Cagney & Lacey

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents




Cagney & Lacey, a U.S. police procedural with pervasive melodramatic overtones is, deservedly, one of the most widely discussed programs in television history. The series aired on the CBS television network from 1982-88 and presented a set of bold dramatic combinations, blending and bending genre, character, and narrative strategies. Though rated in the list of "top 25" programs only once during those years, the show drew critical acclaim--and controversy--and established a substantial audience of fiercely loyal viewers who, on at least one occasion, helped save the program from cancellation by the network. As demonstrated by television scholar Julie D'Acci's outstanding study Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey, the history of Cagney & Lacey provides a textbook case illustrating many issues pervasive in the U.S. television industry as well as that industry's complicated relationship to social and cultural issues.

Created in its earliest version by writer-producers Barbara Corday and Barbara Avedon in 1974, Cagney & Lacey was first designed as a feature film. Unable to sell the project, the women presented it to television networks as a potential series. Rebuffed again, they finally brought Cagney & Lacey to the screen as a 1981 made-for-television movie, co-produced by Barney Rosenzweig, then Corday's husband. The movie drew high ratings and led to the series, which premiered in 1982. The difficulties involved in the production history to this point indicate struggles encountered by women writers and producers in the film and television industries--especially when their work focuses on women. Those difficulties, however, were merely the beginning of continuing contests.

As put by D'Acci, "the negotiation of meanings of women, woman, and femininity took place among a variety of vested interests and with considerable conflict." Throughout the run of the series the "negotiations" continued, and the interests included the creative team for the series--producers, writers, actors, directors. They also included network executives and officials at every level, television critics, special interest groups, and the unusually involved audience that actively participated in ongoing discussions of the series' meanings and directions.

While many of these controversies took place on sets, in writer's meetings, and in board rooms, one of the earliest spilled over into public discussion in newspapers, magazines, and letters. In the made-for-television movie, the character of Christine Cagney was played by Loretta Swit, that of Mary Beth Lacey by Tyne Daly. Unavailable to take on the Cagney role in the series because of her continuing work in M*A*S*H, Swit was replaced by Meg Foster. Almost immediately discussion at CBS and in some public venues focused on potential homosexual overtones in the relationship between the two women. Foster, who had played a lesbian in an earlier television role, was cited as "masculine" and "aggressive," and after considerable argument CBS threatened to cancel the series, made Foster's removal and replacement a condition of continuing the show, and the fall 1982 season began with Sharon Gless, presumably more conventionally feminine and heterosexual, portraying Cagney.

Similar, though not so visible, conflicts and adjustments continued throughout the history of the series. Questions of appearance--dress, body weight, hair styles--were constantly under consideration and negotiation. Story material, particularly when focused on issues of vital concern to women--rape, incest, abortion, breast cancer--often proved controversial and led to continuing battles with the network standards and practices offices. Daly reported that even in the matter of sexual relations with her fictional husband, Harvey (John Karlin), differences of opinion flared into argument over how to present domestic sexual behavior.

In the spring of 1983 CBS executives had more straightforward matters to present to the producers of Cagney & Lacey--pointing to low audience ratings and canceled the program. By this time, however, the producers and the production company for the series had mounted an impressive public relations campaign and letter-writers from across the country mailed their protests to the company, the network, the producers--to anyone who would read and make use of them. The National Organization of Women took a lead role in the publicity campaigns. Newspaper critics called attention to the campaign. The series won numerous awards, Daly's Emmys for Best Actress in 1982-83 and 1983-84 among them. In the fall of 1983 CBS announced it would program seven "trial episodes" beginning in March 1984. Cagney & Lacey was back and remained on the air four more seasons.

All of these difficulties were played out as the series developed narrative strategies that took best advantage of U.S. commercial television's abilities to present serious social and personal issues in the context of genre fiction. Two factors stand out among the techniques that distinguish Cagney & Lacey. One strategy, evidenced in many of the conflicts described above, is the series' ability to blend three areas of concern into single dramatic productions. First, most episodes of Cagney & Lacey dealt with the on-going difficulties encountered by two women in a male dominant profession. This entailed far more than simply presenting gender conflicts in the workplace, though certainly there were many of those. Rather, this dramatic structure required a reconsideration of the entire generic structure of the "cop show." As the two women dealt with issues such as "violence," "guns," "male criminals," or "the streets"--all elements of police fiction--writer-producers as well as audiences were required to reflect on new resonances within the genre.

