Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cops on TV, 1982

by Kathleen Ernst

The first two books in my Chloe Ellefson mystery series take place in 1982. I once asked a retired policeman about issues he remembered from the 80s, and he answered without hesitation: the widespread integration of women into police departments.

I recently revisited two police dramas that debuted in 1982. (Hey, it’s research.)

cops William Shatner

T. J. Hooker starred William Shatner as a veteran police sergeant. In the first season, women were largely invisible. One female officer shows up behind a desk, and officers’ wives bake for PD social gatherings.

In the second season Heather Locklear is introduced as Officer Stacy Sheridan. She’s on the street, fluffy hair and all, working with the guys. (Except when she shows up in short-shorts.)

cops TJ group 2

cops TJ group 1 Cagney and Lacey, which also became a prime time series in 1982, focused much more on the role of women in police work. Christine Cagney (who is single) and Mary Beth Lacey (who has a husband and kids) are detectives in New York, struggling to find their place among their male colleagues.

cops Cagney lacey2 In the first episode, the two women are asked to portray prostitutes, serving as decoys for a murderer. The implication is that while they strut their stuff, the men will do the real cop work and catch the killer. Later episodes deal with a variety of social issues, including date rape. The male cops, even when well intentioned, sometimes make insensitive or demeaning comments. Meanwhile the two women, who are very different, forge an honest friendship.

Debates about the presentation of women cops took place behind the scenes as well. Most people identify the role of Christine Cagney with Sharon Gless. In the first TV season, however, Cagney was played by Meg Foster. According to various reports, CBS canned Foster because she wasn’t “feminine enough.” (Trivia question: Can you name the well-known actress who originated the role of Cagney in the 1981 television movie?)

cops Cagney Lacey.Foster

T. J. Hooker aired for five seasons. Cagney and Lacey had a longer run; it was brought back from cancellation by a tidal wave of fan protest, and after the series ended, four movies reunited the main characters.

It’s been fascinating to watch some of these old broadcasts. I don’t assume that they accurately portray 1982 police procedures, any more than CSI accurately portrays the current state of forensic investigation for today’s average crime. Still, these shows provide a window back to the early 1980s. These were the shows that my characters might have watched.

I remember watching, and enjoying, Cagney and Lacey. T.J. Hooker—not so much. Do you remember watching either of these? What were your impressions at the time? (I know, I know, that’s too long ago for some to recall!)


The Cat Bastet said...

Don't forget Hill Street Blues!

G.M. Malliet said...

I loved Cagney and Lacey. I've always felt privileged to have lived long enough to see women come into their own, at least on TV.

Real life still needs work, of course (as does TV, here and there).

Scott said...

Hill Street Blues started in 1981, so I definitely must include that in my research! I wasn't a regular watcher, but I do remember it.

G.M., I agree - look at all the roles women have on TV cop shows now!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Oops - "Scott" is me! I'm borrowing my husband's computer.

Alan Orloff said...

I watched both shows! And I especially liked those episodes when Heather Locklear had to wear those shorts.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I loved Cagney & Lacy and Hill Street Blues. Never could get into Hooker, maybe it was because the women were just fluff. Can you imagine a real police woman on the job with all that hair in her face?

Terri Bischoff said...

well, let's see, in 82 I was (ahem) 9. I don't really remember watching Hill Street Blues or T.J. Hooker, but I must have seen enough because I am familiar with the shows. Maybe they were on past my bedtime. :)

Now, Cagney and Lacey... that was a whole different story! Loved that show. No surprise there!! LOL

Kathleen Ernst said...

Alan - why am I not surprised?

Sue Ann - she never had a hair out of place, either.

Terri - thanks for sharing that (I think). You strike me as someone who wouldn't let a little thing like bedtime get in the way!

Keith Raffel said...

Kathleen, does it really make me old that I remember Police Woman with Angie Dickinson which premiered in 1974?

Deborah Sharp said...

I LOVED Cagney and Lacey ... wanted to be Sharon Gless, tough yet vulnerable. What a long way we've come, baby.... anybody else watch In Plain Sight, with the very wonderful Mary McCormack in the lead role?
PS: Alan, didn't I see you in pair of those short-shorts at the last Malice?

Kathleen Ernst said...

Keith - no, definitely not old! Just well informed.

Deborah - I'm not familiar with that one. Love the actress, though. I'll check it out.

Alice Loweecey said...

Terri was...NINE... in 1982? Good Heavens, I was starting to fight my way out of the convent in 1982! *dies*

I never got into TJ Hooker, but I remember Angie Dickinson in Police Woman in the mid-70s. We were thrilled back then to see a woman play a strong--and starring--role.