.: Sci Fi Wire May 17th, 2006 :.

By Mike Szymanski

After eight super, supernatural years, the cast and crew of Charmed say goodbye to the magic

The sisters with bewitching powers became an uncanny supernatural hit for The WB even though the actresses have thought the show was considered an "ugly stepchild" of the network. Now, after a few unceremonious pseudo-cancellations, and after a few very public squabbles between the cast and the studio, Charmed is having a fairytale ending in a two-hour closing that airs May 21.

It's a bittersweet ending, and Science Fiction Weekly was on hand during the filming of the final episode when the three girls, Phoebe, Paige and Piper (Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan and Holly Marie Combs) returned, along with Billie (Kaley Cuoco) and Leo (Brian Krause, whose role was cut a few seasons ago for budgetary reasons). The actresses spoke candidly on the set of the attic of their home. One of the creatures they've battled smashed through the picture window, and sugar glass was scattered everywhere, so it seemed an appropriate setting for the cast to discuss their shattered hopes for the series, which lasted eight seasons.

Series creator Brad Kern, who co-produced the project with Aaron Spelling, joined in the interviews and helped put it all into perspective. He pointed out that this year, Charmed beat out Laverne & Shirley as the longest-running TV series with multiple female leads. Although some of the past favorite characters, sister Prue (Shannen Doherty, whose role lasted from the beginning of the series in 1998 until 2001) and Cole (Julian McMahon), won't return for the finale, Kern did say that he thinks the last episode will be satisfying to the loyal fans of the witchcraft series.

Rose McGowan, you're looking a little teary-eyed as you walk through the set today.

McGowan: I have jet lag. I got [in] at 5:45 this morning. I'm sad, yeah. We're in denial. It's not really over yet until we film the last part, until we have the cast party. It was strange reading the final script. I didn't cry yet, but reading the last pages did make it feel more final.

What did you think about the reports of the series being canceled?

McGowan: How is it possible to cancel something that doesn't exist? All three contracts were up, and it's effectively no show. Why dishonor the show that way? It wasn't going to happen; it didn't exist. It was only the last annoying pissing match that the studio got involved in with us. I thought it was particularly rude. I was particularly annoyed. We have been the ugly stepchild all along.

Why didn't you become one of the producers after six years, like Alyssa and Holly?

McGowan: They asked me if I wanted the credit and I asked, "Does it come with more money?" And when they said no, I said, "No thank you." ... It was all about how we were treated. We were successful, we didn't have a lead-in show, and we were never promoted well.

Do you have a favorite episode?

McGowan: When Billy Zane was on the series, that was great.

Do you have a power you wish you could have for real?

McGowan: I have been in a lot of airplanes lately, and waste an inordinate amount of time. I wish I could fly.

I know you're a big collector of Hollywood memorabilia. What did you get out of the series, and what were you able to buy?

McGowan: It's funny, when I first started I just asked to make enough money to do my hair. Then I've bought and sold three houses throughout the series. I also spent money buying the 1930s top hat of the Brown Derby restaurant and the original RKO letters. Most importantly, I spent about $150,000 on medical bills for my Boston terrier, who would have died if I didn't have the money.

What kind of reactions have you received from fans?

McGowan: The fans are so over the map, it's amazing it touches anybody's life. The fans are really random, from a 13-year-old girl to a 65-year-old cabbie.

Holly Marie Combs, you seemed a bit disappointed about Shannon and Julian not coming back for the finale.

Combs: Julian as Cole did return for the 150th episode, and that was very cool. We all enjoyed it. He told us that he would love to come back for the 200th episode, but we never quite got there. You know, he went on to be Dr. Doom in the Fantastic Four movie and the TV series Nip/Tuck and is quite busy. As far as Shannen, well, that's a whole other story. Prue's memory will be kept alive and be honored.

What do you think about the series finally ending?

Combs: We knew it was coming for a while. ... We were never Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] for them. We were never promoted, never treated that well, like the other shows. ... Last year we were all crying. I've sort of cried myself out already. We did a good job, came in, worked and went home and didn't make mortal enemies of each other.

Did anything change when you became a producer?

Combs: They had to pretend that they listened to us more. We didn't get a billboard on Sunset Boulevard until Shannen insisted on it. ... We held it together. We should be proud.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Combs: My favorite is the leprechaun episode. I like that one. And one thing I always wanted to do was have a demon-free episode. I think I got it in this finale. It was always about the sisters and the real life anyway, and that's what the fans will get.

You seem to be very close, all of the cast.

