Cagney & Lacey used a clever trick to obtain and keep new viewers

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: October 28, 2019, 1:13PM

Sometimes, you have to follow your gut. If there's an inkling that a show, for example, could work, sometimes you pull out every trick in the book to make it happen and nothing goes untouched, not even the first few notes of the opening theme song.

After the initial 6 episode pilot season received poor ratings, CBS moved to cancel Cagney & Lacey. People loved the storytelling aspects of the show, but it wasn't enough to keep viewers engaged. Producer Barney Rosenzweig was committed to making sure the show got the audience it deserved, and he did everything he could to assure that their second chance would not be wasted. After recasting the role of Christine Cagney with Sharon Gless, the network agreed to put the cop drama on the air. The time slot, however, wasn't promising. 

The placement of a show in a schedule can play a huge role in how well it does; things like the day of the week and the timeslot make all the difference when it comes to the ratings. For example, Friday and Saturday evenings are some of the most difficult times to be placed in because people are normally out and about, not home watching television.

Rosenzweig didn't let the tough time slot deter him. Instead, he got creative. 

Enter Bill Conti, award-winning American composer and conductor who has had a long career of composition. His big break came in 1976 when he was asked to compose the music for a little low-budget film called Rocky. He would go on to compose the music for not only the majority of the Rocky films, but also the tunes for the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, The Karate Kid 1984-1994 and many, many more. In 1982, Conti received a call from Rosenzweig and learned that Rosenzweig liked his music.

"[Rosenzweig says,] 'But you know, in this main title, I don't want anyone to think that it's a cop show,'" Conti shared. In his interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Conti revealed that while he may not have known it at the time, he was about to take part in a clever rouse to keep a Cagney & Lacey following.

Conti & Rosenzweig worked up a strategy.

"Let’s imagine [your show] can follow the greatest show on the planet, and you’re number two," Conti said. "Let’s imagine the Rolling Stones follow the Beatles. Pretty good chance of [an audience still] being around. Same in TV; if you got a big opening act and you’re number two, you gotta be pretty bad to lose the audience."

Rosenzweig figured he could keep that audience as long as they stuck around long enough to get sucked into the next show – Cagney & Lacey.

"He says, 'I wanna hold that audience. I have a cop show, 2 girls. It’s dramatic as whatever, there’s nothing funny about this. But I wanna trick ‘em; I wanna hold that audience. I want them to stick around just a little bit longer,'" Conti explained. "That’s why I had the saxophones; it could sound light and funny!"

Conti then composed a theme song that made it sound like viewers could look forward to another comedy. The music was bright and airy, giving off the same impression that one would have upon hearing the Laverne and Shirley theme song or even the Happy Days opener. The grand introduction paired with the upbeat saxophone masked the cop drama as a comedy with two smiling female leads.

This clever rouse inspired audiences who were engaged in the previous show’s timeslot to keep watching. By the time anyone realized they were watching a cop drama, they would be too invested to stop watching. Maybe they should have written Rosenzweig & Conti in as an on-screen dynamic duo!

Watch Cagney and Lacey on Start TV