L.A. Times Article, by Howard Rosenberg, 6/23/82
'CAGNEY & (UH) LACEY': A QUESTION OF A PINK SLIP
Why can't a women be more like a man?
-Prof. Henry Higgins
in "My Fair Lady"
What is feminine? What is masculine? What is
These are fundamental questions raised by the
fuss over the off-again, on-again CBS series "Cagney and
The weekly adventures of two female police detectives
in New York got a six-week trial last spring followed by an
11-th hour reprieve from cancellation when
CBS ordered 13 more episodes for fall, contingent upon
the producers dropping Meg Foster as Chris Cagney,
the single half of the detective team.
They did, replacing her with Sharon Gless,
while retaining Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth
Lacey, who goes home to her unemployed husband
and kids every night after a hard day at the precinct.
Next came a TV Guide article quoting an
unidentified CBS official saying the show would be
softer next season because Cagney and Lacey were
"too harshly women's lib" and "seemed more intent on
fighting the system than doing police work. We perceived
them as dykes," said the unnamed CBS official.
The same article quoted "Cagney & Lacey"
producer Richard Rosenbloom as agreeing the women
sometimes "seemed to be more man than the men" in
"Two guys, Starsky and Hutch or Redford and
Newman, aren't considered fags or homos," he continued.
"They are pals, buddies. It's strange, but if it is two
women, people say, 'What's going on?' I think that's unfair
and unfortunate and had nothing to do with the show,
but it seems that some of CBS research picked this up."
I called Rosenbloom's office to verify the TV Guide
quotes, leaving a message when a secretary said he was on
the phone. A few minutes later, I got a call from Tom Brocato,
Rosenbloom's publicist (in this industry, everyone has a publicist,
even the publicists).
"Dick is the expert on that," Brocato said when told
what I wanted to know, "He'll get back to you within an hour
or two." To my knowledge, he never got back to me at all.
Meanwhile, Harvey Shephard, vice president,
programs, CBS entertainment (sic), said on the phone that the
anonymous quote in TV Guide about "dykes" was "offensive,
unwarranted and incorrect."
He said CBS research simply showed viewers
thought that the old Cagney and Lacey "weren't vulnerable
enough." He said the acting styles of Foster and Daly were
too similar and that CBS wanted to "make the Cagney character
more of a contrast, more of a socio-economical, an
attitudinal change, more of an uptown lady, as opposed to
Tyne (Lacey), whose husband is an unemployed construction
That's called conflict, the staple of networkology.
How could Rosenbloom have gotten the impression
that CBS research reflected a perception of Cagney and Lacey
as possibly gay? "There was only one set of research and
people misinterpret things," said Shephard.
What did CBS research indicate?
"There's a certain amount of resistance to women
being in male-oriented jobs," said CBS research chief Arnold
Becker.* "I think it's fair to say, in light of what has
happened to ERA, that most people favor equal pay for
equal work, but not women as truck drivers or ditch diggers
or that sort of male work."
And the old Cagney and Lacey?
"Inordinately abrasive, loud and lacking in warmth,"
replied Becker, quoting the network research he said was
drawn from a sample of 160 persons. "They should be given
a measure of traditional feminine appeal, especially Chris
"Even in the first show, when they dressed like
hookers," said Becker, now giving his own opinion, "they
may have looked like real hookers, but they weren't
sexy looking. They were sort of like burlesque."
Becker said the allusion to homosexuality in
TV Guide was "quite unfair. I think they (those tested)
thought of Cagney and Lacey as masculine, not that they
CBS concluded from the research, said Becker,
that the new Cagney and Lacey should "combine competency
with an element of sensuality," possibly on the order of
the Angie Dickinson character in the "Police Woman" fantasy.
Becker said there was nothing in the research about viewers
mixing up the two characters or seeing them as one.
"We can get general attitudes," he said, "but we
can't tell if (the reactions) are because of the actors or be-
cause of the way it's directed. We never suggest cast changes."
Are the old Cagney and Lacey too strident? Even too
masculine? For the definitive answer I contacted Detective Helen
Kidder and Detective Peggy York of the Los Angeles Police Dept.,
who spent 1 1/2 years as partners in the homicide division.
"I watched the show once and I was so turned off," said
Kidder. "They looked rough and tough, and they weren't terribly
feminine, just in the way they dressed and acted. They were so,
you know, New York."
"It was two women trying to do exactly what men do,"
said York, who has watched 1 1/2 episodes.
"The only thing we've got Cagney and Lacey to compare
with is ourselves," said Kidder, who complained about the TV
characters' crummy wardrobes. "Peggy and I wear good suits,
nylons and pretty shoes, silk blouses, the hair, everything. Not
that that keeps you from being a dyke."
The last stage of my investigation took me to the TV
set, where I watched Monday night (sic) episode of the old
"Cagney and Lacey" to see if much had changed from earlier
episodes I watched.
It was still essentially a traditional cops-and-robbers
show (except for a little more emphasis on character development)
with female characters substituted for men.
In the opening credits, Cagney and Lacey seem to be
sprinting somewhere, and when they get there, they draw their
guns (maybe Sharon Gless will draw a hatpin).
I also found rather typical Latino/gang/violence stereo-
types and the traditional episode-ending chase sequence that
lifts from writers the burden of having to produce dialogue.
Although Cagney is the character to be softened, Lacey
seemed to be far (sic) the toughest of the two, principally because
Daly is such an intense, tightly wound actress.
She also was the most "New York," saying, "Oh, yeah?"
twice to Cagney's once. Lacey also refers to her husband, Harvey
Many of the symbols were conflicting, however.
Cagney frequently spoke admiringly of men, which was
good, but wore slacks more than Lacey did, which was suspicious.
Yet, Cagney had pink bed sheets and longer and curlier hair than
Lacey. It was also encouraging to discover that Chris was short
for Christine, not Christopher.
In Lacey's favor, there was a scene in which she sank
amorously into bed with Harvey and another in which she cooked
breakfast for the family. Good signs. Yet she also dangled a
cigarette from her mouth like Bogie.
Cagney always drove, and Lacey didn't, which could mean
something. But Lacey talked without moving her mouth.
Lacey convinced me, however, when she took off her skirt
in one sequence, she was wearing a slip, not boxer shorts.
Even TV on occasion gets dragged, kicking and screaming,
into the 20th Century, so it's inevitable that one day we'll see a
series with openly gay cop characters, just as this year's theatrical
movie, "Partners," tried to get laughs from a gay/straight pair of
Meanwhile, we have the new "Cagney & Lacey" to look
forward to, more vulnerable, but probably no more authentic.
Detectives Kidder and York, who both have been technical advisors
for TV series, aren't optimistic.
"They never care if police shows are accurate," said
Kidder. "They never listen to us." For the record, Kidder and
York think "Police Woman" was the pits.
*Terry Louise Fisher became a "Cagney & Lacey" writer
and producer after this article was written. She left the
series to co-create "L.A. Law" with Steven Bochco. The name
of the skirt chasing, insensitive, divorce lawyer played well
by Corbin Bernsen was Arnold Becker! Coincidence? -S.W.
***This article was sent to me by Scott. Thanks, Scott!
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