Cagney & Lacey: Butch & Sundance in Skirts

Butch & Sundance in Skirts

  • Sharon Gless as Christine Cagney
  • Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey

March 1982- April 1982

October 1982- September 1983

March 1984- August 1988

Cagney & Lacey debuted in the spring of 1982, replacing the out-of-steam Lou Grant on the schedule and running for six episodes.

Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey had been introduced in an October 1981 made-for-TV movie in which they were a pair of uniformed officers who were promoted to detective as a reward for busting a major case. Tyne Daly was Lacey (as she would be forever more) and Loretta Swit played Cagney. The movie did stellar in the ratings.

Why this series? Why then? An ongoing television crime drama in which two women were the central characters was a pretty far-out concept in 1982, but those stellar ratings overcame a lot of network prejudice. Meg Foster took over as Cagney for those first six shows (Swit was committed to M*A*S*H) but she was deemed too “tough” in the role by the powers that be.

Sharon Gless came on board for the first full season, which began on October 25, 1982, and thus began the “real” Cagney & Lacey. Now all of the familiar faces were now in place: Lt. Samuels, detectives Isbecki and Petrie, Harvey and the Lacey sons. Christine’s alcoholic father, ex-cop Charlie Cagney, was introduced mid-season and her first major beau, Sgt. Dory McKenna (Barry Primus), shortly thereafter. And it was clear that this was not your typical cop show. Solving crimes was part of the equation, of course, but the real emphasis was on exploring the working and personal lives of the two women–one single, one married, one born to wealth, one eminently blue collar-who were friends.

From the start, stories touched on a wide range of social issues: abortion, abuse, rape, alcoholism and ethical questions about what the characters did and how they did it. But what enthralled the audience were the successes and failures, hopes and dreams of Cagney & Lacey themselves. Unlike the fans of other long-running shows, C&L fans remember not so much specific episodes, but rather events and moments, subplots and ongoing storylines. Christine’s beaus and frustrations, Mary Beth’s family problems and struggles with her conscience were always more fascinating than whodunnit.

Not nearly enough people were watching, however. CBS bailed out as the first full season ended, precipitating a massive letter-writing campaign which resulted in the show’s return for seven episodes in March 1984. It was an abbreviated season, but an significant one. We learned about Christine’s proficiency at poker and saw Mary Beth shot and hospitalized. And the season-ender subplot had to do with unmarried Christine’s possible pregnancy, pushing the envelope even further.

1984-85 marked the beginning of a four-year full-season run. McKenna returned, recovered from his cocaine addiction, to woo Christine again. Mary Beth was taken hostage, creating a new level of concern in her family that led son Harvey to run away a few episodes later. Christine sued a commanding officer for sexual harassment and Mary Beth discovered a lump in her breast and had to undergo an operation.

The following year, Mary Beth was pregnant and the show took on the controversial abortion issue in a story about the bombing of an abortion clinic. When Mary Beth went on maternity leave, Christine had to work with other partners, including a much too gung-ho officer who shockingly took things into her own hands when a suspected rapist appeared likely to get away. Charlie Cagney’s alcoholism became a serious health problem and Christine’s own heavy drinking was first addressed. Alice Lacey was born and Mary Beth’s long-lost father (Richard Bradford) showed up to see his granddaughter.

1986-87’s major moment came at the very end, in a two-part episode in which Charlie Cagney died and Mary Beth was forced to confront a distraught Christine about her drinking, eventually dragging her to AA. High spots along the way: the Laceys were burglarized, Christine was shot and Mary Beth was arrested for her part in a protest against nuclear weapons.

In the final season, Christine was a victim of date rape in a shattering episode, and Harvey Jr. enlisted in the Marines and was later missing for a while during maneuvers in another highly emotional episode. One of Alice’s classmates had AIDS, creating another moral crisis for Mary Beth. Finally, in a two-parter which ended the series, the women were promoted to the Major Case Squad.

There have been four Cagney & Lacey TV movies in recent years and, unlike the traditional “reunion” movies, which just goes through the paces, each has extended and expanded the story.

“The Return” (1994), is set six years after the final show, Christine is married and working as an investigator for the DA. Mary Beth has retired, but Harvey’s heart attack sends her back to work. “Together Again” (1995) shows the strain on the Lacey marriage as a result of Harvey’s health problems (he won’t diet and she takes up smoking) and Christine taking a drink when she finds her husband is unfaithful.

In “The View Through the Glass Ceiling” (1995) a newly divorced Christine is driven by her ambition to take actions that Mary Beth cannot abide, threatening their friendship and Mary Beth finally reconciles with her father. Finally (so far), “True Convictions” (1996) has Christine getting involved with a married murder suspect and “Baby Alice” grown up enough to take a knife to school.

Cagney & Lacey was a great critical success, winning several Emmys and thoroughly dominating the Best Actress category (Daly won four times and Gless won the two times she didn’t). The show that seemed such a gamble back in 1982 really paid off. Big time.

Other Characters and Actors:

John Karlen as Harvey Lacey;

Dick O’Neill as Charlie Cagney;

Al Waxman as Lt. Bert Samuels;
Carl Lumbly as Marcus Petrie;

Martin Kove as Victor Isbecki;

Tony La Torre, Troy Slaten, Dana & Paige Bardolph and
Michelle Sepe as Harvey Jr., Michael and Alice Lacey


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