Aaron Spelling, the grandpa of trash television, has done it again. FIONA RAE hears from one of the stars of his latest success.


Take a dash of Beverly Hills 90210, a pinch of Charlie's Angels and a few leaves out of the book of Buffy and poof! Aaron Spelling has another hit on his hands with

Charmed.


The show, which stars Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, has done so well in the United States that in its upcoming second season it will be pitched against Frasier, which hovers at the top of the ratings.



Charmed has quite a bit to thank the X-Files for, according to Combs, on the line from her home in Los Angeles.



"The X-Files, Buffy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and all those shows really opened the door for us. Especially the X-Files, because it was just so wildly successful. It showed the networks that there was an aspect of programming missing ... all the supernatural and fantasy shows were really being overlooked."

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It's definitely a girl-power thing - or rather girls with powers.



And there are so many women involved in making the show that Combs calls the set the Oestrogen Dome.



Guys watch the show for different reasons.



"The short dresses," she laughs. "They watch it with the sound down."



The legendary 71-year-old grandpa of trash telly is still there being Charlie to his three witches. Combs describes him as having a "strong touch" when it comes to putting shows together.



"He's very involved in the making of his TV shows. He looks over scripts, he looks over dailies [the day's filming], he looks over the rough cut, he's involved in the music and the costumes ..."



She is rather more diplomatic when it comes to how the cast and crew feel about Spelling looking over their shoulder.



"I think they've all come to accept it. I think every show wants to have its own creative freedom and he's a very hands-on producer."



Combs plays the middle Halliwell sister, Piper, while Doherty is big sister Prue and Milano is youngster Phoebe. Bewitched it isn't. Each sister has a particular "power" and they battle demons, bad witches and other assorted spooks, thanks to the wonders of prosthetics and computers.



The demons can get quite nasty, and Combs says it's weird seeing them up close - "especially when they put the coloured eyes in."



The special effects can have days on set stretching out to 14 hours, more so for Combs, whose character can freeze time. She has to work with a "green screen" instead of other actors.



"It's more difficult than I thought it would be, and it's kind of difficult to make the freezing time thing interesting after I've done it 200 times already."



The show would not have been possible a few years ago when computers had not quite caught up with writers' imaginations. And it may not have had such an easy ride from the religious sector of American society, either.



"They haven't bugged us yet. We were expecting them to and we were kind of ready for it but they haven't really bothered us yet. I think there have been movies like Practical Magic and Wiccan and witchcraft has become more widely understood and it's not as feared as it used to be. It's recognised as a religion now."



In fact, the show gets more feedback from those in America who call themselves Wiccans.



"There are a lot of Wiccans who are very happy with the show because we're showing witches in a positive light, but there are others who wish we wouldn't throw the word Wiccan around and would be more accurate, or less accurate or whatever. It's a very mixed reaction."



The cast even have their own personal witchy-poo.



"We have a Wiccan on our show who is an assistant director. If we have questions we can go to him. He's pretty well versed, he's been a practising Wiccan for about 15 years."



A few unkind souls who have suggested that casting Shannen Doherty - who still has some notoriety for being difficult to work with - as a witch was appropriate. But for Combs, Doherty's past is a non-issue.



"She's matured and it's a different time and place for her in her life and people should just let her have it. Being a normal person you don't want people to bring up your past mistakes, so I can understand her frustration."



For a young woman who has virtually grown up on screen, Combs sounds abnormally well-adjusted. At 25 she has been in the business for 15 years, including parts in Born on the Fourth of July and Sweet Heart's Dance, and spent most of her teenage years on Picket Fences.



"I've never really done anything else so this is all I know. Nobody else in my family is anything as an actor so it's something I have to figure out how to do on my own. It's just a job for me like anybody else's job would be.



"Television is very competitive and you can never quite know how the networks are going to react or what they're going to do. You never really count on anything.



"That's why actors are so insecure: they never know when they might lose their jobs."



"But you learn how to deal with the pressure, you get used to it."



Who:

Holly Marie Combs



What:

Charmed



Where:

TV3



When:

8.30 tonight