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Six years after we last saw Mary Beth Lacey and Chris Cagney at the 14th Precinct of the New York Police Department, life has changed dramatically.

As viewers of "Cagney & Lacey: The Return" will see on CBS Sunday night, Lacey (Tyne Daly) has retired from the NYPD and is blissfully at home raising her young daughter and spending quality time with her husband Harvey (John Karlen). Cagney (Sharon Gless) is married to a high-powered attorney (James Naughton) who is a Friend of Bill's--as in President Bill Clinton. She's been promoted from a street cop with the 14th Precinct to an investigator for the district attorney's office. And she's in denial about the menopause she's going through.

For a television audience that watched the 1982-88 "Cagney & Lacey" grapple with social issues and win more than a handful of Emmys along the way, another groundbreaking detective series set in New York has grabbed their attention.

"By the way, 'NYPD Blue,' which is my favorite show on the air, is 'Cagney & Lacy' in drag," says Barney Rosenzweig, the executive producer of the series and the reunion movie, who is married to Gless.

"I hope people will love us as we are now," says Gless by phone, months after the movie was completed. "Six years is a long time and women change a lot in that period of time. We just didn't pull any punches. The women are six years older and that's now how we are doing it."

Also reprising their roles from the series is Martin Kove as Isbecki; Carl Lumbly as Marcus Petrie; Al Waxman as Lt. Samuels; Robert Hegyes as Esposito; Paul Mantee as Corassa, and Merry Clayton as Verna Dee Jordan.

And this movie won't be the last viewers will see of these characters. "Cagney & Lacey: Together Again" will air later this season on CBS.

During its six years on CBS, "Cagney & Lacey" was one of the network's most acclaimed shows, receiving two Emmys as best drama series. Daly won the best actress Emmy four times and Gless won twice. The series never shied away from controversy, tackling such heady topics as rape, breast cancer and alcoholism.

"The show is about relationships and, specifically, about the relationships between these two women," explains Rosenzweig. "It's also about the relationship they have with the men in their lives and their careers. We always used to say this is Hepburn and Tracy without the sex."

The story in "The Return" finds the gang of the 14th Precinct gathering at Cagney's townhouse to celebrate the retirement of Lt. Samuels (Waxman). While there, Harvey has a massive heart attack. Because the family is financially strapped, Lacey decides to return to work. But re-entering the work force is impossible for Lacey because of the much-younger competition. Cagney comes to the rescue and asks her to become an investigator at the D.A.'s office. Together, they try to solve a difficult case dealing with stolen guns.

"I had a good time going back and checking in with these ladies again," says Daly, from Townshend, Tenn., where she is currently filming the CBS midseason replacement "Christy."

But it was also difficult. "There was a great load of baggage with this thing, you know? All of that was along with the ride, at least for the first couple of weeks and then it began to be about itself."

Another difficult aspect, Daly says, was "making sure it was a discreet movie that stands by itself and not an episode. We had all practiced making episodes of 'Cagney & Lacey,' but none of us practiced making movies. That takes different stuff. I was really interested that it stand on its own, and that remains to be seen."

Gless acknowledges she was nervous about stepping back into Cagney's shoes because she was following her "own act. It's oftentimes easier to step in and create the role anew, but I had already created Cagney. So to try to follow that. ... And she's still six years older."

She finally felt comfortable by the end of shooting the first movie. "I said, 'I get it. Now let's start.' But we hit the ground running and you need a little time to reacquaint yourself, especially since we are spinning all new yarns here."

Gless wasn't pleased with the writer's idea to have Cagney married. "I thought it was wrong," she says. "But the writers had Barney convinced this was the way to go. I just really kicked and screamed. Barney said, 'Would you calm down? I didn't say it would last.' He said, 'Sharon. She's is six years older. She has to try this. She thought she was in love.' "

Still, Gless says, she was uncomfortable playing the marriage. "You'll see very quickly that they are just totally different people. I guess I had to rationalize it. I guess she got caught up in the high life of this man."

Far easier was working with Daly. "It's always a pleasure. Doing Cagney and Lacey, that part was easy. When Tyne did a guest spot for me on (the 1990-92 CBS series) 'The Trials of Rosie O' Neill,' that was very strange because we weren't playing Cagney and Lacey. But this time around, it was very comfortable. We knew who these women were."

And if these movies perform well in the ratings, don't be surprised if Cagney & Lacey reunite once a year for CBS.

"Cagney & Lacey: The Return" airs Sunday at 9 p.m on CBS.

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