"Touched By An Angel": A Heavenly TV Classic

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

In the beginning, there was light...on premiere night...one golden September Saturday evening on CBS in 1994 when Touched By An Angel first flickered off the TV screen and into the hearts of worshipping fans.

Misguided critics touted Touched as a rehash of Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven from the 1980s. Other nay-sayers and Hollywood insiders said it wouldn't last.

But last it did, for ten years.

The series features Roma Downey as Monica, the angelic novice with the adorable Irish accent, veteran Della Reese as Tess, the supervising angel, and John Dye, as the Angel of Death. (Sadly, both Dye and Reese have since passed away). Valerie Bertinelli and Alexis Cruz woold later join the show as additional novice angels Gloria and street-wise angel Raphael.

Guest stars included those like Cloris Leachman, Carol Burnett, Ann Margaret, Paul Winfield, Randy Travis, Wynona, Ossie Davis, Rue McLanahan, John Schnieder, Stacy Keach, Valerie Harper, Peter Scoleri, Greg Evigan, John Ritter, Faye Dunaway, Joel Grey, and countless more luminaries.

An early pilot was mercifully scrapped (Reese's Tess smoked a cigar, and Monica donned campy, flapping wings), in favor of a more subtle, winning approach (heralded by the ever-insightful executive producer, primary writer, and mastermind for the show, Martha Williamson).

In the process, Touched By An Angel became one of TV's last old-fashioned family dramas. Similar shows would follow on CBS in later years, including Joan of Arcadia and God Friended Me. To some additional similar extent, too, there was NBC's short-lived Book of Daniel (in which Jesus himself appeared on a regular basis).

Meanwhile, Touched By An Angel dared outright to name "God, the Father" as one of its regular, if invisible, characters, while other shows tapped-danced around such ethereal titles, copping out, with simple character glances upward.

No such heavenly show before or after it could compare or would last as long as Touched By An Angel. Performances were inspired; the stories compelled; the viewers became entranced.

With Touched By An Angel, television - on one of its rarest occasions - began to do what many have believed over the years it was created to do: to employ a positive message of direct communication for the global community.

Touched By An Angel feared not, and trod ahead, with courage - encouraging (and in a sense, giving courage to) its viewers all along its graceful way.

The show's two-part finale was fittingly broadcast on Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 PM, the time-slots in which it was alternately aired over the years). And in that storyline, Downey's Monica earns her new status as supervising angel (and "The Big Guy" from Heaven himself makes a cameo).

In the end, Touched By An Angel went out in a blaze of glory, journeying into syndication. It is also available on DVD, and one day, assuredly, it will be released on Blu-ray release.

But either way, it will spring eternal, as dedicated fans will continue to experience the series as a living, breathing prayer of inspiration.

Hark, the herald, this Angel sings, indeed.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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