As Cagney, Sharon Gless buckles her seat belt
New York — SERIES television, which used to treat women as adjuncts of Father (who always knew best), has begun to discover the women of the 1980s (who sometimes know better). Probably the prime prime-time examples have been seen on CBS on Monday nights, where ``Kate & Allie'' (CBS, 9-9:30 p.m.) prove weekly that two single parents can combine households to provide, at least temporarily, a healthy family environment. ``Cagney & Lacey'' (CBS, 10-11 p.m.), canceled and then returned by popular demand, shows weekly that two women, who happen to be on the police force, can work together efficiently.
I talked recently with Sharon Gless, who plays Christine Cagney, the blond, single member of the team. Several times she's been nominated for the Emmy, but lost out to costar Tyne Daley.
To whom does Ms. Gless give credit for the resurrection of ``Cagney & Lacey''?
``To the American public. All those people who wrote in to CBS. Yes, the NOW organization was actually one of the first groups to come forth on our behalf, but then it snowballed. It was the women's organizations originally, but then everybody.''
Since the women's movement was so influential in saving the show, does Ms. Gless feel a special responsibility now to cover women's issues on the show? Is that why there have been discussions of things like abortion?
She shakes her head vigorously. ``I feel a responsibility to discuss honestly topics that are important to everybody, to all human beings. We do not consider ourselves a feminist show. We consider ourselves a humanist show. We have a male audience, too.''
Does the show portray the police force honestly? ``Well, we were given a plaque by the New York Police Department for our portrayal of the department -- the first women to receive the award, so I consider that a validation. Obviously we have to take some dramatic license occasionally, but to the best of our ability, considering we are an entertainment, we are doing a good job in representing the police force.''
True, too, of women on the police force?
``We try to adhere to technicalities the best we can. We've been approached by the ladies in blue saying thank you very much and congratulations, it's great. I understand it was once much more difficult for women on the force. Maybe our show had something to do with making it easier.
``But there are problems being in the minority on the force, and we show that on the show. There are problems when you are surrounded by men. I hope we are showing it properly.''
Are women in general getting a fairer shake on TV these days? ``Yes. It used to be that you were always stealing somebody's husband. You had to be either a vixen or a victim. Or a hooker. Women were never shown having any control over their own lives. And also women were always portrayed as manipulating. Now in our show, Christine, the character I play, doesn't want Mary Beth's husband. It's just two women who happen to be policewomen getting along in life. That sort of thing wasn't done a few years ago .''
Is Sharon Gless tired of being considered a role model in her part as Chris Cagney? ``I'm not tired of it. But it's just hard to accept. It's a big responsibility. I just want to entertain and maybe educate a little. But it makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes. I really have to watch my p's and q's when I'm playing Cagney, because she is quite a rebel and she's not a perfect person, which is what I love about her. But I've been told I must buckle my seat belt now because I'm a role model. I mean,
I don't want people not buckling their seat belts.''
Aside from large numbers of viewers, what would Gless consider success for ``Cagney & Lacey''?
``My ambition has always been to entertain. That's what I do for a living. If I can educate at the same time, fine. I'd like to make people think about women in our society . . . and make them laugh, too.
``In Christine Cagney I think I have created a real character. She's imperfect; . . . we are looking at a very flawed contemporary woman. But people identify with her and she is loved. I don't care about the numbers.
``If people understand the police force better, that's fine, too. But we really are two women who happen to be police. We are not police who happen to be women. It really is the story of two women. And that's their job. We could be working in the post office. . . .''
How long will Sharon Gless continue to do ``Cagney & Lacey''? ``It depends upon the day you ask me and how tired I am. Right now I would like to finish this year and do one more year. But then when we get to the end of that year, I may say, ah I've got another year in me. There are a lot of stories to tell about Christine. She has a lot of growing up to do.''