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'Cagney & Lacey,' canceled again

The 1980s feminist cop show Cagney & Lacey probably set a record for number of times it was canceled Cagneyandlacey as a broadcast series. But now it's breaking new ground by being canceled as a DVD. MGM and the show's original producer, Barney Rosenzweig had planned to issue a 25th-anniversary CD, accompanied by a huge marketing campaign. It's been delayed by one corporate snafu after another. The newest, which has caused the cancellation of a planned Mother's Day rollout, has to do with the show's soundtrack -- apparently, during all this planning, nobody thought to secure the DVD rights to the music. You can read the whole hilarious (though he certainly doesn't see it that way) story on Rosenzweig's blog.

Rosenzweig doesn't go into much detail about the show's history, which is one of those wonderful TV shaggy dog stories. When he shopped the series as a feminist message show during the 1970s, all the networks turned him down. It eventually got to the airwaves as a CBS movie in 1981, with huge ratings. CBS brought it back as a series the next spring, with Meg Foster replacing Loretta Swit (who was unavailable) as Detective Chris Cagney opposite Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey. This time the ratings tanked, and that might have been the end of it if some idiot at CBS hadn't shot his mouth off with the explanation that viewers "perceived them as dykes."

The resulting protests forced CBS to bring the show back again, this time replacing Foster with Sharon Gless. Neither critics nor audiences were much impressed, though apparently nobody mistook the detectives for lesbians this time around. (Television historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, in The Complete Guide to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, cite a complaint from the Gay Media Task Force that Gless was "from the Copacabana school of acting, very kittenish and feminine." Cagney & Lacey was canceled yet again, but when it won an Emmy that September, CBS raised it from the dead one more time. It remained perpetually on the cancellation bubble until it finally disappeared for good in 1988.

Cagney & Lacey's reputation as a groundbreaking show about women cops is hugely, ridiculously overblown. Honey West, The Avengers and Police Woman were the real pioneers in that field, all of them a decade or more before Cagney & Lacey came along. To the extent Cagney & Lacey really broke new ground, it was as one of the first overtly left-wing (or "progressive," if you prefer) series on broadcast television. Mary Beth and Chris spent more time battling a chauvinist, racist male power structure than they did robbers and murderers. One episode was even built around Daniel Sheehan, the founder of the Christic Institute, which believed the entire world was under the boot of a massive conspiracy of CIA agents and narcotraffickers. "An American hero," Lacey called him. I guess they couldn't afford the rights to Oliver Stone or Ramsey Clark.

If Cagney & Lacey's legendary status rests mainly in its own mind, though, it nonetheless spent six years on broadcast television, had millions of fans and would doubtless sell enough DVDs to turn a tidy profit for MGM. Hard to figure how such blink-and-you-missed atrocities as Tabitha and My Big Fat Greek Life could find their way onto DVDs, and Cagney & Lacey can't. Though as I type this, I have a sinking feeling that I'm serving up the Christic Insititute its next case.

Comments

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Lance

What's next -- the inside struggle to put Kate and Allie on the Oh! Network?

I never enjoyed that show, regardless of its politics. In fact, during that time frame I gravitated toward a decidedly "right wing" crime show fantasy, Hardcastle and McCormick. In that great show (with a punchy Mike Post theme song), hanging Judge Hardcase and his reformed race-car driving crook sidekick chased down criminals who somehow got off on those most vile of anti-American technicalities -- "due process" and "constitutional rights."

puck

"Police Woman"? From what little I've seen of that show (which is too much) it was *comparative* fluff. Even the characterizations in C&L had WAY more honest grit AND a more on target character POV. In that sense it was well beyond "Hillstreet" which was a lot more mainstream in tone with too many goofy characters, a network mandate I guess.

I admit I've scene most of the show at the Museum of Radio and Television and via repeats on cable but I'm telling you this was ahead of it's time. Especially considering all the network constraints and demands to tone it down (In fact All the female professional "leads" now are shamefully generic, fluffy and boring -- complete with with bland voices. Realism in female leads seeems out of fashion now). Here's a few samples on youtube. Judge for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbDl2Qx18Zc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDr-jbCyf4k

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