Cagney and Lacy: Creating New Dreams

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.

Photo: datebook-sfchronicle.com

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.

Photo: imdb.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com Cast of Cagney and Lacey

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.

Photo: vocalmedia.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

This Doctor Made House Calls Every Monday Night

As we wind up our blog series, “The Movie Came First,” we finish with a show from the late seventies, House Calls. The original movie hit the big screen in 1978. The description of the movie is that Charley is a surgeon who’s recently lost his wife. He embarks on a tragicomic romantic quest with one woman after another until he meets up with Ann, a single woman, closer to his own age, who immediately and unexpectedly captures his heart.

House Calls (1978) movie posters
Photo: cinematerial.com

Walter Matthau played Charley and Glenda Jackson was Ann. Art Carney and Richard Benjamin were cast as friends and doctors who work with Walter. Max Shulman and Julius Epstein wrote the screenplay.

Jump ahead to 1979 and we find House Calls on the television schedule. The writers/creators are still Julius Epstein and Max Shulman. The same four top characters are featured but I thought it was interesting that only three of them got new names. Instead of Charley Nichols, we now have Wayne Rogers as Charley Michaels, Lynn Redgrave took on the role of Ann Anderson in place of Ann Atkinson. Charley’s coworkers are Amos Weatherby played by David Wayne where the original character was Amos Willoughby but Benjamin’s Norman Solomon role is now Normon Solomon, just one vowel change played by Ray Butenika. If there is a meaning behind the names, I never learned about it. Charley and Normon are the Hawkeye and Trapper of the hospital community and Willoughby is the senior doctor who tries to reign them in and doesn’t fire them only because they’re such good doctors.

In this version of the story, Charley and Ann are dating. He’s a surgeon at a San Francisco hospital and she is the new administrative assistant. He doesn’t like to conform to rules, while she insists on it, so while they are dating in their personal life, they often butt heads in the work life.

Photo: wikipedia.com

Redgrave and Rogers had a great chemistry and apparently the relationship of the three doctors provided a lot of funny situations. Providing additional humor were practical head nurse Bradley played by Aneta Corsaut, an older but enthusiastic candy striper Mrs. Phipps played by Deedy Peters, and everyone’s favorite character to hate, Conrad Peckler (Mark Taylor), the executive who was trying to bring order to the hospital.

Fans and critics liked the show; Redgrave was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, but lost the Emmy to Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons in 1981.

1980 TV Guide Ad Mash "Christmas" EPS House Calls "Christmas" EPS CBS TV |  Tv guide, 1980s tv shows, Holiday movie

CBS scheduled the show for Monday nights after MASH, Rogers’ previous show. Its competition was Monday Night Football/Baseball on ABC and The Monday Night Movie on NBC. The show stayed on Monday nights for its final two years up against Flamingo Road on ABC and depending on the time of year, Monday Night Football or Dynasty on NBC. The first season it was in the top 20; the second year, it jumped to the top ten and the third season it was in the top 30.

During season three, Lynn Redgrave left the show. There is some confusion as to why she left. Universal Television claimed there was a dispute about her salary; Redgrave insisted it was because the studio would not allow her to breastfeed her baby between takes.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Her leave was explained on the show by Charley reading a letter out loud to the staff that she had gone back to England to marry her former husband. After more than two years of the relationship developing between Ann and Charley, I’m guessing that the audience didn’t buy the abrupt ending of their romance. Sharon Gless was brought in as Jane Jeffries who develops a similar relationship with Charley. I’m also assuming that fans weren’t thrilled to think Charley would jump right into a new relationship with Ann’s replacement and the chemistry just wasn’t the same. The network cancelled the show after season three even though it was still in the top 25.

1982 Press Photo-Sharon Gless-House Calls - Sitcoms Online Photo Galleries
Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In an interview on “Pop Goes the Culture,” Rogers discussed the show. He said that he loved his time on House Calls. He related that the pilot had been filmed with another actor and for whatever reason, they needed to replace him and called Rogers to see if he was willing to take over the role.

He said he truly enjoyed working with Redgrave and she was very gifted. He wasn’t sure how much of her firing had to do with the baby demands and how much was subterfuge for more money, but she was managed by her husband at the time and the entire situation backfired. Rogers especially loved her use of language, and they would sometimes improvise tongue twisters into the script.

Photo: pinterest.com

He said like MASH, the show took a serious subject and turned it on its head. One of his favorite episodes had to do with medical marijuana. The older Willoughby was growing pot in the hospital for his patients’ use. He said it was a very funny episode. Rogers wrote two episodes and directed three of them. He talked about one of the shows he wrote, “Institutional Food” which he took a different take on hospital food which was always stereotyped as bad. In this situation, the hospital had a Mexican chef whom everyone liked. He didn’t have a green card and was getting ready to be deported, so the hospital staff was trying to come up with a solution. Finally, Charley decides to adopt this man as his son so he could continue to cook for them.

