6 Lost Episodes of Cagney and Lacey
It’s reassuring to know that so MANY followers of Advanced TV Herstory know and like their Cagney & Lacey. The podcast posted six weeks ago, entitled Concept to Pilot: Cagney & Lacey traced the show’s origins.
This installment takes us from where we left off. The pilot. What follows is a drama in its own right and it’s all essential knowledge for listeners who track women in TV. Here’s why – this interim period which creator Barney Rosenzweig labeled “the 6 lost episodes” when he included them in the fancy boxed DVD set of the series – serves as the stage where the show was tested, fine-tuned, nearly lost and in the end, re-positioned for success.
Cagney & Lacey was no normal show. Originally conceived, in the 70s, Cagney and Lacey’s first objective was as a “buddy movie” – a story that finally put two women in the main buddy roles like Robert Redford and Paul Newman were in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.
As told in the previous podcast, the concept was shopped to studios and investors. It was presented in all sorts of formats – from silver screen movie to movie of the week, a TV series. Crickets. For all sorts of reasons, there was little enthusiasm for – as the concept emerged – women cops who were cops first, then women.
But eventually, tenacity of the core team of creators – Barney Rosenzweig, Barbara Corday and Barbara Avedon paid off. The script that they had honed over the years was finally given the green light as a Movie of the Week. It starred Tyne Daly and Loretta Swit. Actually, Loretta Swit was the more known commodity to TV viewers. She was still under contract for her role as Margaret Houlihan in MASH, but was cast as Christine Cagney for the Movie of the Week, which was also being talked up within the industry as a pilot for a potential series.
Those who produced, directed and promoted the pilot knew that it was almost impossible for Swit to continue in the role as Chris Cagney. That would just have to be a bridge they crossed when the time came.
This podcast episode explores what happened next, the time leading up to the 6 shows and after them, when it looked for sure that the series was cancelled.
We’ll look at the changes that were made during those shows that further developed what would become the Cagney and Lacey standard.
Then we’ll explore how and why ratings put the show on death watch and why its time slot mattered so much.
Finally, with the entire project in limbo, we’ll hear from Creator Barney Rosenzweig how it was resuscitated and what significant action was necessary to bring it back to life
The entire saga of the making of Cagney & Lacey is told by Barney Rosenzweig in his audio book contained in the deluxe DVD series boxed set, entitled An Inside Hollywood Story Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde. Rosenzweig recounts the vote of confidence that was given to him and his team following the pilot that foremost required him to assemble a cast and crew that could produce 6 hour-long episodes in fairly short order – for spring and early summer viewing.
He had to find writers to begin work as soon as possible on scripts. While the entire concept had been written with a lot of detail by Barbara Corday and Barbara Avedon, the pair was not in a position to carry on in those roles. Corday had gone on to a vice president’s position at ABC. Avedon had attempted to take on the role as main writer but caved under the pressure of the tight timelines coming as the same time as a family medical emergency.
The movie had been shot on location in Toronto, with footage from New York to set the stage. With six episodes to create on a limited budget, Rosenzweig needed to create a number of sets, fast. His location person eventually found an empty warehouse in a gritty part of early 80s LA. It was large enough and inexpensive enough to fill all their set needs and just happened to be located on Lacy Street.
Casting also represented a carryover, in terms of budget, chemistry and availability.
The character of MaryBeth’s husband Harvey would be played by John Karlen, replacing the actor who struggled with the role in the movie. Martin Kove was hired to be Detective Isbecki. No casting changes were needed for Detectives Petrie and LaGuardia or Lieutenant Samuels.
Tyne Daly’s contract remained in place and the search was on for the next Christine Cagney. Swit was simply not available.
Cagney & Lacey was Daly’s big break into TV, following a successful stage career. The six lost episodes hold all sorts of gems for a fan. We’ll get to the hiring of Meg Foster to fill the Cagney role in a minute. First, it’s important to distinguish the skills and confidence that Daly brought to the role.
