It will take quite a bit of hocus-pocus to resolve the drama between the Halliwell sisters. The real-life actresses who brought the Charmed siblings to life have resurrected their decades-old beef.
Women, especially actresses, are so frequently pitted against each other that it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s manufactured. However, in this case, Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are the ones pulling back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes drama on the WB show.
What is Charmed?
The show aired from 1998 to 2006 on the now-defunct network. Many people never watched it. But to viewers, it was a cult favorite.
Five years after Hocus Pocus hit theaters, Charmed, created by Constance M. Burge and produced by Spelling Television (known for Beverly Hills, 90210; 7th Heaven; Melrose Place; The Love Boat; and Dynasty), premiered on Oct. 7, 1998. It told the story of Prue (Doherty), Piper (Combs) and Phoebe (Milano) Halliwell, a trio of witchy sisters who used their powers for good.
Milano and Doherty were the best known of the three actresses going into the show, having had big success as child stars and then making the tricky transition to adult actors. They were both tabloid magnets, with their dating lives and blink-and-you-missed-it early marriages getting attention and scrutiny in that era. Doherty carried with her a “bad girl” label after a messy firing from 90210 in 1994. She was rehired by producer Aaron Spelling for Charmed; it was to be her comeback. So both women carried that onto the set with them.
How did the dispute start?
The women seemed to like each other initially — when Milano married singer Cinjun Tate in 1999, Doherty and Combs were bridesmaids — but a feud between the No. 1 and No. 1a actresses developed.
It was a big deal when Doherty left the show — her character was killed off — after the third season in 2001 and was replaced by Rose McGowan, who played Halliwell half-sister Paige Matthews. Doherty was immediately painted as the “difficult” bad girl once again. She was also dealing with a DUI arrest.
At the time, Doherty said of her exit, “There was too much drama on the set and not enough passion for the work.” She slammed “people who bitch about their job and complain about it and say that they hate it.” She added, “I’ll miss Holly a lot. … I love her dearly and there were never, ever any problems between the two of us.”
Milano told Entertainment Weekly: “I think it’s hard when you put two very different people together. I’m very laid-back and passive. I have my Buddha. I come [to my dressing room to] meditate. [Shannen’s] got a lot of energy, she’s very headstrong, she wants to get the job done. … I think it’s unfortunate that she left, and that she needed to bad-mouth everyone involved.” Soon after, she told Glamour, “I feel a lot more relaxed now” with Doherty gone.
In 2007, Milano talked about Doherty toTV Guide, saying, “We definitely didn’t get along. … There were times when I’d come in and say, ‘Good morning, Shannen,’ and she didn’t say anything to me. And there were times when she’d come in and say, ‘Good morning, Alyssa,’ and I wouldn’t say anything to her.”
In 2013, Milano likened the experience of Charmed to high school, saying, “Holly and Shannen were best friends for, like, 10 years before the show started, so it was very much sort of like high school. I would hope that in our 30s, it wouldn’t be like that anymore.” Asked about Doherty’s exit, she claimed, “I don’t know if she got fired — we never really found out what happened. … I can tell you that we were on the air with her for three years, and there were definitely some rough days.”
In 2018, when Charmed was rebooted on the CW, there was resurrected tension among the original cast and McGowan over who did and didn’t think it was a good idea. Doherty didn’t agree with the others, who all felt the reboot was a bad idea.
In 2020, Doherty’s replacement, McGowan, accused Milano of a “toxic AF” workplace environment. “You made 250k per week on Charmed. You threw a fit in front of the crew, yelling, ‘They don’t pay me enough to do this shit,’” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Appalling behavior on the daily. I cried every time we got renewed.”
Milano replied in a statement, “Hurt people hurt people. Commenting any further doesn’t align with my wellness plan.”
In 2021, Milano wrote about the Charmed drama in her book of essays, Sorry Not Sorry. In an interview, she claimed that she and Doherty had developed a “cordial” relationship after reconnecting amid Doherty’s breast cancer diagnosis, saying she DMed her every few months.
“You know, I could take responsibility for a lot of our tension that we had,” Milano said. “I think a lot of our struggle came from feeling that I was in competition rather than it being that sisterhood that the show was so much about. And I have some guilt about my part in that. … I have respect for her. Great actress, loves her family so much, and I just wish I could’ve felt strong enough in who I was to recognize that back then.”
So… why is this all over the news 20 years later?
It’s because of the Let’s Be Clear with Shannen Dohertypodcast. Doherty’s first big guest in December was Combs. The two former co-stars dived right into the Charmed drama in back-to-back episodes. They claimed Milano got Doherty fired from the show.
Combs said she had a meeting with a show producer in 2000 and was told, “‘We didn’t mean to, but we’ve been backed into this corner. We’re basically in this position where it’s one or the other. We were told it’s [Milano] or [Doherty], and Alyssa has threatened to sue us for a hostile workplace environment’” if Doherty wasn’t shown the door.
Combs claimed Milano went to a “corporate mediator” to build a case against Doherty, documenting “every time she felt uncomfortable on set for some reason.” Combs and Doherty “refused” to speak with the mediator. “So what’s where the deck was stacked.”
Doherty said after she was let go, she spent a year “replaying everything in my brain and really trying to find those moments. I don’t ever remember being mean to her on set.” In fact, “I remember an episode I directed where she did something on the Christmas break and they asked me to work around some things with her, and I had no problem with it. I couldn’t have been more kind and understanding.”
Doherty, who has stage IV cancer, recalled Combs being hospitalized to have a uterine tumor removed while they were on the show and Milano and Milano’s mother “blocking” her from visiting Combs in the hospital. She claimed Milano caused a “weird divide between the two of us that then continued throughout Season 2, where I think I cried every single night.”
Doherty brought up Milano addressing Charmed‘s “competitiveness” in her 2021 book, saying, “Obviously, I’m never reading her book, because it’s [titled] Sorry Not Sorry. So right there, you know, it tells me you’re not freaking sorry.”
That really reopened the can of worms. It led Milano to address the drama during a Who’s the Boss? panel at MegaCon Orlando on Feb. 2. She elaborated in an Instagram post.
“I don’t know one other show that has had the success that Charmed had where the cast still speaks ill of the experience a quarter of a century later,” Milano wrote. “This was so long ago that any retelling of these stories from anyone is just revisionist history.”
Milano claimed that things were so toxic that the show hired “a professional mediator” and “an on-set producer/babysitter” to “investigate all claims.” She said she was told Doherty and Combs refused to participate in the mediation. After interviewing numerous cast and crew members, the mediator recommended to show brass that “changes should be made if the show was going to continue. The studio, Aaron Spelling, and network made the decision to protect the international hit that was Charmed. I did not have the power to get anyone fired.” (Milano and Combs became Charmed producers in 2002.)
On Feb. 4, Doherty, Combs and McGowan appeared on the Charmed panel at MegaCon. Doherty used it as a chance to issue her rebuttal, reading a response. She said that as she faces her terminal cancer diagnosis, it’s “incredibly important to me that the truth actually be told as opposed to the narrative that others put out there for me.”
She said she recalls “the facts” around her firing “as if I were still living in them, and what I will say is that what somebody else may call drama is an actual trauma for me that I have lived with for an extremely long time. And it is only through my battle with cancer that I decided to address this trauma and be open and honest about it, so that I can actually heal from a livelihood that was taken away from me, a livelihood that was taken away from my family, because someone else wanted to be number one on the call sheet. That is the truth.”
More to come as this saga continues to play out.