Cagney & Lacey is an American police crime drama that was popular in the 1980s. It ran on CBS network for seven seasons from 1982 to 1988. The show is about two female detectives who work with the New York City police: Christine Cagney (played by Sharon Gless), a career-minded woman; and Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly), a working married mother. The story was set in a fictional version of Manhattan’s 14th Precinct. During that time, Cagney & Lacey was an unusual show, since it stars two female detectives as lead actresses. The show experienced ups and downs, but it became a hit and won many prestigious awards.
Here are some interesting facts about Cagney & Lacey you may not know about.
1. The show was conceptualized after an epiphany
On an evening of 1974, when executive producer Barney Rosenzweig was on a second date with young writer named Barbara Corday, he had an epiphany that led to the conception of the show. While the two were watching the Scent of a Woman, he was opened to the way Corday supported feminism. Corday was fully involved then with the feminist movement of the period, and when Rosenzweig laughed at the scene where older men objectify younger women, she seethed at that objectification. Through her, Rosenzweig was able to understand the feminist movement better. He was influenced all the more when Corday recommended Molly Haskell’s book, From Reverence to Rape. According to the book, there had never been a female buddy film, so Rosenzweig had an idea. He asked Corday and Barbara Avedon to write the script and passed it to filmmakers. When no studio wanted to make the film, he pitched the idea to all networks, but only CBS picked it up.
2. Three different actresses played Cagney
When the show was pitched, all movie studios rejected it as a film and all TV networks rejected it as a series version. But Rosenzweig tried selling it as a made-for-TV movie, and CBS saw this as a good chance to give M*A*S*H star Loretta Swit another TV film for the network. The TV movie version of Cagney & Lacey aired in October 1981, and starred Swit as Cagney and Tyne Daly as Lacey. Rosenzweig promoted the TV movie and it scaled the heights of the Nielsen chart with ease. CBS saw it as a profitable idea, and finally asked Rosenzweig to make a TV series version of the show. The network initially ordered 6 episodes.
However, Swit was still in a contract with M*A*S*H, which was then in the middle of its second-to-the-last season. Rosenzweig replaced her with a then-unknown actress named Meg Foster, but CBS did not agree to it. Still, Rosenzweig pushed through with the series with Foster playing the role of Cagney. CBS deemed foster to be too aggressive and most likely to be perceived as a lesbian by viewers, so she was eventually replaced by Sharon Gless when the show was relaunched.
3. Sharon Gless almost did not take the role of Cagney
The show, with Foster and Daly as leads, was cancelled due to low ratings and the jarringly tough nature of the female leads (more on that later). But because the cancellation was received with fan protests, Rosenzweig was determined to push through the series. He and Barbara Corday considered Sharon Gless to replace Meg Foster for the role of Christine Cagney. That time, Gless was actively taking over as female lead on another CBS show, House Calls, and she has just replaced Lynn Redgrave on the show. But rumors were rampant that House Calls was getting cancelled, so Rosenzweig had confidence with Gless replacing Foster. Gless met with the producers to consider the role as she liked the character of Cagney, but she had doubts after being casted in House Calls, as she said she “didn’t want to make a career of replacing actresses.” But eventually, House Calls really got axed, and Gless gave in to accept the role.
4. The show survived two cancellations
As mentioned earlier, in 1982, the series was receiving low ratings and it eventually got to the point where the show was cancelled. But because the fans protested and Rosenzweig was determined to continue the show, CBS relaunched the show with Sharon Gless replacing Meg Foster.
However, ratings were still low during the first year when the show was relaunched. It was cancelled again by CBS in May 1983. After almost a year of low ratings, an ever larger public outcry exploded in response to the series’ cancellation. Organized by Rosenzweig, the fans of the show staged a letter writing campaign to CBS. CBS switched its time slot for what could have been its final three months, and the ratings suddenly rose. This improvement in the Nielsens, the Emmy nomination in 1983, and the viewer protests convinced the network to bring back the show was the mid-season entry. That was when the show started to become popular.
5. The show received success at the awards
Even when the show started with low ratings, the talents of the main actresses were never neglected. Tyne Daly won the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series four times, starting in 1982, when the TV series was first launched. Sharon Gless won the same award twice. The show went on to earn 36 Emmy Award nominations and 14 wins throughout its run until 1988 (including the six awards for Daly and Gless). The show also won two consecutive Emmy Awards for Best Drama Series in 1985 to 1986.
6. Sidney Clute was credited for more episodes than he appeared in
Sidney Clute played the role of a veteran detective Paul LaGuardia. When he suddenly passed away in 1985 when they were still part way through the production of Cagney and Lacey, they wrote that his character moved to New Jersey with a female companion less than half his age. In his honor, the producers kept Clute’s name in the credits of every episode for the rest of the series. He appeared in the credits for more episodes than he appeared for the rest of the series.
7. One of the creators starred her mom as an extra
Barbara Corday, one of the show’s creators, made a way to make her mom appear on TV. She hired her to appear in the show several times as a bag lady.
8. There were inconsistencies about the leads’ badge numbers
If you’ve watched the credits of the show, you may have seen that their badge numbers are 730 and 763. But as the show went on, many episodes showed that Mary Beth’s badge number was 340 and Christine’s was 790.
9. Kathy Bates was an extra on the show
Before Kathy Bates became a big actress, she guest-starred in a role in a 1986 episode of Cagney and Lacey. She appeared as a domestic abuse victim that refuses to press charges against her husband. When he ends up dead, Bates became one of the possible suspects. She had little screen time, but you can see that she had the makings of a star.
10. The executive producer Rosenzweig married two people involved in the show
As mentioned earlier, Barney Rosenzweig was in a relationship with writer and eventually co-creator of the show. They got married when the show started, but eventually divorced in 1990. The next year, he went on to marry one of the stars of Cagney & Lacey, Sharon Gless.