She changed the format of her acting from a stage to a sound stage, and assumed, during the lost episodes, the role of senior lead actress. She rose to the occasion, carrying the heavier load with this extraordinary performance.
To set this scene from the third episode, Christine and Mary Beth are undercover. Chris is working in a diner and Mary Beth as a Hispanic garment worker. Illegal alien women who are known to have worked in this factory are now targets for murder. Here’s Mary Beth fine-tuning her Spanish, then agitating the other workers in order to become the next target for murder.
In that scene, Daly shows off her Broadway chops. She’s confident, she projects her voice and the 50 extras in that scene must have thought she was going to break out in song. Daly’s role in bringing a quality and professional feel to the acting is important down the road, as the ratings drop and network executives decide that the only way the show will see the Fall Line Up is if the role of Christine Cagney is re-cast one – more – time.
In the early 1980s, the search for a major actress to play a true lead role in a TV series was unusual. The parts hardly existed. Movie stars rarely crossed over to TV. And while long before the pilot had been cast, Barbara Corday had proclaimed Sharon Gless to be the one true Cagney, Gless hadn’t been available for the pilot and now, was tied up in a show called Housecalls filling in as the lead female role that Lynn Redgrave had just left. Rosenzweig recounts just how slim the pickings were.
Meg Foster’s body of work in both movies and TV had been consistent for a decade leading up to her reads with Tyne Daly. Rosenzweig received Daly’s favorable impressions of their chemistry and felt that Foster delivered the physical qualities of the Christine Cagney character that had been in the works all these years.
But the network wanted Rosenzweig and Daly to do one last look over, this time with the seasoned actress Susan Clark. I know, you’re squinting and saying, “who?” Clark had appeared in movies and TV, but for this role, was not willing to do a reading with Daly. With the clock ticking and this final casting decision the last piece of the puzzle, Rosenzweig brought Daly and Clark together for a social visit. The hour-long visit filled his ammunition to take back to the network that while Clark was a more recognized actress than Foster, she didn’t have the energy, presence or physical stature to be Chris Cagney. She was too… suburban. Clark would emerge a year later as the mom in Webster co-starring with her real-life husband Alex Karras and child actor Emmanuel Lewis.
With Meg Foster in the role, production moved along nicely. Due to the nature of the show – two women in a male-dominated workplace – and storytelling from a woman’s point of view – there were numerous run-ins with the standards office. Rosenzweig learned to pick his battles. These two main characters, however, were unlike any other two on TV.
Rosenzweig’s continuity through the entire process gives him a sense of ownership and pride that is truly admirable. And his memory of how the vision for the show came about and how they crafted 43 minutes of plot for each episode, is astounding. Did male shows like Starsky and Hutch have this kind of methodical approach?
For a glimpse into how the two women were developing, as characters, I’ve found two short scenes. We know from the pilot that Cagney, as a woman in her mid-30s had men friends and was sexually active – heck, the first we see of Loretta Swit as Chris Cagney is her bare back, in bed with a guy she picked up. Foster doesn’t seem comfortable with this dialogue. There’s not a lot of range of emotion. Is she angry, disappointed, confused, insulted?
Minutes later in the show we learn this guy’s married – which is a line Christine Cagney consistently will not cross throughout the show’s run.
MaryBeth Lacey, we learn in the sixth episode, has been married to Harvey for 12 years. In fact, the Lacey storyline is what she will get Harvey for their anniversary. Does Daly just know how to serve it up (this time wearing Harv’s anniversary present to her, a black negligee) – or what? And, what you should know is that she’s in their bedroom with a lit cigarette. Bette Davis would have been proud of how Daly used cigarettes as props through the six episodes, but in this case, Harvey calls in her anniversary present to him.
This is the last scene of the last episode. It gives the viewer the sense of hope that we’re going to be a part of their marriage for years to come.
So we see now how the writers are evolving the personal lives of our heroines. How do they, as a team, fare through these episodes? Remember there's a conflict that's familiar to all Cagney & Lacey fans. It’s in the pilot and occurs every once in a while throughout the series. It involves Christine’s ambition, contrasted with MaryBeth’s work/life balance.
