.: Charmed Life :.

Mix the enchanting powers of Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs with the magic of Aaron Spelling and -POOF! -an instant hit

Long before she was cast as a witch on the WB series Charmed, Alyssa Milano dabbled in magic. It was last winter, and Milano was approaching the two-year mark of a man drought. No suitor seemed suitable. Frustrated, she decided to create fate: She bought a love-spell kit from a New Age bookstore. "I lit the candles, put the oil in and read a little chant," she says, her story now sending costars Shannen Doherty and Holly Marie Combs, seated next to her in an office on the Charmed set, into fits of giggles. "It took half an hour. And I was like, 'Ok, let's see if that worked.' And it did."

A month later, Milano met Cinjun Tate, the lead singer of the Los Angeles based rock band Remy Zero, at a mutual friend's house. The two have now been together for nine months and are sharing Milano's Los Angeles home. Coincidence? "I think what happened is that I sat down and thought about what I wanted," says Milano, who turns 26 next week. "I think I manifested it with the spell." Cue the eerie music and bring in Robert Stack. Could Milano have conjured up a beau with an incantation? Perhaps. When it comes to Charmed and its three bewitching stars, anything seems possible. Consider this: Without much publicity certainly lacking the media blitz given to the WB's other freshman drama Felicity --the enchanting show about a trio of sisters who discover they are witches scored the highest ratings for a debut in the network's history. Its premiere episode hooked more viewers than the much hyped series opener of Dawson's Creek. A surprise, yes, but you don't need any special powers to see why Charmed is a hit. It has the campy sci-fi vibe and the girl-power message of Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed with the soapy sexiness of Melrose Place. And like Melrose, Charmed is produced by that master of fantasy, Aaron Spelling. As the Halliwell sisters, the stars solve crimes of a paranormal nature using a magic recipe book found in the attic of their San Fransisco home-- oh, and they look fabulous doing so.

Spelling even likens them to the crime-stopping babes from his '70s series Charlie's Angels. "I'm the one referred to as Kate Jackson," says Combs, 25, who plays the middle sister, Piper, and is the most serious of the three during this interview. "I'm not, like, a typical Spelling babe." Milano, however, became on of Aaron's angels when she joined the cast of Melrose Place in 1996 (she left halfway through last season). But Milano wasn't the first choice for Phoebe, the flaky youngest sister on Charmed. Actress Lori Rom, who appeared in the pilot episode, left the show for what Spelling calls "personal reasons." Says Milano, "I got a call from Mr. Spelling on a Wednesday and started work on Monday. I was nervous because I didn't feel prepared, and I was replacing someone that [my costars] might have really loved."

Doherty, 27, who plays eldest sibling Prue, says she was "thrilled" by Milano's arrival. "Not to slight the other girl, because she is a good actress, but this combo works," she says. The three, in fact, are similar in many ways. They all smoke. They all enjoy fast food, as today's feast of french fries and soda attests. And they all grew up performing on TV: Milano on the '80s series Who's The Boss?; Doherty on 1982's short-lived Little House: A New Beginning and Spelling's Beverly Hills, 90210 for four seasons; and Combs on Producer David E. Kelley's series Picket Fences (1992-96).

The woman share something else, too: They have all had serious relationships with men at relatively young ages. Milano was once engaged to Party Of Five's Scott Wolf (and still has his initials tattooed on her calf). Milano and Wolf called it quits in 1994, and now their shows are time-slot rivals on Wednesday nights.

At age 18, Combs wed actor Bryan Smith ("Bugsy") in a Las Vegas chapel after only eight dates. "I though it was the love of my life, but people change," says Combs, whose marriage lasted four years. "You need a lot of time to really know someone, not just what they put forth."

Doherty nods in empathy, having herself had an ill-fated marriage to George Hamilton's son, Ashley, whom she had known for two weeks. "It was a ridiculous thing," says Doherty, of the much publicized seven-month union that ended in the spring of 1994. "It should have never happened."

By now, Doherty is seasoned in the art of public scrutiny. While her marriage was ending, Doherty left 90210 amid rumors she fought with castmates, was chronically late to the set and made unreasonable demands. And her notorious club-crawling escapades left Spelling no choice but to release her from her contract. But now that Spelling and Doherty are on the same team again, both deny that any acrimony ever existed.

"For the most part, it was media hype," Doherty says. Still she admits her behaviour was problematic, namely, that she partied too much and had a revolving door of boyfriends and fiancÚs (there were three engagements in all). "One guy would be in, then all of a sudden there would be another. And it would be, 'No, this is the love of my life. Not the one that was here yesterday.'

"I was really young doing a show that I didn't know was going to be the phenomenon it became," she continues. "It sounds incredibly spoiled to say that being on the cover of Rolling Stone was a lot of pressure. But it is. Your life changes. Everything has to be done perfectly , and I didn't follow that. I lived my life as if I wasn't in the public eye. I thought, 'I'm young. I have the right to experience new things, and if I want to go to a bar and get drunk, that's my prerogative.'"

"Shannen was not fired," Spelling says. "We talked to her and she wasn't happy, and she left. Was she late sometimes? Yeah. Who isn't? Was she so late we couldn't shoot? Never. And doesn't everyone deserve a second chance?"

According to Doherty, this year's reunion with Spelling lacked drama. "I went into his office, and he hugged me and said, 'Welcome back, kiddo. Do you want to do this together or what?' And I said 'Yeah, let's go for it.' So it was easy."

So easy that Doherty is even thinking about returning to 90210 as her character, Brenda, whom writers sent off to Europe when Doherty left the show. "I get so much fan mail about Brenda," she says. "I feel I have a responsibility -- it sounds sort of cheesy-- to thank the fans that supported me and have given me a career." (Spelling, however, says a reunion is unlikely: "Brenda is in the past. We've told her story.")

In the meantime, Doherty says she is "wonderfully, happily single," having ended a four-year relationship with writer-director Rob Weiss ("Amongst Friends") earlier this year. "He altered my life and taught me so much," she says. "It was the most important relationship I've ever had." She is not, as a tabloid reported, dating Friends star Matthew Perry. "I've known Matt for 10 years," she says. "There is absolutely no thing between us. I wouldn't have a boyfriend right now for the life of me."

The energy that once went into her nightlife now goes toward her other love, horses. Doherty owns two and is an accomplished rider.

Still, she hopes one day to tie the knot for good. "I'm the marrying kind and want children so badly," she says. What if her five months of blissful solitude drag out to two years? Not to worry, Doherty has a plan: She has already purchased the same love-spell kit Milano did. "But the minute I bought it, I had a run of bad luck," she says. "So I decided that somebody was tapping me on the shoulder and saying, 'Shannen, calm down. Be happy with the place you are now.'"