Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless talk about being groundbreaking, pistol packing, TV heroes

When you spend as much time as I do reviewing DVDs in the comfort of your bedroom, you also get to relive the past through TV shows in syndication. Oftentimes, I have the TV on as I am working. As I only really watch KDOC (a local station in Los Angeles county) and TV Land, it was only a matter of time before I came across Cagney and Lacey. This groundbreaking show which featured female detectives Mary Bath Lacey (Tyne Daly) and Christine Cagney (Sharon Gless) was successful because it unflinchingly dealt with the personal and professional issues of women in these positions.

With the recent release of Cagney and Lacey: Season 1 on DVD, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Daly and Gless to discuss how they made television history.

Having seen the show in syndication and now on DVD, I was struck by how incredibly relevant many of the issues still are. I was wondering how you felt about that and about this show finally coming to DVD?

Sharon Gless: I'm glad to hear you think the stories are still relevant. I do too. The DVDs, I never imagined that that would happen to us.

Tyne Daly: When we finished the 125 episodes we were given an option to take the show on tapes. Remember those?

Oh yes! I still have some.

Tyne Daly: I'm the genius who chose to get the format in Betamax! To watch those on a computer, or a DVD player or anything... much less a Betamax machine! Now we can look at it on DVD, which I did the day before yesterday because I thought I'd do my homework. I guess I looked at about 7 of them. I'm glad that we're gonna get to tell these stories again. I hope that they're relevant to a new generation of women. I'm also a little saddened that many of the issues we talk about have not been resolved in our society.

Well, even though a lot of things aren't resolved, I think that might speak more to universal nature of what you ladies did?

Tyne Daly: I hope you're right.

Sharon Gless: You know its interesting, Barney (Rosenzweig; executive producer) has a granddaughter, she's my granddaughter also, she's 12 years old. Barney introduced her to Cagney and Lacey during easter break... and this child, 12 years old, was absolutely hooked on these shows. She said she'd never seen anything like it and she couldn't get enough of it. That was encouraging to me because there's another generation, even that young.

Why do you think audiences connected so much with the characters on Cagney and Lacey?

Tyne Daly: I think it was the first time we looked at what police officers were doing, extra to being police officers. Before Cagney and Lacey, cop shows were just about how cop shows work. We followed these women home and these women had very different lives. Separate realities, we used to call it, when we were working. It was interesting to see what they did beyond what they did for a living.

Sharon Gless: I think it was because of their personal lives that the show became as successful as it did. Their personal lives were intertwined.

Did you two know at the time that you were breaking new ground? Did that effect how you played these characters?

Tyne Daly: I think that I knew that it was two really good parts for women, and that we were going to be something more than victims or the decorations. That opportunity, I loved Mary Beth Lacey and I loved her possibilities. I also saw that Christine was an extraordinarily interesting character and that they were going to be at the center of the stories. I did not know that they were going to have the effect that they did.

Sharon Gless: Not a clue! (Laughs) When you're doing, especially television, there is no live audience to respond to. We were two working actors doing our job. It was only on rare occasions when we were let out of the set and we would start to get mobbed! Tyne would tell me her stories and I would tell her mine and we were stunned... that it had that kind of appeal, that attraction.

Tyne Daly: We were feeding some sort of necessary hunger in the audience. I think that they were happy to have stories with women in the center. I think that they still are. Maybe they do better for young women in terms of cartoons? Maybe you see a few more female heroes? Real, live, breathing women, its still a rarity. Women that aren't satteliting around the central character of a man.

There's a lot of very good police shows on TV today. Do you think that a show like Cagney and Lacey could be made today? Would it be supported?

Sharon Gless: There's a lot of really wonderful roles for women on television. I can't complain about that. Do they carry the show? No. Has the format of Cagney and Lacey ever been repeated? No. But, I do think there are some wonderful roles for women out there. With the little TV I get a chance to see... I was telling Barney, the scenes that we had in "The Jane"... those are the scenes that I am told everybody looked forward too. I have a favorite show on television called Boston Legal. They do the great scene that they tie up the show with between the two men?

Outside on the patio...

Sharon Gless: They smoke their cigars together. They talk about how they feel and something other than the cases they're working on. Those scenes reminded me of those wonderful things we got to do in "The Jane."

Tyne Daly: Its the only place we could find any privacy.

Did either of you get any feedback from female police officers when you were doing the show?

Sharon Gless: Yes.

Tyne Daly: We had a technical advisor in the first season who was from Los Angeles. We had to change that in the second season because we realized the job was quite different in Los Angeles than in New York. We got pretty good support from the police departments across the country, except if we got into any traffic difficulties then they were very strict about giving us tickets. There were no breaks.

Sharon Gless: We won the first award, ever given to women, from the New York Police Department. We had a lot of support. Even today I have young women come up to me who have now done their 20 years saying, "I became a member of the force because of you." These were the letters that used to frighten me.

Tyne Daly: Yeah, right.

Sharon Gless: These young girls would write and say, "I'm gonna be a cop like you." And you to tell them, "This is just a job on TV, you could get hurt." There's a lot of them now. Twenty years have past, those cops have done their time and it was because of this show.

Tyne Daly: I think we were an example that you could function in what was traditionally a man's world and you could succeed. That that maybe extends out into other ares of the world. I think women have been, I hate this word, allowed into jobs but it ain't over. We're still not making a fair dollar, there's still a glass ceiling that needs to be cracked in all sorts of areas, and so the issues that we entertained in the show... I think maybe its worth telling these stories again. I'm hoping so.

What are you both doing now?

Tyne Daly: Sharon is employed and I am un.

Sharon Gless: I'm on new series its called Burn Notice for USA.

Tyne Daly: Last year I did a play here in New York and I feel so in love with New York City, and being back on the stage that I moved here because I'm the mother of adults only now. So I'm leaving them to their own devices in the West and I'm coming to New York, where I've wanted to be for a very long time, and I am plying my trade in the theater.

Cagney and Lacey: Season 1 is currently available from MGM.