This conflict that made the show real, striking a chord with women viewers who wrestled with their own ambition and finding fulfillment with work versus the obligations they may have at home.
Here’s the scene. Pieces of solving the murders are coming together, only following a number of days in plain clothes detail by the entire squad of detectives. Cagney & Lacey, as had been the pattern in these early episodes, were again assigned roles as prostitutes. After a long day and having just busted a john who it turns out works in the mayor’s office, Mary Beth heads home thinking that Chris and Detectives Petrie and Isbecki would do so as well. Instead, they head out for one last stake out, which results in the collar, but not before Chris nearly has her throat slit. MaryBeth gets a call, jumps out of bed and marches into the precinct.
Ep1 Teamwork 1
Themes of risk-taking, reliability, trust, integrity – they are at the heart of the professional and personal mountains these two climb together - as women, as partners and as police detectives. The ebb and flow of their relationship, over the show’s many seasons, made it believable and distinguished it from traditional male-lead cop shows.
Ep1 Teamwork 2
In the six lost episodes, we saw Meg Foster’s Cagney rattle her saber in otherwise intimidating situations. She scratched the surface of the Chris’ relationship with her retired cop father. Foster stared down Al Waxman, in his role as Lt. Samuels in such a way that his character’s animosity eases up. He and all the men in the precinct appear more comfortable with women on the team by the sixth episode.
But while the six shows were good, they didn’t have the promotion or Ms. Magazine cover story momentum that the pilot did. Also, the network’s original time slot may have actually thrown water on what otherwise could have been a great introduction to a regular viewing audience. Did anyone actually think this was a good idea?
Thursdays at 9pm. – which meant it followed Magnum P.I.
And the network hollered when it drew a paltry share for the first episode. Magnum P.I. was at the top of the ratings. It was a beloved, familiar, colorful, eye-candy show with an eye-candy star, Tom Selleck. It was set in Hawaii.
So yeah, you’d get up for your 8:57 pm Thursday night brewski, sit back down and you’re on the mean streets of New York with two women who seem intent on proving themselves to all male Americans.
Cagney and Lacey lived and wilted in that slot for the first two episodes. Rosenzweig demanded that the network let the show be its own attraction, preferably one in a time slot that was stronger with their known demographic – working age women.
By the third and fourth episodes, aired not on Thursdays, there was no momentum to work with. Rosenzweig volleyed with the network with ideas to regain the public eye. He was convinced that the Thursday night poor showings didn’t reflect the true value of the show.
He offered up his stars to visit affiliates around the country on a promotional tour. Earned media, interviews with local morning talk shows, photo opps with lady cops, whatever it took. Initially the network said no. Then Rosenzweig said he himself would cover the costs. Daly and Foster agreed to be good sports, and with the fifth and sixth episodes not aired, like shoes waiting to drop, there was nothing more anyone could do.
Rosenzweig was sure the show was cancelled. He hadn’t received anything official, but his instincts were spot on as he assembled with other producers during the network fall line-ip meetings. Rosenzweig tells his hunch, based on his read that there was no big love for Cagney and Lacey and no real dislike for it either. It was more a case of ambivalence.
CBS execs ponder
Regardless of how the decision was made, it was conveyed to Rosenzweig by phone the following morning, along with the condition that the role of Cagney be re-cast. Once Rosenzweig knew they were in, he also had to find out about Housecalls, the show that had prevented Sharon Gless from realizing her one true role as Christine Cagney.
Meg is out
It was a tough break for Foster, but a lifesaver for the show. Network executives met with Rosenzweig to determine whether this was going to turn into another search for Scarlett O’Hara.
Gless didn’t sign on readily and Daly was prickly for some time about the Foster departure. As Gless’ team negotiated her contract, she would make the higher scale she’d been making in her 15 episodes of Housecalls. Her earlier TV work had included 7 episodes in a one season show called Turnabout, 5 episodes of the mini-series Centennial, and in 71 episodes of the show Switch which aired from 1975 to 1978. Gless was a bigger name in TV than newcomer Daly.