Combs: We went through each other's breakups and marriages and my ultrasounds. Yeah, we became a family, and the fans were great about letting us into their homes. ... I think some of the most rewarding moments [were] when we had kids from the Make-A-Wish Foundation with a brain tumor or some illness and they told us that we made their day. I strive every day that I work to make this show good, and I appreciate the gratitude from the families and fans like that.

Alyssa Milano, how do you feel about it coming to an end?

Milano: I get teary-eyed just talking about it. We're all pretty emotional; it's been such a big part of our lives. I think we all knew it was coming, because we all three are going on eight years on our contract. So it would mean that we would have to go through renegotiating. I am far too expensive; nine years would break them. [Laughs.] I knew it was coming, I think, last year. I think last year was harder because we didn't know. Since we had another year on our contract they weren't giving us a pickup, they weren't canceling us, so we were literally at the wrap party of last year not knowing if it was saying goodbye forever or if we were going to come back. So I think it was a little harder last year.

Last year apparently was quite eventful. What are some favorite memories?

Milano: You don't want to reminisce too much, because that's when the sorrow crawls all over your body and you want to lie in the fetal position. Obviously it's exciting because this is life, and life is about change, and tomorrow is a new day. One door closes and another opens and all those clichés that are preaching to me. But it's a hard thing. Being on a set you spend more time with the cast and crew than you do with anyone else. For eight years they've become part of your being on a cellular level.

How has it been growing up on a show like this over eight years?
Milano: I think, with everything we have done in the past eight years, I think I'll look back at a section of my life. I've been on TV since I was 11, with Who's the Boss?, and with Charmed it's like a family all over again. ... I probably haven't watched a full episode since the first year, I think.

Is there a power you wish you could have?

Milano: I would have to say the power to heal. This show has enhanced my relationship to magic. I would have called it prayer. There are definitely certain incantations that I do now.

You have used your celebrity to be involved in a lot of charity work, too.

Milano: Yeah, I lived in South Africa for three months in 2000, and when I came home I found this place that exercised the humanitarian in me, and I contacted UNICEF and I've been working with them for just over two years as an ambassador. It's probably the most important thing that motivates me. Basically I take field trips. I've been to Angola, Ecuador, Africa, and I go in the country and I learn about UNICEF programs and what they are doing. ... I make suggestions to in-house UNICEF people when I come home, suggestions and basically raise awareness and be the voice of the people that have no voice.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Milano: The mermaid episode was pretty tough, because I am afraid of water. My breasts were chafed for about two months because they were put on with surgical glue. But being afraid of the water and being in the ocean in something where your legs are bound together is pretty frightening. ... I was like "You guys are wrong, bastards, you all are nuts!" I'm from Brooklyn; we don't have pools in Brooklyn, we had fire hydrants, so it was a very weird thing.

Do you think your friendships will survive when the show is over?
Milano: Absolutely. I look forward to seeing how their careers progress.

Brian Krause, Leo is returning after he was scaled back last season. Was it really because of budget cuts?

Krause: I don't really understand the reasoning about cutting my character when they put other characters in that cost just as much or more, but I'm glad to be here for the end.

How is it to come back?

Krause: It's different. It's something that Brad [Kern] had been talking about this year. It's something that I definitely wanted to do, and, as a writer, I think that while he's trying to wrap up eight years of a series he wanted to have all of his players coming back. ... I've kind of been out there on my own trying to make the transition, and now coming back is fun.

You've said farewell a few times now.

Krause: I mean, in the last eight years it's probably been about 20 times.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Krause: The Sense and Sensibility one that I helped write is one of my favorites.

How has your character changed?

Krause: Well, when I first started we weren't sure if the character was even going to continue, and Brad hoped to have this kind of guardian character. He went from being an outsider to sort of infiltrating their lives and becoming a friend and a lover and father and husband and confidant. So I became a part of the family as a character, and as far as an actor goes it allowed me to have a range to be a friend and father and a protector.

Some of the girls have a hint of bitterness toward the studio. What do you think of it all? Do you think there will be a spinoff? Do you think you'll always be remembered as Leo?

Krause: I wouldn't mind it. I hope that it's not the only thing. I hope that it's just a chapter in my life. Eight years is a pretty big chapter, but hopefully that allows me to go on and do other things as well. If I'm always known as Leo, that's fine. I can't guess what Paramount and the WB were doing, whether it was money or whether they brought other characters in or whatever. I don't know if they were trying to groom talent to go on to something else. I don't know. For me, honestly, it turned out to be a blessing, really, to go out and work on my short movie and work on a couple of other projects. So they kind of did me a favor by being able to get out there and get into pilot season.

