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Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless – She’s Lacey and She’s Cagney

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless in “Cagney & Lacey: The Complete First Season.”

Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless

She’s Lacey and She’s Cagney

by Jay S. Jacobs

It was a series that broke all the rules. A cop drama in which the two leads were both women – looking at the personal and professional lives of two women making their way in a man’s world and not only keeping up but excelling.

Hard to believe it has been 25 years since Cagney and Lacey debuted on television. Finally, in time for that monumental anniversary, 22 of the first season episodes of the series starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless are being released on DVD. (Earlier incarnations of the series with Loretta Swit and Meg Foster in the role that Gless made famous are conspicuously absent from the box set.)

Tyne Daly is the member of a famous TV family – daughter of John Daly and sister of Tim Daly. Daly has been in TV and films going back to the late 60s. Before she got the role of Mary Beth Lacey she was probably best known as Dirty Harry’s partner in Clint Eastwood’s 1977 film The Enforcer. After years of acclaim in C&L, she has moved on to other series like Christy (with Kellie Martin) and Judging Amy (with Amy Brenneman).

Sharon Gless, who had a regular supporting role in the Robert Wagner/Eddie Albert con-man series Switch, came into the equation shortly after the first season began – replacing Meg Foster in the role of Christine Cagney after the first six episodes. She ended up marrying series producer Barney Rosenzweig in 1991. Since the show left the air, she starred on the London stage version of Stephen King’s Misery and spent five years on the Showtime dramatic series Queer as Folk.

As the first season of Cagney and Lacey was about to be released on DVD, Daly and Gless gave us a call to talk about their careers and the show.

How weird is it to think that it has been 25 years since Cagney & Lacey debuted?

Sharon Gless: It’s pretty darned weird. (both laugh)

Tyne Daly: I don’t remember growing old. The child I had in the fourth season is 21 years of age. Graduates from college in a week. I’m pretty thrilled with that. But there’s nothing quite like a baby who’s now a grown-up to tell you how long it’s been.

How nice is it that the show is finally getting released on DVD – so that people can see your work after all this time?

Sharon Gless: I wish they had more than the first season. But it is starting with the first season. Because I always felt that we got better as each year went along.

Well, hopefully, the others will come. They usually do it that way…

Sharon Gless: It also is coinciding with Barney [Rosenzweig]’s book coming out. He has a book coming out called Cagney & Lacey... and Me.

Sharon, before getting the show, I know you did a series that was one of my favorites as a kid, Switch… That was certainly a lighter show. Was it an adjustment going to a more dramatic series?

Sharon Gless: Well, yes. That was Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert. Yeah, that was the very beginning of my career. That was the big time to me at that time. By the time I got to Cagney and Lacey, it was a totally different kind of obligation. I wasn’t the supporting player anymore. I was carrying the show with Tyne. Also, I had never worked with a female colleague before. I always played opposite men. So I was a lucky one. The first woman I started off with and it was Tyne Daly. It doesn’t get better than that.

Tyne, you had done a lot of TV, too. You got recurring parts – though different roles mostly I believe – in classic shows like Quincy, The Mod Squad and Medical Center. What was it like to finally get your own series?

Tyne Daly: Well, I spent more than fifteen years [as] a victim. Pretty enough to be the decoration, and the choices then for women were to be the decoration or the victim. So I played a lot of victims. By the time I got a chance to be the hero it was a great relief because I was really tired of making those faces and shedding all those tears. The opportunity was fantastic.

When the show first started, first there was the TV movie with Loretta Swit, then Meg Foster played Cagney in the first six episodes, I believe. Why was the decision made on the box set not to use those?

Tyne Daly: They’ll pull that out as a lure sometime. “The Lost Episodes,” or whatever… I think that when the series hit its stride, it was because they found the Cagney that they always wanted – Sharon. Before that, Sharon had been tied up in other work and was unavailable. She supplied the tone, the sensibility, the vibe on Cagney in a way that worked.

You’ve both done a lot of work over the years, but to this day you are probably best known for these two characters. Why do you think that they resonated for so many people?

Sharon Gless: I think people like to see themselves. Between the two of us and the six years of the emotional upheavals we went through – not only our job, but as has been quoted many times, it was really a series about two women, who happened to be cops. That was my impression. The reality of their feelings, the stories they tell each other behind closed doors had never been done before. That had nothing to do with the job. I think a lot of women and some men, too, responded to that.

Tyne Daly: It was unusual in that the women were at the center of the story.

Right. It’s interesting, even to this day, there are plenty of crime dramas out there with women in leading roles, I can’t think of any others where there are two women working together. They are always partnered up with men. It seems like that would be a natural. Why do you think the idea is still such a hard sell on television?

Sharon Gless: The closest they ever came to that Judging Amy, which had Tyne and Amy Brenneman. I don’t know. There was so much controversy around our show. I think the networks are still run by men.

Tyne Daly: I think that nobody wants that trouble again. (chuckles) Producers are still loath to give over an expensive hour of television to women, because they don’t think they have the staying power. Even though we proved that and tried again with Christy and tried again with Judging Amy, which had a good, long run. I think it’s difficult for the bosses to imagine – just like a lot of bosses – it’s difficult to imagine that women have the kind of talent and the kind of interest [to sustain a show]. I always wanted the show to appeal to men, too, because I had my Harvey [Lacey’s husband in the series, played by John Karlen]. Within the character of Mary Beth, she had a married life and children. What was genius was that she had a partner in her work who also had a private life that was very intricate and patchy. (Both laugh.)

