Introductions and Beginnings

Taken from Xposé Special #16,
Witches 2001, available now

The Halliwells, circa 1998

Going back to where it all began, Ian Atkins examines the hits and misses of Charmed's opening season. Season Two and Three overviews also in this issue!

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What is Charmed? Buffy-LiteTM for those too scared by vampires? A definitive mission statement for those following a Wiccan way of life? A metaphor for the demonizing encountered by career-orientated girls in the modern world? Or eye candy for Maxim readers?

More accurately - although all the above factors are, to some extent, applicable - what was Charmed when it began? It started in 1998 when the hit shows were Xena, The X-Files and, yes, Buffy, each capturing a certain demographic. Buffy was dominating the youth shows of the time, Xena had (rare for the genre) central female relationships and a sense of fun, and The X-Files was redefining look, effects and mood while re-introducing that old chestnut the story arc. It should be noted too that although Charmed was created with a careful eye on TV's market leaders, it was equally informed by two cinema outings for witches, namely The Craft and Practical Magic. The former even donated a theme song!

With the opening few minutes of Something Wicca This Way Comes (where a nameless witch is stabbed to death) and the plot of three of the first five stories, it was clear that of the shows influencing Charmed's beginnings, it was actually The X-Files making the biggest contribution. Serial killer of the week stories took a worrying prominence over much of Charmed's first year, starting with warlock Jeremy, who gave us a crash course in not only how anyone could be the sisters' enemy (compare this story with season two's How to Make a Quilt out of Americans and season three's Belthazor episodes), but how the Halliwells would now be actively sought by their foes. As well as Jeremy there was a dream researcher, the photographer Stefan, a time-traveling warlock, a wendigo and the ghost of an executed criminal, all of whom went on little sprees which might have served to introduce the show's general premise, but did it in as ham-fisted a way as possible.

The serial killer concept on TV is already on well-trodden ground, and for a show like Charmed which eschews any appreciable psychology in its villains (this isn't Cracker, after all), what you get are simply one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. This approach reached a nadir in The Wendigo, which not only showed the serial killer approach at its worst (Mr Magoo would have spotted the villain within the first five minutes, let alone the Sherlock Halliwells), but in aping The X-Files so closely it came close to depriving Charmed of any self-identity. Thankfully, the producers were able to arrest this worrying trend and Charmed immediately began to flourish...

Craig Zisk on directing the HalliwellsPhoebe and Piper do some hiding

"After I finished working on The Love Boat, I spoke with some of the people at Spelling and they suggested I do an episode of Charmed," recalls Zisk. "The program was in its first season and they were looking to try out new directors, so I gave it a shot and ended up coming back five more times over the next two years."

The director's first involvement into the world of witchcraft was the first season story Blind Sided. In it, the Halliwell sisters, Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs) and Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) must rescue a young boy who has been kidnapped by a sight-stealing demon called Gremlock. "It was the third or fourth day of the shoot and the first time I'd be working with all three girls," says Zisk. "I wanted to show them I was a team player and that I was on their side.

"In this episode there was a 'mysterious' glowing green liquid that was used to kill the demon. I noticed when the prop guys made this concoction that it was just Gatorade. The lighting crew was setting up the shot and Shannen was holding the jar of liquid. She said to me, 'I wonder what this stuff is. It looks awful.' I told her, 'Give it to me, I'll drink it.' Shannen said, 'No way, you're not going to drink this.'

"I took the jar out of her hand and drank the entire contents. Well, she, Alyssa and Holly began freaking out until I told them that it was Gatorade. That certainly helped break the ice between us," he laughs, "and proved to them I was willing to do just about anything for the show."

Get the full Craig Zisk interview and all three season summaries when you buy Xposé Special #16

Images © Spelling Television / The WB
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2001. Not for reproduction

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