July 13, 2024

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Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs unpack ‘Charmed’ drama

5 min read

The Power of Three was not working in Shannen Doherty’s favor during her stint on “Charmed” — but she certainly had the power of two.

Co-star Holly Marie Combs this week helped confirm a long-suspected rumor about Doherty’s exit. And she said she remained firmly in Doherty’s corner as the “terribly awkward” drama between Doherty and co-star Alyssa Milano played out.

Doherty, who played the eldest Halliwell sister, Prue, was at odds with Milano, who played the youngest , Phoebe, on the WB drama about three siblings who discover they’re witches. While many long believed that Doherty quit the show, she and Combs clarified that she was actually fired from the supernatural series because of Milano — a moment that culminated in Prue’s death in the 2001 Season 3 finale. (Doherty was replaced by Rose McGowan, who played long-lost sister Paige for five seasons until the series concluded in 2006.)

Appearing Monday in Part 2 of Doherty’s just-launched podcast, “Let’s Be Clear,” Combs and the host discussed the tensions and “jealousies” that built up to Doherty’s departure, shedding light on the behind-the-scenes drama (and some romance) during filming in the early 2000s. The conversation followed the “Beverly Hills 90210” alum’s revelations last week about her strained relationship with Milano stemming from Doherty being the highest-paid actor on the show.

Representatives for Milano did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Times’ requests for comment.

Combs, 50, who played time-freezing middle sister Piper in all eight seasons and was credited with being the “glue” of “Charmed,” said Monday that she called a meeting with the show’s consulting producer, Jonathan Levin, in the early 2000s to figure out why Doherty had been fired from the Aaron Spelling drama. Both lead actors, at various points, had told the network that they wouldn’t do the series without the other, an emotional Combs said.

“It was a terribly uncomfortable situation for me, and obviously you saying, ‘I’m not going to do the show without her’ in the beginning to network and me saying it clearly didn’t have the same effect, you know, and so it was terribly awkward for me,” Combs said, recalling a point when she was trying to leave the show after personal health issues.

The “Pretty Little Liars” star said she was told that producers didn’t mean to fire Doherty but that they had “been backed into this corner” and “basically in a position where it’s one or the other.”

“We were told [by Alyssa] it’s her or [Shannen], and Alyssa has threatened to sue us for a hostile workplace environment,’” Combs recalled the producer saying.

“This is not a show I wanted to do without Shannen. She didn’t want to do it without me. Therefore, I don’t want to do it without her and that should be fairly clear,” she said she told Levin. She added that he responded to her ultimatum with what “felt like blackmail,” threatening to sue Combs if she quit.

Meanwhile, Combs said that Milano had been building a case against the “Heathers” star, allegedly documenting “every time she felt uncomfortable on set” after meeting with a therapist or corporate mediator whom Combs and Doherty refused to meet with. Combs said that because of Doherty’s high-profile exit from “90210,” she believed her co-star was “preemptively trying to work it out” with Milano on “Charmed.”

Combs couldn’t remember any “harsh words” being exchanged between her co-stars or public “brawls” happening. She added that “by today’s standard, it wouldn’t even qualify” as toxic behavior.

“It was all behind the scenes, it was all in the trailer. It was nothing that anybody or any of our guest stars ever noticed or noted,” Combs told Doherty. “And you know, there’s not a director that would not work with you again. There’s not any one of our crew members that did not have a great time working with you. So by today’s standards, it wouldn’t f— fly, right …it just doesn’t make any sense anymore. There are people that actually behave badly and get away with it. And there are men that, you know, abuse people, throw things, screaming fits and get away with it. Like I don’t think people understand that that never happened here.”

Doherty, 52, who is battling cancer, said she spent the following year “replaying everything in my brain” trying to find questionable moments, but she couldn’t. (The rumors dogged Doherty for years, and compounded those that swirled around her when she left Spelling’s ’90s teen drama “Beverly Hills, 90210.” In retrospect, Doherty said she “definitely would have sued.”)

“We never had it out, like we never. I don’t ever remember being mean to [Milano] on set,” Doherty said. “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.”

“I think back then the male mentality was to pit the women against each other any way in order to keep them controlled,” Doherty said.

Combs, who became a producer on the series, agreed, adding that “they didn’t want us working together.”

“They wanted to keep us segregated and separated and not negotiating together because then you have a ‘Friends’ situation where everybody’s getting paid the same amount, and that’s not what they wanted to do,” Combs said. “Like I said before, I ended up doing the most hours for the least pay because I just didn’t ask for raises. I didn’t want more to be taken out of the budget. I didn’t want to have no money for guest stars. I was producing.”

Doherty said there’s “zero hate” here, and she and Combs said that they’re fully aware how much the show means to fans. They added that it’s difficult for them to speak about it “in anything but a positive light” and that the show “meant the world” to Doherty, who said that “the narrative that I quit was assigned to me by other people.”

“We love the fans, we love the show. We’re super respectful. So none of this is to try to tear any of that down,” Doherty said. “And as I said before, there’s no hate left behind. We’ve all moved on, and we definitely wish everyone, you know, peace, love and healing and all of that.

“I know I have much bigger things in my life to worry and concentrate on. However, you can’t. One can’t keep telling the same story over and over and over again when it’s not the truth,” she said.

In 2017, Milano blamed some of the tension on their youth and told E!’s “Daily Pop” that she “could take responsibility for a lot of our tension that we had.” And, in 2021, the “Who’s the Boss?” star said she regrets how she treated Doherty and lives with that “guilt.”

“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,” she told Entertainment Tonight.

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