THE AMERICAN GIRLS – If you’ve ever wondered what Charlie’s Angels might have been like if it had tried doing slightly (very slightly) more serious stories, The American Girls is your answer. Priscilla Barnes in her pre-Three’s Company days co-starred with Debra Clinger in her post-Clinger Sisters days in this series about two sexy female reporters for a television news program.
The American Girls lasted just 6 episodes, from September 23rd, 1978 to November 11th of that year, with 5 remaining episodes going unaired. The actual idea for the series wasn’t bad and I’m surprised the premise wasn’t recycled at some point in the 80s or 90s.
Barnes played Rebecca Tomkins and Clinger portrayed Amy Waddell, two field journalists for The American Report, a fictional 60 Minutes or 20/20 style television news magazine. They traveled the country in a van which served as a mobile studio with plenty of up to date equipment. David Spielberg played their producer Francis X Casey, making him a combination Charlie AND Bosley for the show.
The debut episode, The Canceled Czech, found Rebecca and Amy doing a story on a recently-defected Czech magician who was getting death threats. From there the ladies investigated a health spa with a hidden agenda, a serial arsonist, a supposedly “haunted” house, a white slavery ring and more.
Female reporters have been a staple of the big and small screens for decades, so with the built-in glamour appeal of two gorgeous starlets and the variety of stories that network journalists could cover it’s hard to second-guess the people who green-lit this program. It seems like it should have been a can’t-miss hit.
Not enough cheesecake-flaunting and not enough cheesiness are often the reasons given for the failure of The American Girls. I’ve seen it glibly described as “too smart for the Charlie’s Angels audience but too dumb for other viewers.”
More charitable descriptions claim that the program was really a victim of its misguided marketing. It was sold as a Charlie’s Angels T&A fest but then presented its audience with reasonably involved stories of investigative journalism. This supposedly turned off people who might like meaty stories while attracting viewers who just wanted jiggle appeal and were then disappointed.
Guest stars on The American Girls ranged from Adam West to a pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson, who played an airplane pilot who got stranded after a plane crash with one of the reporters in the episode A Study in Survival.
Other recognizable faces passing by were Ross Martin, Dana Andrews, Frank Converse and Jared Martin.
Since I’m a well-known Christmas Carol maniac I’ll close by pointing out that Debra Clinger, who sang with her sisters in the 60s and 70s, did the voice of Mrs Cratchit in the cartoon version of The Stingiest Man in Town. She sang Yes, There Is A Santa Claus.
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