Rogers was very upset they took the show off the air. They were currently the eleventh most popular show when it was cancelled. He said he wrote a letter to the head of the network programming and to Bill Paley to protest. Paley invited him to lunch in his private quarters but refused to put the show back on the air.

I did find several episodes of the show on YouTube but did not see the DVDs available. I have to admit I saw this show infrequently and never saw the original movie, so I will add that to my list of things to watch in the future. This one sounded like a fun show, but I guess if I’m going to watch Wayne Rogers as a doctor, I’d rather continue watching reruns of MASH. It makes you wonder how long the show would have lasted if the network had not fired Redgrave.

Don’t Blink: Shows That Received Pink Slips by the Holidays

One thing I have learned doing blogs the past four years is how many shows don’t make it. Although every year has its share of flops, some years are just notorious for having weak programming. The late 1970s was a period of just truly awful shows. Bob Newhart who starred in The Bob Newhart Show decided to quit in 1978. When asked about ending the show, he said, “I could see what was coming in situation comedy, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. If we’d gone another year, they’d have had the guy and two girls living in the apartment above us, a Martian living on the same floor next door to three girl detectives. The floor below us would have been occupied by a fraternity and a sorority.” As bad as that sounds, the shows that the networks put on the air during this time were even worse. Let’s take a look at some of the programming that didn’t make it through a season in the late 1970s.

A Year at the Top

Photo: imdb.com
Note the young Paul Shaffer

Believe it or not, in 1976 Norman Lear teamed up with Don Kirshner of Rock Concert fame for a sitcom about the music business. This show was supposed to begin in January of that year but was delayed until summer with an entirely different cast. Two young pop stars Greg and Paul (Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer—yes the Paul Shaffer from David Letterman) move to LA for their big break. They meet a potential agent named Hanover (Gabriel Dell) who agrees to sign them if . . . and if you think the concept is weird so far, get this: Hanover is the devil’s son, and they need to sign over their souls to become famous. The pair never actually sign the contract. It might have taken a year to get on the air but it only lasted five weeks.

Quark

Photo: newyorktimes.com

This show’s concept was also a bit of a reach. It took place on Perma 1, a space station in 2222. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) had a mission to clean up all the trash in outer space. Quark took orders from a giant disembodied head called, what else, The Head, along with Perma 1’s architect Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis). If you think this sounds crazy, wait till you learn about Quark’s crew: a part fish/part fowl first officer, a humanoid vegetable named Ficus, clones Betty 1 and Betty 2, and Andy the Robot, a walking junk pile. I was surprised not that it was cancelled after two months, but that it lasted two months. I was also surprised to learn that Buck Henry was the creative force behind this series.

Sanford Arms

Photo: humormillmag.com

A year later in 1977 we have another interesting set-up. When Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, the two stars, the only stars, left the show Sanford and Son, Norman Lear was left with a show title only. Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) had been one of the cast members on Sanford and Son and suddenly she was at the hub of this new show. Phil Wheeler (Theodore Wilson) a widower with teenagers buys the house, the junkyard and Esther’s rooming house and tries to start a residential hotel. A month or so later, before he could even make his first payment, the show was done.

Another Day

Photo: wikipedia.com

David Groh (who had played Rhoda’s husband) is Don Gardner, a struggling businessman who can’t make ends meet. His wife Ginny (Joan Hackett) has to get a job, and they both had to deal with their introverted son Mark (Al Eisenmann) and their extroverted daughter Kelly (Lisa Lindgren), as well as Don’s mom Olive (Hope Summers who had played Clara on The Andy Griffith Show) who is critical of all of them. Don struggled through a few episodes and was finished.

Apple Pie

Photo: wikipedia.com

A lonely hairdresser played by Rue McClanahan named Ginger-Nell Hollyhock placed ads in the newspaper for a family. The family that she “found” included a daughter (Caitlin O’Heaney) who tap-danced, a son (Derrel Maury) who wanted to fly like a bird, an elderly grandfather (Jack Gilford), and con-artist Fast Eddie (Dabney Coleman). The show was set in Kansas City in 1933. It took place during the Depression and depression is what anyone watching felt, although the pain was fleeting. After one episode the network decided no one wanted this family.

Hanging In

This one was so bad they didn’t want any evidence so there are no photos.

