Attack of the ‘70s TV Pin-ups

“Charlie’s Angels” and “Wonder Woman” are primed for small screen returns, and James Franco is parading around Sundance in a Chrissy Snow wig. But can the poster girls of years past become heroines for today?

By Jere Hester
|  Sunday, Jan 23, 2011  |  Updated 8:30 PM PDT
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James Franco wigs out over "Three's Company."

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The most striking image to emerge so far from the annual Sundance Film Festival is James Franco parading in a blond wig as an homage to Chrissy Snow, 1970s sex symbol Suzanne Sommers’ lovably ditsy character from “Three’s Company.”

The prolific, oddball renaissance man of pop culture (and quite possibly our most mainstream performance artist jokester) donned the fake locks at a party celebrating, “Three’s Company: The Drama,” his multi-media art installation featuring a recreation of the show’s set with projections of clips and Franco’s narration. On Friday night, he helped re-enact one episode, soap opera style.

The presentation sounds awfully ironic (and perhaps ironically awful), but the always-entertaining Franco may have tapped into the zeitgeist with his Chrissy get-up: We seem to be in for a revival 1970s pin-ups.

ABC recently green-lit a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” which would return to its small screen roots after a couple of hit movies earlier this century. NBC reportedly just picked up a pilot for David E. Kelley’s new version of “Wonder Woman.”

We’re not sure what to make of all this (other than more fodder for the Hollywood no-new-ideas-file). But we’re intrigued enough to wonder: Can the poster girls of years past become heroines for today?

“Charlie’s Angels” and “”Wonder Woman,” in some respects, were pioneering for their time, filled with images of ladies kicking butt week-in, week-out, with nary an Aqua-Net–secured hair disturbed. But the shows, which play as camp now, were barely a high-heeled step away from it then, with “Charlie’s Angels” most responsible for creating the genre critics dubbed “Jiggle TV.”

The shows took on a life beyond the small screen. The “Charlie’s Angels” cast, most prominently Farrah Fawcett (then Farrah Fawcett-Majors), became pin-ups whose cover girl looks helped move many a magazine off supermarket shelves. “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter sold her share of posters, but not as many as Sommers, whose near monopoly on the sitcom subsidiary of the “Jiggle TV” franchise made her a star long before the ThighMaster.

It all seems pretty cheesy now, but “Charlie’s Angels” and “Wonder Woman” certainly inspired some girls, now past 40, who presumably internalized the empowerment part, if not the jiggle. And frankly, are we really in a better place now, when our biggest TV-spawned magazine cover girl is reality show “star” Kim Kardashian?

Not much has been revealed about the new shows. The revived “Charlie’s Angels” will be set in Miami, and “General Hospital” beauty Annie Ilonzeh reportedly was the first to be cast. Kelley, best known for “Ally McBeal,” which centered around a successful, but neurotic lawyer, recently told The Hollywood Reporter that his “Wonder Woman” would be a "real complex woman and not just a superhero." No word, though, if she’ll be seeing any dancing babies in her invisible plane.

Meanwhile, we’ll be watching whether Franco gets out his Chrissy wig for his next upcoming big role  as co-host of the Academy Awards. His co-host, Anne Hathaway, incidentally, reportedly just signed up to portray another proto-feminist character from years past: Catwoman in the next “Batman” installment.

Catwoman, who made her comics debut seven decades ago, has been played for intentional laughs (Lee Meriwether, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt in the 1960s “Batman” TV series), unintentional laughs (Halle Berry in 2004’s “Catwoman”) and with some nuance (Michele Pfeiffer in 1992’s “Batman Returns”).

We’re looking forward to seeing Hathaway’s interpretation, and admit to curiosity about the rebirth of “Charlie’s Angels” and “Wonder Woman.” We’re pinning our hopes, though, on this new crop of TV superwomen being a lot more than just new pin-ups.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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