Second, each narrative usually focused on a particular crime and criminal investigation. The generic modifications were intertwined with rather conventional police matters, and the sense of strangeness caused by the gender shift was combined with the familiarity of crime drama.

Third, each story usually linked the crime drama to a social problem, the kinds of issues often explored in television drama throughout the history of the medium. Thus, the issues cited above, often, though not always definable as "women's issues," formed a third aspect of the narrative triad structuring individual episodes.

The series was at its best when these elements were "balanced," that is, when it was neither overly didactic regarding the social issue, nor utterly conventional as a police drama, nor submerged in the exploration of gender inflected genre. If, as sometimes happened, one of these aspects did "take over" the story, the result was often a very thin examination of the element.

The second major narrative strategy of the series militated against this imbalance. This was the establishment of Cagney & Lacey as a "cumulative narrative." Unlike serial dramas such as Hill Street Blues, or, in the more strictly melodramatic vein, Dallas, Cagney & Lacey did usually bring each episode to closure. Criminals were caught. Cases were solved. Sometimes, even the particular gender-related workplace issue was brought to a satisfactory solution.

But beneath these short term narrative aspects of the series, the long term narrative stakes were continually explored. More important, each of the closed episodes shed light on those ongoing matters. Thus, as viewers watched the Lacey children move from childhood into adolescence, they also saw strains appear in the Lacey marriage, and the toll that strain took on professional commitments, and the conflicts the strain caused in the interpersonal relationship of the two women, and so on. Similarly, each small development could lead to new story possibilities, new inflections of character. Elements from past episodes could be brought into play. Features of character biographies could be revealed to explain events in a particular episode, then used to develop further characteristics in future episodes.

The cumulative narrative, one of television's strongest forms, was put to near perfect use in Cagney & Lacey. Evidence of the utility of this strategy, and the ways in which its methods of story elaboration can appeal to viewers, came in the latter years of the series. Though some critics see the series as diminishing its stronger feminist tonality in this period, it is also possible to see the growing emphasis on the "personal" and "the domestic" as a fuller union of public and private.

One of the most significant developments in the series in this period was the exploration of Christine Cagney's alcoholism. In addition to their own focus on this topic, producer-writers have cited viewer letters calling attention to the fact that Cagney often turned to alcohol in times of stress. In a harrowing, two-part, award winning performance, Sharon Gless portrayed Cagney's descent into "rock bottom" alcoholic behavior. What is significant about the development is that it altered not only the series present and future, but its history as well, and simultaneously altered the "triadic" structure of social issue, personal problem, and police drama.

Cagney & Lacey left network program schedules in 1988. But it continued for some time as a staple for the Lifetime network's programming aimed at female audiences. Critical and viewer responses to the series continue to be mixed even now. Most recently the series characters have been resurrected in the form of several made-for-television movies. Older, physically changed, perhaps "wiser," these fictional characters and the narratives in which they appear continue to explore complex issues and themes, and to experiment with narrative forms.