What do you think of magic, and what power would you want?

Krause: I guess that I've always been a believer in magic. There are too many cultures around the world that practice magic and things like that. And it'd be great to be able to warp like Leo does and go anywhere in the world at any time. I think that'd be awesome. I was fortunate enough [with] my character to do that.

What have you liked about playing Leo?

Krause: The greatest thing about the character that I play is that my character has integrity, and he always has. He always let you know what the right thing to do was, even though sometimes it was better to go down a wrong path. I think that my character brought up the idea and emotions of right and wrong. In every episode, and throughout the whole arch of the show, I've been blessed with right and wrong. I'm happy to be that guy around the world that you can associate with integrity and loyalty.

How have you changed during the course of the show?

Krause: When I started the show I was married and I had a 2-year-old, and now here I am. I have a 10-year-old and I'm divorced. I now have the ability to kind of stop and ask myself what I want to do with my life now. Financially it has been amazing. As far as being a person, I think that it's opened my eyes. So many years spent here with great people, and now that it's ending I realize how many people I didn't get to know and how many things that I didn't know about these people's lives. It's kind of opened my eyes up to being aware of my surroundings now and kind of enjoying the moment a little bit more and getting more people around me. As an actor I believe that I've gotten better, and things have gotten simple, and I feel more comfortable on the set. It's given me the ability to walk into any situation and do my best.

Why do you think the show has lasted so long?
Krause: I mean, you have to look at our three girls, four girls, five girls that have been on the show. They're amazingly talented. They're beautiful. They're fun. Then you look at our writers and Brad. The thing that I think about the show is that it's not heavy. It is and it can be, and we've all cried, and we've all laughed, but we've kind of had a little bit of everything here on the show. It's a comedy. It's action. It's drama. It's a thriller. I think that it kind of takes people away. I think that's a huge part of why the audience responded to it.

Did you ever have people come up to you and think you were really Leo, or something like that?

Krause: I guess that some people think or buy into the fact that this character is real, and I've had quite a few people ask me to say some prayers and heal them and make them better and magically help them. It happens every once in a while. [Laughs.] I help when I can.

So, Brad Kern, you were with it from the beginning. Was there ever any discussion about bringing Shannen Doherty?

Kern: We did not approach Shannen. There's not much to say about it. She was a huge part of the show for the first three years, but there's a lot of issues that are not for me to discuss. Finances were one issue. Also, I think that the show ... my feeling is that the show after five years of having Rose [McGowan], which is two more years than Shannen was on the show, it should be more about the sisters who are here more than the one who is not ... so in the last episode we're going to be dealing with that.

Who is coming back, then?

Kern: Piper is coming back. Phoebe is coming back. Paige is coming back. Brian [Krause] is coming back. Grandma and the mom are coming back. There's actually one scene that we're doing that has 12 people in the scene.

And is Julian coming back at all?

Kern: No. No. Julian [McMahon], who I consider a friend, his career is going great, and he's on to so many great things, and to get him to come back for one day and work on a non-traditional story around his character is hard.

How challenging was it to come up with the storylines to satisfy everyone with the way [the] girls all finished up?

Kern: I don't think that I'll ever come up with something to satisfy everyone. That was something that I had to work through myself—the pressure to try and please everyone. I realized that I couldn't do that. I can't do that with one story. So I think that it was more of a feeling that I was trying to achieve, more of that—I was trying to get a sense of warmth, a sense of hope. That's what I was looking for in the last story. I didn't actually have the exact story figured out that I wanted to do until probably a couple of weeks ago. There's been things that I've wanted to for the last five or six years, things that I've been thinking about, and they're still there, and some are incorporated into the last episode, but as far as what I really wanted to do it was a leap of faith. But I think that after eight years this episode is something that I'm very happy with.

Do you try and wrap up all those little threads neatly or do you just say, "Oh, the hell with it?"

Kern: Absolutely. I've never written a show that's an hour before, and especially a show that's been around for a lot of years, and the fans are so hyper-aware of every aspect of the show. It's a loyal fan base. ... So it really felt like [doing] an episode reaching back into the past, reaching into the future, kind of doing almost an amalgam of what I would imagine what some of their favorite episodes are in one, and then also you have the characters interacting that never have before. So it's new territory and new relationships. That was something that I actually wanted to do.

What are some of the storylines you definitely wanted to tackle?

