In 1974 I was dating a man named Barney Rosenzweig [a TV producer]. At that time I was very heavily involved, as a lot of women my age—I’m now 44—were, in the women’s movement. I was buying Barney a lot of books about women, stuff to sort of try to drag him into the 20th century. One of the books I gave him to read was Molly Haskell’s From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. In that book, Molly makes the point that there has never been in the history of film a female-buddy picture. In the movies there has always been, like, the pretty one and the ugly one, the smart one and the dumb one, the model and her fat friend. You know, the one up, one down relationship, never what she referred to as a Newman-and-Redford type of relationship between women. Barney came back a couple of days after I gave him this book, we’re getting ready to go out, and he said, “We have to make a female-buddy picture.”
I went to my writing partner, Barbara Avedon, and asked her what she thought, and we both thought it was a great idea. So she and I came up with Cagney & Lacey, which was first called Newman & Redford. We made them cops because we felt that you go for the life-and-death situation. We wanted a hard name and a soft name. Chris Cagney was a harsh, tough sound, kind of feisty. Mary Beth Lacey was a softer, warmer, cuddlier name. We chose New York because we always believed that in comedy—Cagney & Lacey started out as a comedy film—New York was the funniest city in the world.
Over the ensuing six years, we got turned down by every studio in town. Most of the executives at that time would say to us, “Two women cops! What, are you crazy?” Ultimately, Barney, in his undying quest to get this picture made, thought it should be a series. He pitched it to all three networks, and it was turned down. Then, in a last-ditch attempt, he pitched it as a TV movie. CBS said okay. It went on the air in October of ’81 and did a very high number, like a 42 share or something. You never really go in expecting that kind of number unless you’re doing War and Remembrance. CBS called and said, Can you guys make this a series?”
We wanted to do it with the two women on an equal level, preferably as partners, because Barbara and I were partners and that was the subject we wanted to explore. All the nine years we were together, we had a little, tiny office in Culver City. Barbara lived in Venice, and I lived in Beverly Hills. We got in our cars one day when we were looking for an office, drove toward each other and where we met, we rented. No matter what we did, we always kept this little office. It was about as large as if you put two couches together. When you walked in the door, you knew immediately which was my side of the room and which was Barbara’s because we were truly the odd couple. My side was compulsively neat. Her side was messy. She wore sweatshirts and jeans to work. I got dressed up even though we were just sitting in this little office by ourselves. The greatest thing about a partnership is that everything you do, everything you talk about, is fodder for your stories. In those nine years probably we were each other’s therapist, mother, sister, lawyer. Barbara and I spent eight or nine years talking. That’s what we did. Now, sometimes it came out on paper and we got paid for it, but essentially we spent those years sharing our lives. I really believe that’s what we as writers were able to get up on the screen that made Cagney & Lacey different.
Whatever the cop story was of the week, you were aware there was something going on underneath. There was a humanistic quality that was a tad different from what we had seen before. I think Cagney & Lacey was quite responsible for that new look at characters on television. Barney used to say that in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have had to make Cagney and Lacey cops, they could have worked in the post office. Because the fact of the matter is Cagney and Lacey are two women who happen to be cops. They are not two cops who happen to be women. We were doing a show about two women who had lives, interests, friendships, lovers, whatever. Being cops put them in more interesting situations, but being cops was never what it was all about.