The WB, 9-10 p.m.
Debuts September 27
It's never a good idea to cross a witch. So, when sitting in Alyssa Milano's incense-scented trailer on the set of The WB's drama Charmed, one fears being turned into a newt for asking the obvious-but-delicate question, What the hell happened between you and Shannen Doherty? Thankfully, Milano, who plays free-spirited enchantress Phoebe Halliwell, puts on a gracious game face when asked about the much-discussed on-set friction with her ex-TV sis.
''I think it's hard when you put...[long pause]...two very different people together. I'm very laid-back and passive. I have my Buddha,'' Milano says, gesturing to a small shrine at the back of her trailer. ''I come in here and 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 and the audience,'' continues Milano, alluding to the former 90210 star's recent dismissal of Charmed as ''a show for 12-year-olds.'' (Doherty declined to comment for this story.) ''She sounds really angry. I just hope I didn't contribute to that anger.''
Shannen's not the only one who's miffed. ''It was done very poorly, in my opinion,'' says Holly Marie Combs (Piper) of the producers' postseason decision to allow Doherty to leave the coven. ''We should have had an opportunity to have her character, Prue, make a graceful exit and have our story writers properly plan for that.'' Instead, writers were compelled to turn last season's standard-issue cliff-hanger -- Prue and Piper get thrown through a wall by a cranky demon -- into a makeshift tragic send-off. ''Now,'' adds Combs, ''we're scrambling to explain why I live and she doesn't.''
We'll leave you in suspense on that one, but what we can tell you is that the Halliwell girls get the Power of Three up and running again with long-lost sister Paige (Jawbreaker's Rose McGowan), who gets mysteriously drawn to Prue's funeral in the two-hour season premiere. Indie-film maven McGowan, however, was spooked about jumping into the TV cauldron.
''I did a pro-and-con list, and the con list was all ego-related things like, 'Will people make fun of me for doing TV?' '' she recalls. ''The positives were, I've never had a steady job, and I really liked the show. When I first watched it, I thought it was going to be like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I thought there'd be talking cats. But I looked at my watch and 45 minutes later I was still watching.''
Exec producer Brad Kern predicts that despite the last-minute witch switch, Charmed fans will stay spellbound. ''The fun is watching the new sisters bond,'' he says. ''In one episode, they get shrunk to three inches tall. When you're hiding in a corner scared for your life, it's a bonding experience.'' Adds Combs: ''We're giving the audience a mourning period. Piper doesn't readily accept the new sister -- that's my responsibility, to play what the audience will feel.''
The stars, meanwhile, have adjusting of their own to do. While Milano thinks ''new blood is exciting,'' Combs confesses, ''For me, there was a definite sense of loss; I was very close with Shannen.... [Today] we're filming more grieving after the funeral. It was hard for me to sit in front of the casket. I was like, this is ridiculous! You are asking so much of my psyche right now!''