Kern: Well, the biggest storyline that I wanted to tackle was somehow to reach into the future and get to the kids and to reach into the past to get Mom and Grams, because that's family, and again, this is a show about sisters. And these sisters have such a rich legacy and I always knew that the image should feel like reaching back to honor the past, but also to look forward to the future, so that the show doesn't feel like it ends in the last episode. So that's something that I wanted to [do] five years ago.

How did the series last so long?

Kern: Well, I mean, especially in television, you never know. All of the experiences, both negative and positive, contributed to us being on the air. As far as why has it lasted, it starts with the stars, I think. They bring the eyeballs to the screen, and then they share the chemistry and history of it, and the fans are the core of the show. So through them selling that they're sisters, they sell magic, and the magic becomes the icing on the cake. That transcends demographics. That transcends borders. It's international, because it's a show about family and sisters. So it doesn't matter. There are sisters and family everywhere, and then magic is something that crosses borders too. You have the girls and their chemistry and the magic and the family—the best that I can come up with is that that's why we've lasted.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Kern: Oh, there's just too many to pick one. I think from a story point of view they're all my babies, even the ugly ones. My favorite storylines were the [ones with] future Chris coming in and surprising everyone. That actually worked. That's a loyal actor. In eight years it's hard to pick out what you need to deal with, and changing the dynamic, bringing new characters in forces you to change the dynamic. Bringing in Shannen changed the dynamic. Bringing in Julian changed the dynamic. So we've been blessed to have a lot of star actors come and go over the course of the run, and that has kept the show in story.

When you bring in so many people from the past, do you risk it being the Ewok party from Star Wars? How do you avoid that?

Kern: Yeah, wow. I don't know. The characters that we're bringing back are so steeped in this. They radiate through the whole series and they inform the sisters and the characters that we've known for eight years. The audience will be the final judge if it's an Ewok party, but I think that it works very well and that the characters really get to stand tall, and we get a great many poses, and yet at the same time you also feel the legacy of it all.

How much of the input from the girls was used in the ending of their characters?

Kern: I talked to them all the time. They were never shy about their opinions, which is one thing that I can say about them. They all had input into the last episode. In fact, I did a pretty good-sized rewrite on the second-to-last episode based on the input that they had on the script. They have trusted me to help direct the show and have it go in a certain direction, and at the same time I listened to them when they said, "We don't like this." I think that was the case on the second-to-last episode. It's tricky stuff for their characters, because there is emotion, there is a feeling, there is a lot to wrap up. So they have the right to speak up and have had that right.

There's such an international popularity of the show. Can you tell from the letters what country is most dedicated to the show?

Kern: Well, I don't really get most of the letters, because they mostly go to the network and they mostly go to the studio. They pretty much aren't addressed to me, and so I don't know the exact answer as to which country sends the most letters. I do know that we've gotten a ton of letters, but so much has changed in the last year and on cable television, and also on the WB network, obviously. It's a whole new network. It's a whole new regime. It's a whole new mentality. No one ever called me from the network and asked if I wanted to talk about coming back for another year or doing a spinoff. We started this season with a mandate to come up with a way to keep the show going or have some spinoff characters—that's the way that The WB picked up the show at this time last year, but there was no one calling from the new network. There wasn't anyone listening or answering the letters, but I have to say that that's OK with me, because it does feel like the show has had an amazing run, and we don't want to end the show a year too late, a year after when it should've been canceled, and there is always that possibility. We feel good about the year we've had. We feel good about the characters' stories and the relationships, and we feel good about the way that we're ending, and again, you don't get that opportunity in television to end the show on your own terms.

So the short answer is that fan letters have been going to the network.

As far as letters that I've gotten, they've really fallen into two camps. "Kern, you don't know what you're doing. You should quit now." I think that one came from my wife. And then [there] were a couple from people that really relate to and understand and are touched by some of the things that we've tried to do. It's about overcoming evil. It's making choices to do good. It's honoring sisters, honoring family. People have been touched by some of the little messages that we've done in episodes.

What do you do next? What do you do when it's all over?

Kern: It's been a grind. It's been hard to do. It's been six or seven days a week for eight years for me. I have a 6-year-old boy who I'm proud to say that I try very hard to be as much a part of his life as possible, but a 70- or 80-hour work week, six or seven days of work—he was born two years into the show. I want to spend six months with him. I told my agent not to call me. I've turned the answering machine off. I have six months to kind of catch up with my family and see where my creative juices lay and see what opportunities are out there for me. I've just been so into the show 24/7, and so I'm going to take some time away from the workplace to see what I can do next.

Do you want to stay on this genre?

Kern: I love the genre. I love fantasy. We chart the stars and circumnavigate the world. I like to play with what we don't know, and that's what inspires me.