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.

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