Cagney & Lacey: Breaking the "Gless" Ceiling

At the start of Women’s history month, we celebrated the shattering of the glass ceiling with TheArchive’s Decoy - the first television series to feature a policewoman as its syndicated star. Beverly Garland solidified her place in history as a cinematic trailblazer - offering women of the '50s an empowered and respected female hero of the silver screen; a role model whose story was worth telling week after week!

Garland made way for many other female “TV cops” but it took over 16 years! While Angie Dickinson did arrest our hearts in the late 70’s in Police Woman, that did not necessarily open the flood gates overnight. It took years until we had the likes of Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, S. Epatha Merkerson and Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order, and most recently Regina King in Watchmen

While there have been other greats, we thought it would be interesting to focus on a truly untapped space, the female buddy cop TV drama.

It wasn’t until 1982 that we finally saw the familiar buddy cop genre get subverted by two women. And that was Cagney & Lacey. They were rough around the edges, took down hardened criminals, and dealt with real life problems. The show was gritty, action packed, and had its humor too. In all, it was honest, raw, and explored real issues. It took down the glass ceiling in ways that to this point had not been on screen.

Cagney (Sharon Gless who picked up the role after Loretta Swit and Meg Foster both left the show), who in addition to donning a badge was also a mom; and Lacey (Tyne Daly) was a single, take-no-prisoners force with which to be reckoned. Together, they proved they could take down bad guys like the best of ‘em while still able to crack jokes on the “John” which of course they called “the Jane.” They also explored relatable topics that cast a spotlight on issues that had seldom been explored by women on television before - surviving breast cancer in the case of Lacey, or Cagney trying to beat alcoholism - and they did it as a team on and off the mean streets.

Despite multiple cancellations and systemic bias from a coterie of male TV executive bosses, the show endured and ran from 1982-1988 making way for the many great female “heavies” today. Tyne Daly earned four Emmys and countless Golden Globe nominations and Sharon Gless pulled down two Emmys and a Golden Globe win. In all Cagney & Lacey was nominated or won 36 Emmys and Golden Globes - a near record for a series in the 1980s.

While the series did run its course, the audience adoration did not. These iconic women broke new ground and the demand for their screen time was such that four television movies reunited the characters through the 90s.

In fact, even after the conclusion of the final Cagney & Lacey television movie, Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless have continued to reunite onscreen. Daly guest-starred in an episode of Gless's 1990 series The Trials of Rosie O’Neill. They also reunited, as different characters of course, on Judging Amy and Burn Notice.

TheArchive loves to bring back these evergreen gems and share some nostalgia from our little corner of television history. 



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