-Horace Newcomb


Detective Mary Beth Lacey..........................Tyne Daly  

Detective Chris Cagney (1982)...................Meg Foster

Detective Chris Cagney (1982-88)............Sharon Gless  

Lieutenant Bert Samuels.......................... Al Waxman

Detective Mark Petrie............................... Carl Lumbly

Detective Victor Isbecki ...........................Martin Kove

Detective Paul La Guardia (1982-85)........ Sidney Clute  

Deputy Inspector Marquette (1982-83)... Jason Benhard

Desk Sergeant Ronald Coleman.............. Harvey Atkin  

Harvey Lacey ............................................John Karlin  

Harvey Lacey, Jr................................... Tony La Torre

Michael Lacey ..........................................Troy Slaten

Sergeant Dory McKenna (1984-85)........... Barry Primus

Inspector Knelman (1984-88)............. Michael Fairman

Detective Jonah Newman (1985-86)............... Dan Shor

David Keeler (1985-88)........................ Stephen Macht

Alice Lacey (1985-87).............. Dana & Paige Bardolph

Alice Lacey (1987-88)............................ Michele Sepe

Detective Manny Esposito (1986-88)...... Robert Hegyes

Detective al Corassa (1986-88)................ Paul Mantee  

Josie (1986-88).......................................... Jo Corday  

Kazak (1986-87).................................... Stewart Coss

Beverley Faverty (1986-87)................. Beverley Faverty

Tom Basil (1986-88).................................. Barry Laws

Verna Dee Jordan (1987-88).................. Merry Clayton


Barney Rosenzweig, Barbara Corday, Barbara Avedon, Richard Rosenbloom, Peter Lefcourt, Liz Coe, Ralph Singleton, Patricia Green, P.K. Knelman, April Smith, Joseph Stern, Steve Brown, Terry Louise Fisher, Georgia Jeffries, Jonathan Estrin, Shelly List.


125 Episodes


March 1982-April 1982   Thursday 9:00-10:00

October 1982-September 1983   Monday 10:00-11:00

March 1984-December 1987   Monday 10:00-11:00

January 1988-April 1988   Tuesday 10:00-11:00

April 1988-June 1988   Monday 10:00-11:00

June 1988-August 1988   Thursday 10:00-11:00


Brower, Susan. "TV 'Trash and Treasure': Marketing Dallas and Cagney and Lacey." Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), 1989.

Clark, Danae. "Cagney and Lacey: Feminist Strategies of Detection." In, Brown, Mary Ellen, editor. Television and Women's Culture: The Politics of the Popular. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1990.

D'Acci, Julie. Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Methuen, 1987.

Mayerle, Judine. "Character Shaping Genre in Cagney and Lacey." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1987.

McHenry, Susan. "The Rise and Fall--and Rise of TV's Cagney and Lacey." Ms. (New York), April 1984.

Montgomery, Kathryn C. Target Prime Time: Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Rosen, Marjorie. "Cagney and Lacey." Ms. (New York), October 1981.


Sharon Gless on working out the kinks of the "Christine Cagney" character with writer Barbara Corday, and becoming the "toughie" of the two main characters on Cagney & Lacey
Tyne Daly on creating a voice for her character on Cagney & Lacey
Reza Badiyi on directing Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on what Cagney & Lacey was about at its core
Who talked about this show

Reza Badiyi

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Reza Badiyi on directing Cagney & Lacey
Reza Badiyi on his proudest career achievements

Bill Conti

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Bill Conti on composing the main titles for Cagney & Lacey
Bill Conti on composing the main title theme to Cagney & Lacey

Barbara Corday

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Barbara Corday on pitching Cagney & Lacey in 1974 and on being involved in the women's movement at the time
Barbara Corday on the genesis and concept of Cagney & Lacey
Barbara Corday on the made-for-television movie of Cagney & Lacey
Barbara Corday on taking Cagney & Lacey to series and the changes that were made from the TV movie to the series
Barbara Corday on casting Tyne Daly as "Mary Beth Lacey" on Cagney & Lacey
Barbara Corday on the premise of Cagney & Lacey and on dealing with women's issues on the show
Barbara Corday on the first cancellation of Cagney & Lacey and on recasting Meg Foster as "Christine Cagney" with Sharon Gless
Barbara Corday on the dynamic between Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly on Cagney & Lacey
Barbara Corday on her involvement as a creative consultant on Cagney & Lacey once it went to series
Barbara Corday on writing the Cagney & Lacey episode "Who Says It's Fair" and on working with Tyne Daly as "Mary Beth Lacey"
Barbara Corday on working with Sharon Gless as "Christine Cagney" on Cagney & Lacey
Barbara Corday on Cagney & Lacey executive producer Barney Rosenzweig and the issues covered on the show
Barbara Corday on the audience bringing Cagney & Lacey back from cancellation
Barbara Corday on how Cagney & Lacey evolved over the years and on her favorite episodes
Barbara Corday on the cancellation of Cagney & Lacey and the influence of the show

