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DVD Review: Cagney & Lacey 1

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In celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary, Cagney & Lacey 1 arrives on DVD presenting the second season, which ran 22 episodes from October 1982 to May 1983. The set is subtitled “The True Beginning” because this was when Sharon Gless and Tyne Daley started their partnership.

Writer-producers Barbara Corday and Barbara Avedon shopped the project around for years. CBS was finally interested as a vehicle for Loretta Swit, who was working on M*A*S*H, so they greenlit a TV-movie version in which she would play Christine Cagney. Corday’s husband, Barney Rozenzweig, was the executive producer and Tyne Daly starred as Mary Beth Lacey. The show did so well a series was ordered, but Swit couldn’t get out of M*A*S*H.

The producers wanted Sharon Gless, but she was under contract to Universal, so Meg Foster was cast as Cagney. The series got poor ratings and was canceled after its six-episode run in the spring of 1982. Negotiations took place to get the show back, but they had to lose Foster because she was considered masculine and aggressive, which really means people saw her character as a lesbian. Foster having played one in A Different Story probably contributed to this view. Gless became available and the rest is television history.

Quoting from Rozenzweig on the show’s website, “Cagney & Lacey was never a police drama; it was about two women who happened to be cops.” Cagney is a single career woman. Lacey is a wife and mother. They have an interesting dynamic as they struggle to make it in this male world as each take different paths. Cagney is usually willing to accept circumstances at work to get in good with the males. Lacey is her own woman and won’t compromise. For example, when a stripper performs at the police station, Cagney joined the fellows, but Lacey had no part in it because she found it degrading. Cagney pointed out that a year ago they wouldn’t even have been asked.

The show was canceled at the end of this season. Fans wrote in complaining and Rozenzweig told them rather than write the network, write letters to newspapers. Dorothy Swanson asked what she could do and started a letter-writing campaign. It was the first act of Viewers for Quality Television, a non-profit group that ran until 2000 with the mission of saving “critically acclaimed programs from cancellation despite their Nielsen program rating.” CBS couldn’t ignore the response, and asked for the show to come back, which it did in the spring of 1984 for a truncated seven-episode season. Before the hiatus, the 1982-83 season was awarded an Emmy to Daly for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and nominations to Gless in the same category to the series for Outstanding Drama.

Even though Cagney & Lacey contains its fair share of melodrama, it was well written and dealt believably for a network drama about issues such as drug use, homosexuality, date rape, and domestic violence. Women's issues are explored and not always through one point of view. There is a constant reminder of the male attitude towards women in the workplace, both subtle and overt. The series is entertaining and thought-provoking.

The DVD comes with a two-part featurette called “Breaking the Laws of TV” about the show. The cast, crew, and people like Gloria Steinem discussed the show’s history and its impact. “Pt. 2” focuses on the supporting cast, a talented group, although it is impossible for me not to see Martin Kove as that evil bastard John Kreese from The Karate Kid. I kept waiting for a bad guy to sweep his legs.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
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