However, Daly had done everything Rosenzweig had asked of her, so Rosenzweig increased her salary to match Gless’.
Rosenzweig delivered the 13 episodes to kick off the 1982 season and never looked back.
So the total show’s run was 126 episodes in all, if you include the pilot and the six lost episodes. Gless and Daly would go on to take the Emmy for Leading Actress in a Drama Series in each year of their pairing. John Karlen won the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1986. Behind the scenes, Rosenzweig and Steve Brown won Emmys for production.
As it launched into its first legitimate season, Cagney & Lacey became home to a number of women behind the scenes who would achieve acclaim.
Patricia Green earned Emmys in 1985 and 1986 for Outstanding Writer in a Drama Series.
Georgia Jeffries was nominated for writing Emmys in 1987 – one for the show overall and one for a specific episode.
Supervising producer Liz Coe earned an Emmy in 1986.
Director Sharron Miller earned an Emmy nomination in 1987 for a single episode, and won 2 Lillian Gish Awards for Directing at the Los Angeles Women in Film Festival in 1988.
Writer Shelley List earned an Emmy nomination in 1987, won the Best Writing in a Quality Drama Series at the Viewers for Quality Television Awards in 1987 and was nominated for the Humanitas Prize in 1987 – these were largely due to an episode that itself earned the show and other crew members recognition, entitled Turn, Turn, Turn.
Cagney & Lacey fills a lengthy chapter in TV Herstory’s textbook. Rosenzweig tells of how his own experience on Charlie’s Angels prepared him to lead a respectable show that featured women leads. Passages can be found in Advanced TV Herstory’s earlier podcast “Concept to Pilot.”
What shows from the 90s, 2000s or today can claim lineage to Rosenzweig’s formula, or the high quality writing and acting that features a strong woman or women? Law & Order SVU for sure. The Closer.
A pair of women? Are there more? What am I missing? I welcome your feedback on this because we all know that there have been really great shows featuring women – well written, brilliantly acted – that were given the crappy time slot and didn’t have a Barney Rosenzweig storming into an office to demand a better one.
Which only underscores the frustration we need to accept and overcome – that those who control the schedule wield great power. Are the posts held by men or women?
There are 119 episodes that feature Gless and Daly. In future podcasts, we’ll explore story arcs and groundbreaking social issues brilliantly written according to Rosenzweig’s formula.
If your cable package includes the channel Heroes & Icons – we have a chance to bring Cagney & Lacey to a whole new generation of viewers. It’s a channel dedicated to heroes AND icons.
There is no primary website for the station, just cable systems incorporating its schedule into their channel line up. Heroes and Icons is a division of Weigel Broadcasting, which according to its Wikipedia page has a direct relationship with CBS and its archives.
While we all like Hulu, I’ll be the first to say that one of the most important, well-crafted series in TV Herstory belongs on TV, not to be watched on my phone while I’m waiting to catch a plane.
Let’s do this together. 312-705-2600 is the number that gets you to Weigel Broadcasting’s switchboard, right there in downtown Chicago. You could also go old school and send a postcard to 26 North Halsted Street - Chicago, IL 60661. Or start something on Twitter.
Thanks for listening to this installment of Advanced TV Herstory. Audio clips came from the six lost episodes that are found in the deluxed DVD series boxed set. That set also contains the audio book written and narrated by Cagney & Lacey creator and producer Barney Rosenzwieg.
Find scripts of this and past podcasts at cynthiabemisabrams.com. As of today, you’ll also be able to download future podcasts there as well. Background music by Daizie Mae, found at Free Music Archive. Org.
There are all sorts of great topics in the works so please, send me your ideas for shows or performers or characters who mean a lot to you or have helped you sort through leadership issues. Email me at email@example.com or leave a comment at the downloads page at iTunes, hosting site Libsyn or my website.
This is our herstory to claim, write, research and celebrate. Join me. I’m your host, Cynthia Bemis Abrams