Women Watching Television: Gender, Class, and Generation in the American Television Experience

by Andrea L. Press; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991

From the series' beginning in the spring of 1982, CBS found its leading characters lacking in requisite feminine attributes. When ratings were poor, the networks blamed the show's feminism: "'The Cagney and Lacey characters were too harshly women's lib,' said an unnamed CBS executive in TV Guide , 'too tough, too hard, and not feminine. The American public doesn't respond to the bra burners, the fighters, the women who insist on calling manhole covers peoplehole covers,' he continued. 'I perceived them as dykes'" (quoted in Brooks and Marsh 1985:136). The network forced recasting of Cagney, then played by Meg Foster, by an actress they termed more feminine and glamorous, Sharon Gless. When the ratings remained poor in the 1982-83 season and the series was cancelled, there was a great deal of outcry and attention paid to the innovative character of the show. Viewers began to tune in to its reruns that summer, to see what the fuss was about. The show won an Emmy the next fall and, surprisingly, CBS renewed Cagney and Lacey in the spring of 1984.

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