Looking Rosie: The tug-of-war to get Sharon Gless back on TV

TV Guide, Dec. 8, 1990

Sharon Gless had to be wooed back to television. And just one man could sway her.

When Gless decided to end her self-imposed exile and return to series television in CBS's The Trials of Rosie O'Neill, Barney Rosenzweig was the only person she would work with. He had been her producer on Cagney and Lacey, the CBS series that, over six years, made Gless a star and won her two Emmys. "I think Barney is the finest producer for women in the business," declares Gless. "Bar none."

Her enthusiasm is understandable enough. Rosenzweig, besides being her boss, is also her mentor, her friend and (though she doesn't like to trumpet this) her lover. And he has gotten her a sweetheart deal.

Rosenzweig created Rosie O'Neill specifically for Gless and, with help from the network, he financed it. He also goes over every detail of the production-from choosing the crisp '40s-style clothes Rosie wears all the way down to making sure that the lighting flatters Gless.

Rosenzweig even appears in the show each week-or, rather, the back of his head does. He's Rosie's psychiatrist in the free-form opening segment during which the character pours out her troubles to an unseen shrink,

The loving care he's devoted to the series seems to be paying off. Rosie O'Neill is a respectable success on Monday nights, falling mid-range in the Nielsen rankings week after week.

Non-flashy, socially conscious and well-written, the show has also won plaudits from the critics who moan about TV going to the dogs and pandering to the kids. Rosie O'Neill is an adult series about a newly divorced public defender, starring a 47-year-old no-frills actress who takes her work very seriously-but takes herself much less so.

Indeed, Gless's earthy sense of humor made her a front-runner for various sitcom roles after Cagney & Lacey went off the air in 1987. "NBC offered me that nun, whatever that nun was." (The nun was Sister Kate, which ran on the network last year.) "And ABC offered me a script for a series based on (the movie) 'Shirley Valentine'," But that, she says, looked like a poor man's Roseanne. "When Barney and I finally agreed to do another series, I wanted to go back to the dramatic form."

But going back in any form, even with her beloved Barney, was something she didn't consider for a long time. "I didn't think I'd ever do a series again. After Cagney & Lacey, I said, "That's it. It's over."

She was spent and exhausted after playing policewoman Chris Cagney for so many years. She also had a drinking problem, which she eventually dealt with by entering a program at the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota in April 1988. ("This is a subject I'm not comfortable with discussing with the press," she says.)

While she was still working on Cagney & Lacey, Gless came to grips with another problem: finding something more meaningful in her life than her TV career.

She has never married, explaining "I never had the courage to. My parents are divorced (as are) both sets of grandparents. So I got the drift of how it might to in marriage." But without a husband and kdis, she had little else to fall back on but her work.

It was, she recalls, a pivotal moment for her when Rosenzweig advised her to get a life. "After the fifth year of Cagney & Lacey, there was a wrap party," says Gless. "When the party was over, I went into my trailer to get my things together. But I just sat there. The light was still on. I guess it was 2 in the morning and there's a kock on the door. And I say, "Come in," and it was Barney. He asked me what I was still doing there. And I started to cry."

Gless remembers vividly what Rosenzweig said to her next: Go home and discover. Sharon again, "And I just cried. It was true. Work had become my life...I didn't know how to do anything else but work."

When Cagney & Lacey went off the air a year later, Gless took a personal sabbatical. "I just put myself back together," she says.

However, her long vacation was rudely interrupted by a crazed women fan who invaded her house in California's San Fernando Valley last March. Gless was not present at the time. "There was an angel on my shoulder," she says. Police arrested the woman, who is now in prison.

While immersed in the new series, Gless has been concentrating on her relationship with Rosenzweig. Neither will say exactly when their friendship turned to love. (He is separated from his wife, Barbara Corday, a former CBS executive and co-creator of Cagney & Lacey.) Living-as well as working-with Rosenzweig, Gless has become much more involved in the process of making television.

"Now Sharon's privy to all the behind-the-scenes stuff," says Rosenzweig. "The fighting to get the material right, the wars with the network, the wars with financing. She'll hear me screaming in the middle of the night to someone. And it's another side of this whole thing."

He concedes that working together while living together is "very hard." And yet, devoted as they are to each other and the show, it's very hard to imaging the trials of Sharon and Barney. Whatever, the viewers' verdict on Rosie O'Neill, one gets the impression this couple's on-and off-screen partnership has only just begun.

I have a partial listing of the episodes at Rosie 2.

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