir­gin”) shares a sim­i­lar con­ceit of three sis­ters who learn they’re witches and must pro­tect the world from su­per­nat­u­ral demons.

But here, the show’s orig­i­nal “Charmed Ones” are re­placed with a mul­tira­cial trio: Jef­fery and Diaz are the Vera sis­ters (named Mag­gie and Mel, re­spec­tively), while Man­tock (“The To­mor­row Peo­ple”) plays their el­dest half-sis­ter, Macy Vaughn.

“It felt like women of color were go­ing to be the women who had more in­ter­est­ing sto­ries in our cur­rent cli­mate, frankly,” O’Toole says. As the show un­folds, the goal is to in­cor­po­rate the char­ac­ters’ cul­tures into the sto­ry­telling in a way that’s “spe­cific to who they are in an or­ganic way.”

There are other dif­fer­ences too. There are no spells with rhyming cou­plets; not all the sis­ters’ pow­ers are the same as in the orig­i­nal; and the show ditches its San Fran­cisco sur­round­ings for a fic­tional Michi­gan col­lege town — to name a few. It’s also a dif­fer­ent premise than what was orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned when pro­duc­ers were con­sid­er­ing in­tro­duc­ing “Charmed” to a new gen­er­a­tion. The writ­ers and pro­duc­ers were con­tem­plat­ing a pre­quel that would be set in the ’70s and ex­plore the link be­tween the women’s rights move­ment and witch­craft.

Then the 2016 elec­tion hap­pened. “Af­ter the elec­tion,” Sny­der Ur­man says, “all the things that we wanted to say about witch­craft and the place of women in so­ci­ety and the way that things are ... it felt like we had to move that into the present, be­cause it felt like it was some­thing vi­tal that we were strug­gling with now.”

Or as O’Toole de­scribes it: “We had been a lit­tle naive in think­ing that we were in a post-misog­y­nist world.”

And in this time when women are band­ing to­gether and show­ing sol­i­dar­ity — as many did re­cently, gath­er­ing for demon­stra­tions in sup­port of Chris­tine Blasey Ford when she tes­ti­fied be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee over sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions against then-Supreme Court nom­i­nee (now Jus­tice) Brett Ka­vanaugh — and when the term “witch hunt” has been used to de­scribe the so-called in­jus­tice of men caught up in the #MeToo move­ment, a show about sis­ter­hood feels all the more vi­tal, the pro­duc­ers say. “What we re­ally liked about the orig­i­nal ‘Charmed’ is that it was show­ing fe­male re­la­tion­ships where women weren’t trip­ping and fight­ing with each other all the time,” Rardin says. “These were, and are, three women not com­pet­ing over men. That wasn’t, and isn’t, where the con­flict comes from.”

The pi­lot episode, for ex­am­ple, seems ripped from the head­lines with the sis­ters fight­ing a preda­tor who is a de­mon in su­per­nat­u­ral form — and a se­rial ha­rasser in hu­man form.

“That’s one of the rea­sons I wanted to do the show,” Diaz says. “This is a plat­form. I think we have a re­ally great op­por­tu­nity here to in­spire young women. I hope we do a good job.”

Though the new series is lean­ing in to hav­ing a so­cial con­science, its stars are care­ful to stress it won’t leave view­ers rolling their eyes. “It should be cathar­tic,” says Man­tock. “We’re not try­ing to bash you over the head with a hand­book on how to be a good hu­man in this day and age.”

They would, how­ever, like to win over view­ers of the orig­i­nal.

“I think it’s won­der­ful to be able to do a show that al­ready has such a pas­sion­ate fan base,” Jef­fery says. “It’s an ad­di­tion to some­thing that was al­ready so won­der­ful. We’re not try­ing to take away from the orig­i­nal in any way. I just want to make them proud.”

Jen­nifer S. Alt­man For The Times

THE NEW “Charmed” is led by, from left, Sarah Jef­fery, Melonie Diaz and Madeleine Man­tock. The 1998-2006 ver­sion has vo­cal fans.

Dean Buscher The CW

THE CW is home to the re­vived “Charmed,” in which Diaz, left, Man­tock and Jef­fery dis­cover their power.

Richard Cartwright The WB

THE FIRST cast two decades ago, from left, Shan­nen Do­herty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Mi­lano.

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