TV Writer April Smith on Lou Grant, Cagney & Lacey and storytelling
Womanhood circa 1982. Characters created by women, words written by women and the performances worthy of Emmy after Emmy after Emmy…
Smith contributed mightily to the dramatic closure of the show’s fourth season. Mrs. Pynchon is shuttling to San Francisco negotiating the purchase of a magazine - to expand the Trib’s portfolio. From the very first scene, her behavior is off, she’s not her usual composed, graceful self. She’s later found unconscious and hospitalized with the full extent of her stroke explained to Charlie Hume, the managing editor. Nancy Marchand earned an Emmy for this performance and Smith was nominated for the Best Writing for a Single Episode Emmy.
Nominated for 99 awards over its five seasons, winner of 27 – here are the organizations that considered Lou Grant among the very best:
ACE Eddie Awards
Broadcasting Press Guild Awards
Directors Guild of America Awards
Primetime Emmy Awards
Creative Arts Emmy Awards
Golden Globe Awards
Golden Reel Awards
Writers Guild of America Awards
As of this recording, the first four seasons are available on DVD from our friends at Shout Factory, purchased as individual seasons. Most episodes can also be found on YouTube.
Smith’s impressive list of Made for TV Movies includes these titles, two of which were TV adaptations of her own novels, Good Morning, Killer and Montana Sky. Interrupt your current binge with any of these quality flicks -
2 episodes from 2006 TV Mini-Series Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
- Autopsy Room Four and Umney's Last Case
1999 Black and Blue
1998 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
1992 Taking Back My Life: The Nancy Ziegenmeyer Story
1985 Love Lives On
1984 Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter
1984 Best Kept Secrets
Creative control. April Smith is the epitome of the creative professional. Now I am not normally one to save the best for last. And after this great chat with April Smith, I was pleased that I had rooted out for you, loyal listeners, important backstory about some of our favorite shows – backstory you couldn’t find ANY WHERE ELSE.
And then I got to thinking about the ladies room in Cagney and Lacey. In the early episodes, the ones April wrote, a few short exchanges between the women took place in the back portion of a co-ed locker room. We were to believe it was previously all male but could be made to accommodate men and women by putting a blanket across a clothes line – sort of like Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night.
Anyway, so sometime after the third episode, the most famous, iconic ladies room in TV Herstory appeared in the script. And it became the place where…. Oh well, I’ll let April’s words do the explaining. I emailed her asking if she remembered how it came to be. Oh boy, did she remember!
The introduction of the ladies' room as a permanent set was my most enduring contribution to TV and film. I'm not kidding. One of the first things I did when I took over C&L was to have the crew construct a separate office for Lt. Samuels and a ladies room where our women could have private conversations. It occurred to me when I was working on Lou Grant as one of the only females in the office that there was no other place to escape to, have private talks -- or, to be honest, cry. If any TV show used that setting before on a regular basis, I'd be curious to know.
The locker room would have been the male experience. It's their traditional bastion, why would a male producer even think about it from female employees' POV? In Recreational Use it would have been logical for our ladies to allow themselves to be emotionally honest in that space.
Iconic. Simply iconic!
Writer, producer, novelist for more than 40 years and still developing projects. April Smith IS storytelling at its most intelligent. We wish her all the best as her latest book, Home Sweet Home comes out in paperback soon and on the other projects that reside on her white board.
Learn more about April Smith and her novels – her website is www.AprilSmith.net. She’s developed a robust community around her novels on Facebook – find it at April Smith Books, which is also her handle on Twitter. She makes it easy for us! AT AprilSmithbooks
Now I will profess to having watched with rapt attention nearly every episode of Lou Grant and Cagney and Lacey. I’ll stand by my memory and analysis any day of the week. But for this interview with April Smith, I give credit to Douglass K. Daniel’s book “Lou Grant: The making of TV’s Top Newspaper Drama” published in 1996.
Clips you heard came from the following episodes for which April Smith either wrote or produced – Lou Grant, Season 5, Episode 16 Obituary and Season 4 Episode 20, Stroke. From Cagney and Lacey, I grabbed audio from Season 2 Episode 3 Beauty Burglars and Season 2 Episode 10 Recreational Use.
Music used in our introduction is from Free Music Archive – found at freemusicarchive.org. It’s Jazzer’s Lift Me Higher. Audio wizardry by the talented David Brown. If you loved listening to this as much as I did making it, please jump right over to Libsyn or iTunes or Google Music and subscribe to Advanced TV Herstory. Why take a chance on missing all the great episodes we’ve got in the queue?
Feedback and comments are the rewards of every podcaster, so when this came over the transom, I was humbled
And of course your thoughts on Cagney & Lacey – do YOU know why Sharon Gless’ wardrobe leaned so heavily on bright yellows and reds? Even her landline push button telephone was yellow! Thoughts and theories welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to AT TVHerstory.
ALL of us learn from the women we see on TV. And more often than not, the best ones are brought to us by the women in the TV industry – writers, producers, directors…. We must learn from the past to support a stronger, smarter future & that’s why you’re listening to Advanced TV Herstory.
I’m your host, Cynthia Bemis Abrams.