Cagney and Lacey: A police partnership that broke the mold & redefined TV friendships for women

About the Cagney and Lacey 80s police TV show at Click Americana

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Cagney and Lacey is a groundbreaking TV series that aired from 1982 to 1988, featuring two female police detectives, Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey. The show broke new ground by focusing on strong, complex women in a male-dominated field.

Cagney and Lacey TV show cast members

Years on air: 1982 to 1988
# of seasons: 6
# of episodes: 125


  • Christine Cagney played by Loretta Swit (pilot), Meg Foster (early episodes), and Sharon Gless (main series):

    A single, ambitious detective who is passionate about her job. Cagney is often seen as the “by-the-book” cop and is keen on climbing the professional ladder.

  • Mary Beth Lacey played by Tyne Daly:

    A married mother of two, Lacey is empathetic and pragmatic. Her approach to law enforcement often serves as a counterbalance to Cagney’s more aggressive methods.

  • Harvey Lacey played by John Karlen:

    Mary Beth’s supportive husband who works in construction. Harvey is portrayed as a loving spouse and father who navigates the challenges of being married to a police officer.

  • Lt. Bert Samuels played by Al Waxman:

    The Lieutenant in charge of the 14th Precinct, where Cagney and Lacey work. He is generally supportive of his officers, although he sometimes finds himself caught between bureaucracy and doing what’s right.

  • Det. Marcus Petrie played by Carl Lumbly:

    A fellow detective in the 14th Precinct. He is highly competent and professional, and he often collaborates with Cagney and Lacey on cases.

  • Det. Victor Isbecki played by Martin Kove:

    Another detective at the 14th Precinct, Isbecki is initially portrayed as chauvinistic but undergoes character development throughout the series.

  • Ronald Coleman played by Harvey Atkin:

    Desk sergeant at the 14th Precinct, he often coordinates with Cagney, Lacey, and other officers, providing information and logistical support.

  • Manny Esposito played by Robert Hegyes:

    The actor, who had been a favorite on Welcome Back, Kotter, played a streetwise detective for 41 episodes.


First hitting the airwaves in 1982, the original Cagney and Lacey TV series was a game changer for the entertainment industry.

It wasn’t just another cop show, but portrayed two women police detectives, Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey, who were as tough and smart as their male counterparts. Finally, a cop drama where women got to do more than just fetch coffee!

Cagney and Lacey vintage 80s TV show

The show’s six-season run is punctuated by numerous awards. Tyne Daly, who played Lacey, bagged four Emmy Awards for her role, while Sharon Gless, who portrayed Cagney, won two. (Loretta Swit initially played Cagney in the TV movie pilot, but due to her commitment to MASH, she couldn’t continue in the role when the series was picked up. Sharon Gless took over, and made the character her own.) 

Cagney and Lacey pilot movie with Loretta Swit
Cagney and Lacey pilot movie with Loretta Swit

Actress Meg Foster played Cagney for the first six episodes of the first season, but apparently due to no fault of her own, the producers decided to go another direction with the character, and hired Gless. 

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Season 1 Cagney and Lacey publicity still with Meg Foster as Cagney before Sharon Gless
Season 1 Cagney and Lacey publicity still with Meg Foster as Cagney before Sharon Gless

Once the two leads were settled in their roles, it was clear to see that the series had what it took to be a success. The characters weren’t just well-acted, but were also complex, strong women making their way in a world mostly run by men.

Cagney and Lacey television series promo shot with cop car

What set Cagney and Lacey apart was its willingness to tackle serious issues. The show didn’t shy away from weighty themes like sexism, racism, and domestic violence. The scripts also often examined the personal lives of the two detectives, adding depth to the characters and making them relatable.

1980s Manhattan 14th precinct with Cagney and Lacey actresses

In its early days, the show faced its share of controversies, including a temporary cancellation. Fan support was overwhelming, however — leading to its resurrection.

Over its six-season run, it gained a solid fan base that loved its smart storytelling and groundbreaking focus on its lead characters.

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Even now, years after the final episode, the show’s impact is hard to ignore. TV series like The Closer and Law & Order: SVU owe a tip of the hat to Cagney and Lacey for blazing the trail. It’s still a go-to example for how to portray women as multi-dimensional and strong — a lesson some of today’s shows could still learn from.

Actresses Gless and Daly in later season of Cagney and Lacey (nameplate Lt C Cagney-Burton)

Have a look below at the photos and articles we’ve collected and reminisce about a show that stands out still today for its pioneering focus on strong, complicated women navigating both personal and professional lives.

