×

A Look Back at Roma Downey’s Famed ‘Touched by an Angel’ Role

When “Touched by an Angel” premiered in 1994, critics were less than impressed with the heavenly CBS drama.

Despite the dismissive reviews, this sweet saga with fetching Irish lass Roma Downey as the novice angel, saucy Della Reese as the elder angel, and Bradley Cooper look-alike John Dye as the Angel of Death would charm viewers for nine seasons, scoring as a top-10 series for four years. At its height, “Touched by an Angel” reached more than 21 million total viewers a week and remained popular through syndication and DVD releases.

The series got off to a rocky start in the ratings, and a second season was far from a sure thing. Second chances were a big theme in this series, and the show made the most of its own when CBS took a leap of faith after a massive viewer campaign, in which devoted fans swarmed the network with impassioned letters praising the show, and renewed it for a second season.

While most remember doves, floppy hats, and Monica (Downey) as a sort of Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp of Angels who took off her shoes at the drop of a parable, the hope-filled series inspired viewers with tales that warmed like mom’s chicken soup.

“Faith doesn’t get you around trouble, it gets you through it,’’ Monica says in “The Big Bang” episode.

Spirited Statistics
“Touched by an Angel” had a loyal following of fans, inspiring audiences and enchanting critics.
$21m Number of viewers who tuned it to watch the series“Touched by an Angel” at the height of its popularity.
9 Numbert of seasons “Touched by an Angel” ran on CBS.
221 Total number of episodes of “Touched by an Angel,” which ran from 1994-2003.
1996 The year the “Touched by an Angel” spin-off, “Promised Land,” debuted on CBS. Series ran for three seasons.

Showrunner Martha Williamson offered up a sweet confection, but that didn’t stop her from tackling some major issues such as slavery in the Sudan, school children killed in an explosion and a woman’s place in the church.

Monica couldn’t carry a tune, but she always sang the praises of God’s promise. She even performed a few miracles and appeared as her celestial self, including soaring over a troubled congregation in her angelic form while the choir sang the full “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Viewers were charmed by the weekly “cases” where the angels often learned lessons as well as those they helped. Some of the more interesting guest stars included Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and even Mohammad Ali.

Faith-based programming had some success on TV, including Michael Landon’s NBC drama “Highway to Heaven” in 1984-89 and later the WB’s “7th Heaven,” which ran for 11 seasons. Recently, there’s a been a bit of a Bible boom that included Hollywood’s highest-profile Christians, Downey and her husband,
“Survivor” creator Mark Burnett, creating the highly rated series “The Bible,” and less success-ful “A.D.”

Yet “Touched by an Angel” endures in the public consciousness like none of the others.

The iconic “Touched by an Angel” might have played heavily on the heartstrings, but there was always some grit that gave the series an enduring quality that still holds up.

More TV

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    HBO's Return to Emmy Nomination Dominance May Be Short-Lived (Column)

    As Hollywood braces for the coming streaming wars, HBO’s huge Emmy nomination haul this week sent a new salvo Netflix’s way: The streamer may have the volume, but HBO still has the goods. At least this year. HBO’s record-breaking 137 nominations came on the strength of just 23 programs — led, of course, by “Game [...]

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content