During the month of November we are going to learn about a few of my favorite crime dramas. As the saying goes, “Ladies first,” so we are beginning with Cagney & Lacey starring Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly.
The show debuted in March 1982 and continued to May of 1988. We solve cases with a pair of detectives that seem very different from each other. Christine Cagney (Gless) is a career woman all the way while Mary Beth Lacey (Daly) is also busy raising her family. Cagney’s mother had been a well-to-do professional career woman. She was involved with Charles Cagney, a police officer; the two separated soon after the birth of Chris and her brother Brian. She swung back and forth between the upper-class world and the blue-collar world her father traveled in. She was also an admitted alcoholic and was only committed to her job. Lacey was louder and more talkative and quick to express her opinions. She was a mother first–living in a solidly middle-class world. The duo works in the 14th precinct in Manhattan. Unlike other crime dramas of the past, these two partners were not best friends. They did, however, totally depend on each other and trusted and respected each other. They would die for each other, if necessary, but they never had a close relationship or hung out together after work.
In the pilot movie, Loretta Swit from M*A*S*H was cast as Cagney; when the show was a go, she could not get out of her M*A*S*H contract, so the role was given to Meg Foster, but when it came back the next season, Gless took over and stayed for the rest of the run of the series. According to CBS, Foster was seen as too aggressive.
Filling out the primary cast was their supervisor, Lt. Bert Samuels (Al Waxman), fellow detectives Marus Petrie (Carl Lumbly) and Victor Isbecki (Martin Koye), and veteran detective Paul La Guardia (Sidney Clute). John Karlen played Lacey’s husband Harvey and her two sons were Harvey Jr. (Tony La Torre) and Michael (Troy Slaten). Cagney was involved with Sgt Dory McKenna (Barry Primus) who struggled with drug addiction and, later, a local attorney, David Keeler (Stephen Macht).
The show was actually canceled after six episodes in 1982. Executive producer Barney Rosenzweig was on a mission to reverse the decision. (Fun fact, Rosenzweig was married to the co-creator of the show, Barbara Corday, at the time, but later married Sharon Gless.) After casting Gless, the network relented. Ratings the next year weren’t that great either. CBS again canceled the show. Fans staged a letter-writing campaign to protest; Daly won the Emmy that year, so the network once again brought the show back. However, by the time they reached that decision, the sets had been destroyed and the stars let out of the contracts. Critics had always loved the show and during the six seasons it was on, either Gless or Daly won the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama every year. (It actually earned 36 nominations total with 14 wins overall including Best Drama in 1985 and 1986.) Season three found the show in the top ten.
Airing Monday nights, it held its own against Monday Night Football. However, midway through season seven, it was moved to Tuesdays up against thirtysomething. By spring, Cagney and Lacey had slipped to 53rd place and the network canceled it for the third time.
The theme song for the first season was “Ain’t That the Way” by Michael Stull and sung by Marie Cain. Season two brought about a new beginning using an instrumental theme composed by Bill Conti.
Although the series was over, the duo of Cagney and Lacey continued to attract viewers. They appeared in four made-for-television movies: The Return in 1994, Together Again in 1995, The View Through the Glass Ceiling in 1995, and True Convictions in 1996.
No big surprise for those of you who regularly read my blog–a reboot was put together in January of 2018 featuring Sarah Drew and Michelle Hurd as Cagney and Lacey. In an echo from the past, the pilot was rejected by CBS.
Cagney and Lacey was an influential show. It was more than a show about two women leads though. It was brilliantly written and tackled tough issues: breast cancer, alcoholism, trying to balance the life of a mother with a career. The characters were two of the most interesting characters on television. They redefined what women could be; they acted and appeared like real women in their thirties. They were not Charlie’s Angels.
Cagney and Lacey were not close friends but Gless and Daly surely are. In an interview with Sarah Crompton in December of 2011, she described them as “sassy and attractive, they sit alongside each other, cracking jokes, finishing each other’s sentences.”
I love that we all can search for our dreams on television. Sharon Gless shared that “All my life, I sat in front of the little TV that we had and I watched the Oscars every year. My little heart would get so excited and where I lived in Hancock Park you could see the lights in the sky from the Hollywood Theater. Now I’ve made my career in television . . . this year I got into the Motion Picture Academy.” I love to picture another little girl sitting in her living room, watching Cagney and Lacey and dreaming about becoming a police officer.