Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Classic TV: Cagney & Lacey (1981)

TNT's Rizzoli & Isles wouldn't be around today if it weren't for Cagney & Lacey.

Charlie's Angels had faded out, but had proved that a crime drama could work, carried by multiple female leads. Cagney & Lacey began with a CBS TV-movie that aired in October 1981, with Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H) & Tyne Daly, daughter of James Daly (ex-Medical Center) in the title roles. The movie was a big enough hit that it was ordered to series the following spring, with Meg Foster replacing Swit. After the first six episode order was completed, CBS, citing low ratings, cancelled the show.

Executive producer Barney Rosenweig and a growing fan base had other ideas. It got out prior to the fall upfronts that the real reason CBS axed Cagney wasn't so much ratings, but rather the perception, caused by the "aggressiveness" of the titular detectives, of a lesbian subtext. Public pressure forced CBS executives to reverse the decision, and Cagney returned, with Sharon Gless (ex-Switch) becoming the 3rd actress to essay the role of Christine Cagney, the goal being to change the perception of Cagney, and make her more feminine in appearance. Once again, CBS cancelled the show, this time legitimately due to ratings, but fan pressure forced another reversal. This, you see, explains why even today, passionate fans will campaign via letters, social media, et al, to keep their favorite shows on the air. Gless' previous series, House Calls, where she took over for Lynn Redgrave as a female lead opposite Wayne Rogers, was axed instead of Cagney to allow Gless to move to Cagney.

The supporting cast was like a revolving door. Carl Lumbly, later better known for other character roles, such as in Alias and M.A.N.T.I.S., left around the 4th or 5th season. By season six, the series served as a comeback vehicle for Robert Hegyes (ex-Welcome Back, Kotter).

Cagney & Lacey was also the last series to come from Filmways, a once successful studio that actually had a poor track record with dramas, being more successful with sitcoms (i.e. Mr. Ed, Beverly Hillbillies, Addams Family). After the first season or two, the studio was absorbed by Orion Pictures, which has since in turn been bought out by MGM.

Following is a first season episode.



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