Wondering If Things Have Changed in the Squad Room
Pretty much everybody has written just about everything there is to say about the Democratic Convention. From Hillary’s amazing speech to her bold, bold choice of a white pant suit, from awesome Sarah McBride, the first transgender speaker at a national political convention, to the hammering home of the Stronger Together theme. For LGBTQ (I’m starting to add Q now, but enough, please) people, and our wonderful allies, the Democratic Convention was a history making, glass ceiling shattering, spectacularly inclusive affair.
But for me, there was one teeny-weeny special moment, probably thirty seconds or less, that saw me burst into tears. It could have happened as I heard any number of truly moving stories, pleas to end gun violence, warnings about demagogues, and appeals for kindness and caring. Those moments touched me, moved me, made me cheer. Perhaps a tear or two welled up.
But, no, the only moment when I completely lost it was seeing Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, TV’s Cagney and Lacey, reunited and singing “What the World Needs Now” with a host other performers.
Bizarre? I thought so.
But then I realized that the seven year duration of the well-written, groundbreaking female cop buddy show mirrored the most formative time in my life. It premiered on March 25, 1982, just two nights before I met my wife Bonnie.
And yes, I know, Meg Foster was the original Christine Cagney, with Gless picking up in Season Two. But for me, Gless and Daly epitomized strong, independent women with careers, decisions to make, and mostly real life problems to navigate.
In contrast to the married Mary Beth Lacey, Christine Cagney was single and facing many of the issues I faced as an unmarried woman, on my own, learning to deal with a job, a secret, and often, discrimination.
Of course, Cagney was not a lesbian in the show. She couldn’t have been in 1982, even if the writers wanted her to be, which they didn’t. But we could somehow see ourselves in her swagger and her struggles. It was the closest we’d get for years, unless you counted Cher’s character in 1983’s Silkwood, reading Katherine Forrest’s Curious Wine (also 1983), or the premier of Desert Hearts in 1985.
And face it, Sharon Gless was easy on the eyes. And somehow we got a vibe that she was an ally—played out years later by her taking a role as the PFLAG Mom in Queer as Folk, and making the sweet 2009 film Hannah Free.
Cagney and Lacey enchanted me so much I dabbled in fanfic before I ever knew such a writing genre existed. But I didn’t just write my own Cagney and Lacey story in honor of the show. I actually worked on a teleplay—a script—and submitted it to the producers. I’d never written a script before, and I really didn’t know what I was doing but I threw myself into the breach as only an enthusiastic young person would.
My script saw a policewoman injured on the job and detailed how the show’s characters, from the two principals to the other squad members, Lacey’s husband, and more, reacted to the surprising news that the next of kin they had to contact was another woman. It wrapped up mostly, happily, and there were rocky moments in the squad room, as it reflected our lives in the mid 1980s.
One night, several months after I forwarded the script to Hollywood, I got a phone call. It came in at 10:30 at night Eastern Standard Time from a young-sounding guy working production on the show. After establishing I was the writer, he made sure to let me know, emphatically, that he had not read the script, as “we’re not allowed to read it until it’s been through legal.” He told me my script was in the wrong format and he was going to send me a sample copy of the script so I could re-do it correctly. “And then we can read it,” he said, “because it has to go through the lawyers first” we said in unison.
By the following week I received a large packet from the studio with two sample scripts, writing guidelines, paperwork to fill out for their lawyers, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Yes, Bonnie and I concluded it was a lot of trouble to go to for a script nobody had read.
Well here’s the upshot. I took my mess of a script, re-did it to format, and mailed it off to the infamous lawyers. That same young man and I talked a couple of times after that and our last call determined that the script would be put on the schedule for the following season of Cagney and Lacey.
Then the show got cancelled. Bummer.
But I assure you, my bursting into tears at seeing those icons of mine almost 30 years later at the Democratic Convention had nothing to do with the loss of a writing credit or paycheck (although that would have been nice!). It had everything to do with the many years I traveled vicariously with those women and their TV family as I came out, grew up, and settled down.
By 1988 when the show ended, I was 40. Bonnie and I were suburban homeowners, and we had been living in unmarried bliss for six years and counting. Frankly, by that point I was more like the married Mary Beth Lacey than the single and loving it Christine Cagney. We had to wait until our 30th anniversary to get married legally, but we finally made it.
And now, as retirees and Medicare recipients, we look back so fondly on those Cagney and Lacey days. That old script is still in the desk drawer. A lot has changed in 30 years and it would need a hell of a lot of re-writing to reflect changes in attitudes…or would it? Maybe I can re-work it for NCIS New Orleans.
As for Cagney and Lacey, I loved seeing “them” standing up for our values.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.