Sharon Gless: I love the word intricate. That’s a good word. She had lots of boyfriends that she went through before she found somebody that she was really in love with. When she was really in love with somebody, she couldn’t hang on because of other choices that she had to make about her life. So, the problematic situations that we were put in were specifically female problems. I believe, because I spent really all my career in television – that television steals from itself. This is the only show that I’ve ever seen that the format was never copied again.

Tyne Daly: Ernie Kovacs, and you’re probably too young to remember him, but Ernie Kovacs said that imitation was the sincerest form of television. (They both laugh again.)

What’s it like watching the old shows. Had it been a while? How do you feel that it has held up over the years?

Tyne Daly: Well, I sat down the day before yesterday and did some homework on this. I went to my local store and I bought – since I was not offered free (laughs) – I bought the DVDs and had some time to take a look. Some of them I remembered very clearly. I remembered parts of other ones and there were ones that I didn’t remember at all. I looked at all 22 of them. There were 22 or 24.

Sharon Gless: 125.

Tyne Daly: No, all together, but I meant [for the first season box set.]

Sharon Gless: Oh, there were 22.

There were some reunion TV movies in the 1990s. Would you be interested in going back and doing that again?

Tyne Daly: Well, at the time, our producer was interested in doing one a year.

Sharon Gless: Two a year.

Tyne Daly: We made four altogether. The first one was a wonderful success. The second one was a good success. Then the last two were sort of buried.

Sharon Gless: They were buried. The exec who took over CBS didn’t like the show. Buried them.

It’s difficult for any actor to get long-term series work, and even more difficult in more than one show. Yet Tyne, you did this series and Christy and Judging Amy. And Sharon, you had Queer as Folk. How was working on those shows different than the old days, and do you think Cagney and Lacey helped you to get those parts?

Sharon Gless: Well, Cagney and Lacey was certainly the reason that I got Queer as Folk. I think every show that I’ve done since Cagney and Lacey, I’ve acquired because of Cagney and Lacey. But I did nothing in Cagney and Lacey to prepare me for Queer as Folk. (They both laugh.) That’s about as big a leap as you can make.

Definitely. How about with Judging Amy?

Tyne Daly: Well, all I had to do to nail down that job on Judging Amy was cut my price and play 60.

Now, not only have you worked regularly in TV for over two decades, but your brother has as well. Is there something about the Daly genes that set you up for television success?

Tyne Daly: Well my brother Timmy thinks of the Daly family, which includes my dad’s career on television and his and mine – maybe have the longest track record in series television. (Laughs) I have done – let’s see, six and six and two is – fourteen years of series television out of the forty years I’ve been an actor. I don’t know whether this is… I guess we like to work. I grew up in the business, so the idea was get the work and keep on working. I’ve always wanted to be a long-distance runner. Certainly, it shifts. The focus shifted in mine from victim to hero to character actor. But that’s fine with me. I think that those long-range careers – like Angela Lansbury – it’s rare for women, but it is possible for women to keep on working in this business for a long time – if you are willing to serve the work rather than ask the work to serve you.

Nowadays, so much of scripted TV is disappearing in favor of reality. Granted dramas like yours are still much stronger than comedies, but why do you think this change has happened?

Sharon Gless: It’s all about money. Reality shows – the reason there are so many reality shows is because there are no actors in them, and it doesn’t cost them any money. No union crews. They need no writers.

Tyne Daly: The smartest line about reality shows – “The producer’s dream. No actors, no writers and the people all have to eat rat.” (Sharon laughs) I believe that’s the reason that reality shows as opposed to serious ones [are so prevalent.]

Does it surprise you that there are so many staunch fans of Cagney and Lacey all these years later? Particularly, I’ve heard that the show had a huge gay and lesbian fan base.

Sharon Gless: Cagney and Lacey, I believe, always had a strong lesbian following.

Tyne Daly: When Sharon won the Emmy, she came to me and said, “Tyne what am I going to do? I got 320 letters and they’re all from women.” (They laugh.)

Sharon Gless: I appreciate it. They really kept me going. The two big hits I did in my life were Cagney and Lacey and Queer as Folk. I’ve got some gratitude. But I’m not surprised, not surprised at all. I think that – a lot of people thought, or we were accused of – not that it’s a bad thing – being lesbians. People couldn’t imagine two straight women… I mean two women…

Tyne Daly: Supporting each other. Not in competition. But also there is the portion of our audience that loved the marriage of the Laceys. The health of that relationship and the fact that they were fair fighters with each other and that they were crazy about each other.

Sharon Gless: The truth is Tyne got all the letters from the men, and I got them from the women.

Tyne Daly: But I got letters from men saying, “Please give me Sharon Gless’ address.” (They both laugh.) It’s hard to know. The joke question was always who’s who? Which one is which? Which one is Cagney, and which one is Lacey? Going on with my work, people would stop me and say, “How is Sharon? How’s your partner?” They say, “Please tell Sharon I love that show she’s on.” So I always get people asking after Sharon when they talk to me about my work.

Sharon Gless: And the same with me.

Tyne Daly: Which is really pretty satisfying.

Sharon Gless: We used to call each other up and tell these stories – that sounded like they would begin with our personal inflated ego. They wanted to speak with Sharon. I was so thrilled. Turned out the only reason they wanted to talk to me is they wanted to ask how Tyne was.

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: May 19, 2007.

Photo Credit: © 1982 Fox Home Video. All rights reserved.

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