Another flop came along with a star who had been another star’s spouse. Bill Macy who played Maude’s long-suffering husband starred in this show as Louis Harper, a former football hero who did not have the right credentials to be a university president. He has a desire to help the underprivileged, but the rest of the faculty is more concerned about raising money. Other cast members included high-pressure dean Maggie Gallager (Barbara Rhoades), PR man Sam Dickey (Dennis Burkley), and housekeeper Pinky Nolan (Nedra Volz). No finals for this series; it was cancelled after a few weeks.

Hizzoner

Photo: imdb.com

David Huddleston plays Mayor Cooper who runs a small Midwestern town. The cast included the mayor’s secretary Ginny (Diana Muldaur), the mayor’s daughter (Kathy Cronkite, yes Walter’s daughter) and several other quirky characters. While the mayor is quite conservative, his children are left-wing liberals. Apparently, the mayor broke out into song at least once an episode. I guess, he was singing the blues because the show was cancelled after 7 episodes.

In the Beginning

Photo: collectors.com

The year 1978 just keeps getting worse for television series. Father Daniel Cleary, played by McLean Stevenson, works in a community center in the heart of Baltimore. Sister Agnes (Priscilla Lopez) works with him. She loves her neighborhood; Father Cleary does not. She is fairly liberal and he is not. It ended almost before it began after seven episodes.

Miss Winslow & Son

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In this one, an unmarried woman (Darleen Carr) who is an art designer, decides rather than marry a man whom she doesn’t love, she will become a single mother after getting pregnant. Her next-door neighbor Mr. Neistadter (Roscoe Lee Browne) hates kids. Her wealthy and snobby parents are divided about her situation; her father (Elliot Reed) is much more sympathetic than her mother (Sarah Marshall). Before the baby had its first check-up, the show was off the air.

13 Queen’s Boulevard

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

This show was about “a hilarious group of tenants in a garden complex in Queens, New York.” In the first episode, one of the tenants, Felicia Winters (Eileen Brennan) decides to host a class reunion and invites her best friend and spouse, her ex-husband, the class “sexpot,” Fat Hughie, and the class photographer. I don’t know what could possibly go wrong; however, not much went right since it was gone within two months.

Turnabout

Photo: bionicdisco.com

I get Freaky Friday, but in this series the husband and wife switch places. A magic statue allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies.  Sam Alston (John Schuck) is a sportswriter and his wife Penny (Sharon Gless) is a cosmetics executive. The couple tries to live both their own life and their spouse’s life whenever they switch back and forth. They also must focus on keeping the switch a secret. We never know who is who, and all the audience knew is they didn’t like either one of them, and the show was cancelled after a few weeks.

Waverly Wonders

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

NBC decided Joe Namath would be a good person to build a sitcom around. However, he’s not a football player in this show; he’s a former pro basketball player, Joe Casey, who now teaches history at Waverly High in Wisconsin. Linda Harris (Gwynne Gilford) is the principal and Mr. Benton, who they call “Old Prune Face” (Ben Piazza) was the former coach. The only problem is Joe Casey is a bad history teacher and a bad coach. That apparently makes for a bad show because it was cancelled after three episodes aired, although nine were made.

Struck by Lightning

Photo: metershow.com

If you think the concept of some of these shows was weird, wait to you hear about this one. Frank (Jack Elam) is the caretaker of an old inn in Massachusetts. A science teacher, Ted Stein (Jeffrey Kramer) inherits the inn and decides to sell it. Then he realizes that Frank was really a 231-year-old Frankenstein monster. Ted just happens to be the great-great-grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. So, they decide to run the inn together. Rounding out the cast was Glenn (Bill Erwin) who had been living there forever, Nora (Millie Slavin) who managed the inn before Ted came, Noras son Brian (Jeff Cotler), and real estate agent Walt (Richard Stahl). Apparently, the only thing “great” about the show was Ted’s relationship to Frankenstein because the network canceled it after five episodes.

So, you might be wondering with all these awful shows, what made it on the air more than a couple of months during the late 1970s. In 1977 the only shows that made it to the next season were Three’s Company and Soap. In 1978 Mork and Mindy and Taxi were the “classics” followed by Diff’rent Strokes and WKRP in Cincinnati. Without Robin Williams, Mork and Mindy would probably have been another concept that would have lasted a couple of weeks. In 1979, out of 21 shows that debuted that fall, Facts of Life was the only one that returned for a second season. With the exception of Taxi and WKRP, I would not rate any of these shows true classics, although you could make a good case for Soap. Anyway, the bar was set pretty low for success during the late 1970s.

At least television viewers could go to the movies for a bit of entertainment.  This was the era of Animal House, Annie Hall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Grease, Kramer vs Kramer, Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and Smokey and the Bandit. Things stayed pretty glum on the small screen until 1982 when Cheers, Newhart, and Family Ties saved us.