At first written off as a distaff version of the old Michael Landon series Highway to Heaven, the weekly, hour-long CBS drama series Touched By an Angel gradually superseded its "inspiration" in both popularity and longevity, ending its nine-season run as one of the most popular fantasy shows of all time. Irish actress Roma Downey starred as Monica, an apprentice angel who in the first episode was promoted to Heavenly caseworker. Monica was then dispatched to Earth, assigned to help people who had reached a crucial crossroads in their lives find Divine inspiration, and -- it was hoped -- make the right decisions for the future. To do this, Monica assumed a variety of mortal disguises, seldom revealing her true identity until the very end of the episode. It must be admitted that, dedicated and sincere though she was, Monica had a habit of letting her personal feelings and preconceived notions get in the way of her job performance. In order to keep our heroine "on task," her celestial supervisor Tess (Della Reese), a pragmatic, no-nonsense woman with the proverbial heart of gold, accompanied Monica on most of her assignments, sharing space in the vintage Cadillac in which the angels traveled around the country. In some instances, Monica and Tess arrived at the scene just before their latest client was about to pass over from this world to the next. On those occasions, the angels' good friend and confidant, kindly Angel of Death Andrew (John Dye) stepped in to complete the assignment. (During the series' first season, Andrew appeared only sporadically and never to Monica; his function was largely fulfilled by another Angel of Death named Adam, played by Charles Rocket).
Also, there were times that Tess herself was unable to fulfill her assignment due to personal problems, at which point Special Agent Angel Sam (Paul Winfield) took over. Except for a brief and uncomfortable period in which co-star Della Reese threatened to walk off the show over a salary dispute, the cast of Touched By an Angel remained fairly constant, with but two exceptions. During season four, the principal characters were assisted by a streetwise angel named Rafael, played by Alexis Cruz; and from the middle of season seven onward, Monica found herself in the position of mentor to nervous, well-meaning apprentice angel Gloria, played by Valerie Bertinelli. Mention should also be made of the itinerant Green family, who was introduced at the outset of season three as the angels' mortal assistants. These characters were promptly spun off into their own series, Promised Land. As originally conceived, Touched By an Angel was supposed to have chronicled Monica's activities with "Destiny Tots," youngsters who were destined to change the world for the better if only they could be straightened out spiritually before reaching adulthood. By expanding Monica's clientele to grownups, the series' producers avoided the trap of dealing with precocious child actors week after week -- and, in the process, greatly broadened the show's appeal. First telecast September 21, 1994, Touched By an Angel remained on CBS until April 27, 2003. In the final episode, Monica herself became a supervisor angel after performing a selfless act on behalf of a mysterious but very familiar-looking drifter. Since its cancellation, the series has been rebroadcast on the PAX network. ~ Rovi