Tyne Daly

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Tyne Daly on creating a voice for her character on Cagney & Lacey
Tyne Daly on how Cagney & Lacey was resurrected after cancellation due to a large fanbase and Barney Rosenzweig's PR campaign
Tyne Daly on how Cagney & Lacey came about and other roles that prepared her for the role
Tyne Daly on the casting process for Cagney & Lacey
Tyne Daly on filming Cagney & Lacey as a made-for-TV-movie with Loretta Swit before it became a series
Tyne Daly on how Cagney & Lacey became a series under the producer Barney Rosenzweig, on how he cast the show, and the various cancellations of the show
Tyne Daly on winning her first Emmy for Cagney & Lacey
Tyne Daly on her least favorite Cagney & Lacey episodes

Sharon Gless

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Sharon Gless on working out the kinks of the "Christine Cagney" character with writer Barbara Corday, and becoming the "toughie" of the two main characters on Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on how Barney Rosenzweig "found" her for Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on her initial reluctance to play "Christine Cagney" on Cagney & Lacey and how she finally took the role
Sharon Gless on Tyne Daly being on her side when Gless started on Cagney & Lacey as the "third Cagney" that had been cast
Sharon Gless on Tyne Daly and Gless being honored by the New York Police Department for Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on presenting alcoholism in the two-part episode "Turn Turn Turn," for which she won an Emmy, and the controversial "The City is Burning" episode of Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on her extreme disappointment with what happened to her character in the TV movies of Cagney & Lacey, the end of the franchise, and her ideas about what should have happened with her character
Sharon Gless on her acceptance by the gay community since Cagney and through Queer as Folk
Barney Rosenzweig on not being a "hyphenate," but on primarily being the producer of Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzweig on making last minute tweaks ("writing with an eraser") on Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on getting letters from female cops who went into the field because of Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig and Sharon Gless on developing the theme of alcoholism for "Christine Cagney" and her father on Cagney & Lacey

Nancy Malone

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Nancy Malone on directing Cagney & Lacey with Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless; on later directing Sharon in The Trials of Rosie O'Neill which garnered her an Emmy nomination

Millie Moore

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Millie Moore on editing an episode of Cagney & Lacey

Del Reisman

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Del Reisman on writing episodes of Lou Grant and Cagney & Lacey

Barney Rosenzweig

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Barney Rosenzweig on what Cagney & Lacey was about at its core
Barney Rosenzweig on the idea for Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on the first steps of Cagney & Lacey becoming a TV movie rather than a motion picture
Barney Rosenzweig on Barbara Avedon and Barbara Corday writing the script for the movie version of Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on Cagney & Lacey moving to television and moving shooting from Toronto to Los Angeles
Barney Rosenzweig on the cast of the first episodes of the TV series Cagney & Lacey and cast changes after the first six episodes
Barney Rosenzweig on Cagney & Lacey getting cancelled and coming back as a 10pm, not 9pm show, and the publicity tour for the show
Barney Rosenzweig on how Sharon Gless replaced Meg Foster as "Cagney" on Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on winning an Emmy for best drama series for Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on addressing social issues on Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig on Cagney & Lacey's Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly
Barney Rosenzweig on the legacy of Cagney & Lacey and what it did for the portrayal of women on television; on how it changed television
Barney Rosenzweig on four Cagney & Lacey reunion movies and trying to make a deal with Orion to own the whole run of the series
Barney Rosenzweig on not being a "hyphenate," but on primarily being the producer of Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless and Barney Rosenzweig on making last minute tweaks ("writing with an eraser") on Cagney & Lacey
Sharon Gless on getting letters from female cops who went into the field because of Cagney & Lacey
Barney Rosenzweig and Sharon Gless on developing the theme of alcoholism for "Christine Cagney" and her father on Cagney & Lacey

James Sheldon

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James Sheldon on directing one episode of Cagney & Lacey

Loretta Swit

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Loretta Swit on being offered the role of "Christine Cagney" on Cagney and Lacey and playing the character in the television film version; on pushing for Tyne Daly to get the role in the series
Loretta Swit on researching for the role of "Christine Cagney" in the original television film version of Cagney & Lacey; on the policewoman she modeled her role after
Loretta Swit on the censorship issues around the character of "Christine Cagney"

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