Cagney & Lacey was a hugely successful police procedural starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless that ran for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1988. Daly and Gless played detectives with vastly different lives: Cagney (Gless) was a career woman and single, while Lacey (Daly) was a married working mom. The series was set in Manhattan's 14th Precinct, called "Midtown South" in the show. For six straight years, one or the other of these two actresses won the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Drama (Daly won four times, Gless won twice) — an achievement yet to be matched by stars of any other TV series.
Loretta Swit played Christine Cagney in the original TV movie late in 1981, but couldn't have the role in the series because the producers of M*A*S*H wouldn't let her out of that show's contract. Cagney and Lacey was subsequently picked up by the network as a series, initially as a midseason replacement in 1982, with Meg Foster playing Cagney. When the show made it into the regular season the next year, Foster was replaced by Sharon Gless, when CBS executives thought Foster was too aggressive and too likely to be thought of as a lesbian by offended viewers (how times have changed... Foster's perceived gayness would surely be a point in her favor today).
Behind the scenes, CBS execs wanted Gless to play Cagney in a conventionally feminine way; they put pressure on producers Barney Rosenzweig and Barbara Corday to remake Christine into a "high-class", snobbish woman from a wealthy family.
Cagney was a quieter and more subdued counterpart to her boisterous and outgoing partner, but still had broad appeal. Cagney's ability to connect with viewers played no small part in the show's success.
Al Waxman was their good-natured, occasionally turbulent supervisor, Lt. Bert Samuels. The show's other regulars included Carl Lumbly, and Martin Kove (fellow detectives Marcus Petrie and Victor Isbecki). John Karlen played Mary Beth's husband Harvey Lacey, and Tony La Torre and Troy Slaten were their sons Harvey Jr. and Michael. Harvey Atkin was desk sergeant Ronald Coleman. Jason Bernard sometimes had the recurring role of Deputy Inspector Marquette in the first two seasons. When the show was renewed in 1984 after its second cancellation, Marquette was replaced by Dep. Inspector Knelman (Michael Fairman), who remained with the series to the end. In the fourth season, Christine got involved with Sgt. Dory McKenna (Barry Primus), who fought a battle with drug addiction. She ended their tumultuous courtship and soon found a more stable man, local attorney David Keeler (Stephen Macht).
One of the most important cast changes came early in season five, when Det. LaGuardia (Sidney Clute), was written out of the series. His exit happened offscreen; LaGuardia had retired from the 14th Precinct and had moved to New Jersey with a new female companion less than half his age. The move was made necessary by Clute's death in 1985, after he'd completed only a few episodes of the new season. The producers kept Clute's name in the opening credits for the rest of the series as a tribute.
LaGuardia's replacement was Det. Jonah Newman (Dan Shor), boyish and unsophisticated but with high regard for himself. While popular with the guys, he was perfectly willing to step on other people to work his way up. Chris and Mary Beth consequently had a wary relationship with him. Eventually, he was partnered with veteran Al Corassa (Paul Mantee), who'd become a series regular midway through season five.
Season six saw the arrival of Manny Esposito (Robert Hegyes), a young, street-wise detective who was assigned to Corassa. The two had sharply different personalities and philosophies of life and clashed. Supporting characters added to the precinct included rookie and Officer Beverley Faverty (Beverley Faverty) and Officer Tom Basil (Barry Laws). In Season seven Petrie got promoted to sergeant and then left the 14th Precinct (coincidentally, Carl Lumbly had decided to leave the series). In his place, singer Merry Clayton came onboard as Verna Dee Jordan, the first new female detective at the precinct since Cagney and Lacey themselves.
Actor Dick O'Neill made regular appearances as Cagney's alcoholic father, Charlie Cagney, a former NYPD cop; Christine would later fight alcoholism herself. In the fourth season, Mary Beth got pregnant, and she and Harvey welcomed a new baby girl into the world, Alice, in the fall of 1985.
Critics praised the level of storytelling, but were put off by the aggressiveness of Daly and Foster. CBS canceled the program after six episodes because of bad ratings.
Even after making it back on the air, Cagney & Lacey only survived by the skin of its teeth and was canceled by CBS a second time in May 1983, but a larger-than-expected public outcry soon followed, and fans of the show, aided by producers, mounted a letter-writing campaign. CBS simultaneously switched its time slot for what was to have been its last three months on the air in summer reruns. The move was fortuitous, and the show's ratings shot up. The viewer protest, combined with the unexpected ratings improvement in the Nielsens -- and Emmy nominations that led to a Tyne Daly win in September, were enough to put the show over the top. Cagney & Lacey was back into production in January of 1984.
It finished in the top 10 for the 1983–84 season, and would go on to earn an impressive 36 Emmy Award nominations and 14 wins during its run, with six nominations for Daly and Gless. The series itself won Emmy Awards for Best Drama Series in 1985 and 1986.
The series continued to air Monday nights at 10/9c until the middle of the 1987-88 season, holding its own against ABC's Monday Night Football and NBC's Monday Night at the Movies. Halfway through its seventh season, Cagney & Lacey was moved to Tuesdays, where it went up against ABC's thirtysomething and NBC's Crime Story. As a result, the show bled viewers and fell to 53rd place by the end of the season, at which point CBS cancelled it.