Magic is the only thing that could possibly explain how it’s been nearly 20 years since the Halliwell sisters and the Power of Three first arrived in the form of Charmed. Created by Constance M. Burge (better known as Connie) for what was the WB, it brought together Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano as Prue, Piper and Phoebe Halliwell, three sisters who discover they are witches and of Wiccan descent. Much like Buffy Summers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer had to learn to balance high school with night demon slaying, these ladies, at the next stage of their lives, had to work out living their lives while saving the world from darker forces.

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(Photo Credit: CBS Television Distribution)

To celebrate Charmed’s 20th, we turn to Connie, who guided the show in its first two seasons and served as a creative consultant on the third before departing, and before Rose McGowan replaced Shannen in season four as half-sister Paige. In what follows, she exclusively reveals behind-the-scenes secrets about the show from a decades-old interview we uncovered from our archives, much of which she hasn’t discussed before.

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Companion Piece

After Buffy the Vampire Slayer made its debut in 1997 and scored with critics and the audience, the WB was anxious for a companion piece. When Connie came in to pitch a different show, Suzanne Daniels, then the head of the network, told her they were looking for something having to do with the life of witches.

“I didn’t know anything about witches at the time, although I had a lot of preconceived ideas and notions,” says Connie. “So after the meeting, I did fairly significant research before I went back to the network, and then I pitched the idea of the three sisters — at the time, they were living in Boston, but it was ultimately moved to San Francisco — who had come from a long line of Wiccan women.

“The research and the show,” she continues, “opened me up to many different cultures and worlds as we searched for the various demons of the week, if you will. The different mythologies like the Indian goddess Kali, and we had an episode with the Wendigo, which is a North American sort of werewolf. There’s just so much out there that’s really pretty wild.”

The Source of the Halliwell’s Powers

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(Photo Credit: CBS Television Distribution)

There is actually a lot about the Halliwell sisters that were influenced from Connie’s own family: “They were definitely created from my own life, although we’re not witches,” she laughs. “One of my sisters works for the State Department, another works for Avery Dennison. So very corporate, but definitely the idea that the oldest sibling is always very focused and driven and successful. The middle sibling becomes the negotiator and the middle-man. And the the youngest is always either in trouble or getting in trouble, or something which is in absolute conflict with the oldest sibling. That was me.”

The powers that were evident, especially early on, came out of whatever their psychological flaws were. “For example,” Connie details, “Prue, who is very in her mind, very smart, is someone who it seemed to make sense would have the powers that would be mind-related, hence the power of telekinesis. The middle sister always has trouble with time, because she’s people-pleasing simply by her nature. It felt like that would be a good power for her, the ability to freeze time. And then, because the younger sibling was viewed as having no vision of the future, because she lived in the moment, I thought it would be nice to give the power of premonition to her, because there’s something so ironic in the ability to see everyone else’s future but her own.”

Increasing Abilities

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Early on, there was a concentrated effort to be careful not to let the Halliwells get too powerful too quickly. “We were very cautious to expand their powers in small bits,” Connie reflects, “because we were so aware that the larger their powers — the bigger their powers grow — the more formidable the people who are after them become. We didn’t want to feel too big. We wanted to try to keep it grounded in some sort of reality, otherwise it becomes like a comic book. We wanted to keep the battlefield pretty even for both the bad guys and our heroines."

Mixing Character With the Supernatural

Explains Connie, “We tried so hard to make sure that every sister has an arc throughout the episode; that they’ll all learn their lesson, which will parallel whatever the innocent of the week is experiencing so that it doesn’t feel so random. I love to be scared, I love to laugh, and I love to cry, so we’d try to put all three in every episode when we could and when appropriate. But I think that’s the beauty of the series: they’re sisters no matter what. At the end of the day, they still have to be sisters, so they have to find a way to resolve any issues or differences with one another.”

Wish Fulfillment For the Audience

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Charmed has dramatic elements, but also romantic elements and a lot of fantasy," she details. "The other thing is the idea of wish fulfillment; that if I wanted to, I could cast a spell and be book smart, or make everyone around me tell the truth. Imagine never having to have a bad hair day, or more serious things. Being able to ask questions and get the truth.”

Charmed Could Have Only Worked on the WB at the Time

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(Photo Credit: CBS Television Distribution)

When it came to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, series creator Joss Whedon oftentimes sang the praises of the WB as being the only network where he would have had the freedom to bring his creative vision to life. Connie feels similarly. “I also have to credit [executive producer] Aaron Spelling, because the truth of the matter is that to a lot of people this subject matter does exist. There are people in this world who are witches, and so many people would have shied away from the subject matter. But he always knew the show was about sisters who just happened to be witches, and that was the magic of it. So he was not afraid at all of the subject matter. With him and his support, and also an incredibly creative network as the WB proved to be, it was a combination that was incredibly fortunate for me.”

The Casting of Shannen Doherty and Holly Marie Combs

Although they had a sometimes contentious relationship on Beverly Hills 90210, executive producer Aaron Spelling, says Connie, “was extremely supportive of the idea of casting Shannen Doherty as Prue. Holly at the time had been on Picket Fences, and she was also dear friends with Shannen, so they had terrific chemistry with each other. Then the third sister, Phoebe, was Lori Rom, who Warner Bros had been very familiar with. She had done a spot on Dawson’s Creek at the time and was brought in.”

So What Exactly Happened to the Original Phoebe?

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(Photo Credit: CBS Television Distribution)

When you think of Phoebe on Charmed, it’s only natural that you would think of Alyssa Milano. But in the original pilot for the series, and even attending that year’s Television Critics Association’s gathering, actress Lori Rom was in the role. But like magic, she was gone.

“My understanding,” Connie offers, “is that her desire to leave was for personal reasons. She was accommodated and after that we just got so fortunate with Alyssa. It was horrid and sad for her to go, but we were fortunate that it all worked out with Alyssa.” As to the difference between the two, she adds, “I think that Alyssa definitely brought a…excuse me, sexiness to the part. They both did good job, and thank God Alyssa decided to stay. It would have been horrible to have lost her, too. At that point the show would have been about two sisters.”

Give the Cast As Much Credit as the Writers

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“Throughout the course of the first year, the show really changed so much,” Connie concludes, “and even with the characters, too, because when Shannen was playing Prue, we wrote to her strength. We also wrote to Holly’s strengths and Alyssa’s strengths. They were so grounded as the characters, and found a good path for them. So it’s not just the show itself, but the women.”

A reboot of Charmed is currently in the works, which will reimagine and recast the show. So far, the fans are not thrilled but time will tell if magic strikes again.