Turning the Beat Around CBS' cop drama Cagney & Lacey burst onto the crime scene 20 years ago.
In the early ’80s, it was an arresting development: female copswho showed neither gams nor gloss as they brought down perps inNew York City’s 14th precinct. When Cagney & Lacey debuted March25, 1982, viewers met ambitious single woman Chris Cagney (MegFoster) and her partner, married mom Mary Beth Lacey (TyneDaly). Directed by Daly’s husband, Georg Stanford Brown, thatfirst episode showed the unglamorous pair busting drug smugglersand a serial killer — and led to the transformation of a TV genre.
Cagney and Lacey first hit the beat in an October 1981 telepicstarring Daly and M*A*S*H’s Loretta Swit. Hatched as a feministbuddy film, C&L underlined the point with its original title:Newman & Redford. ”That concept flew in the face of every mythabout women in Hollywood,” recalls executive producer BarneyRosenzweig. ”At the time, it was groundbreaking.”
Perhaps that was why Cagney and Lacey faced danger off screen,too. Citing viewers’ discontent with the premiere (CBS feltaudiences couldn’t tell Foster and Daly apart), the networkpulled the plug after just two episodes and issued arecast-or-die ultimatum. Blond Sharon Gless replaced the brunetFoster in the fall of 1982. Then CBS, which reportedly complainedabout C&L’s wobbly ratings and ”harsh women’s lib” tone, canceledthe series in May 1983. That proved a Ms.take: A deluge ofimpassioned letters from fans (a campaign organized byRosenzweig) persuaded CBS to reinstate the show.
Firmly ensconced by 1984, Cagney & Lacey took cop shows into newterritory: inside the characters’ heads — and, for that matter,into the head. In the ladies’ room, their haven, the liberalLacey and the prickly Cagney aired their feelings as they dealtwith hot topics such as abortion, alcoholism, spousal abuse, andbreast cancer. The approach earned the show 14 Emmys during itssix-year run (including four for Daly and two for Gless). Itsrealistic depiction of women would echo in such top-notch policedramas as NYPD Blue and Law & Order.
The cast reunited for four C&L TV movies in the mid-’90s, whichRosenzweig jokingly calls ”Cagney & Lacey: The Menopause Years.”By then, the stars’ personal tribulations (Gless entered alcoholrehab in ’88; Daly’s 24-year marriage to Brown ended in ’90) hadstarted to give way to happy Hollywood endings. Daly won a 1990Tony for her turn as Rose in Gypsy and is now back on CBS asJudging Amy’s opinionated mom. Meanwhile, Gless (who marriedRosenzweig in 1991) also plays a strong mother, Debbie, onShowtime’s Queer as Folk. Some partners, it seems, never quitworking in tandem.