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'Cagney & Lacey' Seeks Help On Abortion Show

October 23, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

The producers of "Cagney & Lacey," who long argued that their lady cop show did not appeal strictly to women, are now appealing directly to women--for help.

The potential problem facing the Emmy-winning series relates to an upcoming episode about the bombing of an abortion clinic. On the segment titled "The Clinic," scheduled to air Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. on CBS, Det. Mary Beth Lacey, played by a visibly pregnant Tyne Daly, reveals that she had an abortion out of wedlock at age 19. Her Irish Catholic partner, Det. Christine Cagney, played by Sharon Gless, has mixed feelings about the subject, but eventually advocates a woman's right to an abortion.

A spokesman for CBS' senior vice president for programming Harvey Shephard said Tuesday that the network is "unaware of any pressure" to cancel the episode. But executive producer Barney Rosenzweig said he anticipates just such a reaction from the right-to-life movement and right-wing groups.

As a result, he has launched a preemptive publicity campaign. "The Clinic" was screened last week in Washington for representatives of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Members of the National Organization for Women will view the episode Nov. 6 in Los Angeles.

"We're asking them to let their feelings be known in their local communities," Rosenzweig said.

On the surface, Cagney and Lacey's investigation of the clinic bombing is the focus of the show. But Rosenzweig acknowledges that the show makes a pro-choice statement. And that has him worried. The last time his series dealt with a politically sensitive theme--in a 1982 episode involving an anti-women's movement, Phyllis Schlafly-type character--the episode was banned in Chicago and other cities because of pressure on local CBS affiliates.

This time, Rosenzweig is "anticipating the worst." Kay James, director of public affairs for the National Right to Life in Washington, said that the organization is urging its members to write or call "Cagney's" producer, but only after they view the show. Rosenzweig said, however, he believes that other groups might be more inclined to have the episode banned.

National Abortion Rights Action League's 150,000 members--plus another 100,000 at the organization's affiliate groups in 32 states--have been "encouraged" to let CBS know "how much support there is for 'Cagney & Lacey' and this episode," executive director Nanette Falkenberg said by phone from Washington Tuesday.

"The Clinic" episode could never have been shot without the implicit backing of Orion Television, which produces the show, and explicit approval of CBS.

Carol Altieri, CBS vice president for program practices, said her department took "special care" to "flesh things out so that all points of view were prominent." Much of the right-to-life viewpoint is posed by actress Fionnula Flanagan, guest-starring as a pro-life activist.

The pro-choice NARAL, meanwhile, arranged for some members of Congress to view "The Clinic" to demonstrate that "people in the pop media care about this issue and take positions on this issue and that it is an issue that can be responsibly dealt with," Falkenberg said. She added that " 'Cagney & Lacey' is a show that lots of women members of Congress talk about. It's their favorite show."

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