L.A. Times Article, by Howard Rosenberg, 6/23/82


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 CBS doing?

These are fundamental questions raised by the fuss over the off-again, on-again CBS series "Cagney and Lacey."

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 the series.

"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 worker."

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 (Cagney)."

"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 were lovers."

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 as "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 officers.

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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