From critical acclaim to its enduring cultural impact, the show’s significance is hard to overstate.

Vintage Cagney and Lacy television series cast

VIDEO: Cagney and Lacey theme song & opening credits

The Cagney and Lacey theme song, whipped up by Bill Conti (the man behind the Rocky theme), really sets the mood.

It balances drama with a sense of spirited friendship — letting you know you’re in for a ride that’s about more than just catching bad guys. It’s a memorable piece that adds an extra layer to the series without stealing the spotlight.

YouTube video

Cagney & Lacey real cops & robbers

Excerpted from an article by Michael Goldfarb in the Capital Times (Madison, Wis.) Nov 16, 1982

For Cagney and Lacey, the beat goes on. But this year’s Cagney, Sharon Gless, has the uneasy feeling that nobody’s noticed.

Gless herself is the product of the show’s general beefing-up — she’s the third Chris Cagney in as many years, making Tyne Daly, the one and only Mary Beth Lacey, the Jaclyn Smith of the show.

Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly as Cagney and Lacey (80s police TV series)

But this is no fashion-in-force show, no “Police Woman” braves danger and gets rescued by big brother. Between “Cagney and Lacey” and “Hill Street’s” officer Lucille Bates, this could be the year that policewomen get serious duty.

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According to Daly, executive producer Barney Rosenzweig originally tried to sell “Cagney and Lacey” as a feature film. CBS bought it as a TV drama to star big gun Loretta Swit as Cagney. And Daly signed on as Lacey.

Vintage Cagney and Lacey TV movie with Loretta Swit (October 1981)

“I thought we were just making an MOW” — a movie of the week, Daly remembers. “But then we pulled these extraordinary ratings, and the idea for a series took hold.”

Swit was unavailable, on call for “M-A-S-H,” but Daly stayed on, and eventually Meg Foster was cast as Cagney. They shot six episodes, which ran with no great success.

“I thought that was the end of that. We’d euphemistically call it a mini-series, and I would get away with my dignity,” Daly said.

That might have been that, except Daly thought she had “laid the groundwork” for a quality show. She and Foster went traveling around the country trying to drum up support for the show.

During the summer the six episodes were rerun with better ratings, and finally “Cagney and Lacey” was given the go-ahead for another season.

But there was a switch when the show got the green light: Foster was fired. That hurt Daly. “I was paying attention to numbers like a network exec. You can get seduced by the businessman’s way of thinking,” she says. “Now I just act. That’s my job. Then I go home and take care of life.”

Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacy in Cagney and Lacey vintage 80s TV show

Life means her husband of 18 years and their two children. She says she is getting used to Gless as Cagney. “I’m good at partnering. After all, I’m a longtime married person.”

Her sentiments are echoed by Gless: “It’s not easy being the third Cagney. But I’ve been here before.” Earlier, Gless replaced Lynn Redgrave on “House Calls.” Gless says that the actresses’ private lives reflect their characters. “The basic premise is that Lacey has a personal life, a family, and Cagney is single and gets around a bit.”

Right now, Gless doesn’t get around much, working 14-hour days, five days a week. But she is “very” single, having recently ended a six-year relationship.

She says that one series episode, in an attempt to keep things topical, deals with Cagney practicing celibacy. “Of course, it doesn’t deal with your temperament going to seed when you do practice it.”

Cagney and Lacey original TV show scene (1980s)

Because it’s a cop show, there are fights, but Gless doesn’t do her own stunts. “No, it’s too dangerous. There’s no use trying to injure yourself.”

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Daly doesn’t worry about “physical danger but finds the work psychically and emotionally dangerous,” adding, “It’s dangerous to have your picture taken every day. And we have no time to prepare; every day is a performance day.”

Cagney and Lacey in the police station (1980s TV show)

Will the third time be a charm for “Cagney and Lacey”? Gless says, “I don’t know what makes a show go, or for that matter what makes a relationship last.” Daly hopes it runs, but not forever. “I don’t want to be doing Lacey seven years from now.”

But she hopes the show has enough success to advance the image of women doing hard, real work on television. “‘Charlie’s Angels‘ had to happen first. Now we can be hipper, truer. We hope to be more honest about this sort of woman. The next series can take it even further.”

Where are they now? Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless in 2010
Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless in 2010 (Photo by S Bukley/
Photo by S Bukley/

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