Image source: The Everett Collection
Few television series make the phenomenal cultural impact on par with that of Cagney & Lacey. Being one of the first regularly televised series about two working women, the show would go on to help change the way we watch women in television forever.
As anyone can guess, making a huge cultural milestone as big as Cagney & Lacey was no easy task. Around the time of the premiere of the original tv movie in the early 80's, most shows were predominantly male centric. Although Cagney & Lacey would eventually help break this norm, the show began its progressive climb all the way back in the mid-70’s.
Years before the series first aired, producer Barney Rosenzweig was starting to date his soon-to-be wife and writer of Cagney & Lacey, Barbara Corday. As the two began getting to know one another, Corday got Rosenzweig involved in the feminist movement at the time and would often discuss and reflect on the way women were depicted in film.
Eventually the realization hit them: there had never been a female lead buddy film or tv series before.
Noticing this large chasm in film that was ripe for the taking, Corday recruited fellow writer and friend, Barbara Avedon, to help write the script for a new female lead buddy film. It would take years to develop the story, themes and characters for their vision. Much of their inspiriation would center around the famous movie duo at the time, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Corday and Avedon were so inspired from their work that Cagney & Lacey's original title was Newman & Redford. Which had to be change very early on for obvious and legal reasons.
While Corday and Avedon both worked editing and writing the script, Rosenzweig went to work getting it in front of any and all film studios in Hollywood.
“The feminist movement is going to pass you by,” Corday told Rosenzweig after years of failed attempts to get their script picked up by a major film studio. More movies were being made each day with more female leads, which was great, but also meant that their window was closing. So he went to television.
Editing out the major plot lines of the script, Rosenzweig changed his strategy on presenting Cagney & Lacey to potential television studios. Without the story, he presented only the characters, what they were like, what they do, and how they act to eventually sell the story.
Time went on and finally Rosenzweig was at the end of his rope with his last studio, CBS, where he had no connections. Following his pitch that he had done over a dozen times CBS was impressed and remarked that it sounded like “great television." After numerous years and numerious rejections, Cagney & Lacey had finally found a home.
Airing in 1981, 42% of all Americans watching tv that night we were watching the pilot for Cagney & Lacey. As Rosenzweig reflected in a 2008 interview, “It was a bonafide hit, a monster hit.”
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