Exclusive Interview with TV producer Barney Rosenzweig

Barney Rosenzweig & Sharon Gless - File photo
Barney Rosenzweig & Sharon Gless - File photo

Barney Rosenzweig is an Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winning television producer. Barney has produced hundreds of hours of prime time television including the Christy television series, the Daniel Boone television series (1964-1970), a dozen episodes of Charlie’s Angels, and the Canadian-produced series, Twice in a Lifetime.

Rosenzweig is best known for producing the 1980s television series Cagney & Lacey. It holds the distinction of being the first television show to be cancelled and then to be reinstated in a network’s lineup due to a grassroots write-in campaign by the audience.

A couple of years after Cagney & Lacey ended, Barney produced his wife, Sharon Gless, in The Trials of Rosie O’Neill. Barney also played the therapist in that drama series (although his face was never seen on camera).

Rosenzweig most recently produced the Elvis Presley homage on Broadway, All Shook Up, and now has ventured into the world of publishing with his book, Cagney & Lacey…and Me.

Cagney & Lacey, The True Beginning, was released on DVD in May of 2007. It features 22 episodes of this ground breaking television series and a fascinating two-part documentary that includes comments from Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly, Barney Rosenzweig, and many others from the cast and crew. Fans are anxiously awaiting the release of future seasons.

Currently there is much talk about soon releasing the four television movies that were made after the series ended. They are The Return, Together Again, The View Through the Glass Ceiling, and True Convictions, and are affectionately called “The Menopause Years,” by all parties involved.

Mr. Rosenzweig has most graciously granted us an interview for Our Prattville:

I have read that you began your career as an MGM office boy in 1959. Can you tell us how and when you received your first big break that led to you becoming one of the most successful producers in television history?

Like many good questions this one would take far too long to answer properly. My memoir, to which you alluded, is all about Cagney & Lacey. My next memoir (should I ever again go down that arcane path) would be Cagney & Lacey: The Before and After. I would guesstimate that your question would fill at least four chapters of that to-be-written tome. I even have trouble… as I sit at my desk overlooking the Sound that connects the Atlantic Ocean to Biscayne Bay… trying to decide just what that first “big break” was. I know there were many and I suspect all that really matters to the reader of this kind of interview is that a lot of it was…as it is with so many things… being in the right place at the right time and having the good fortune to be alert enough to recognize that simple fact. I will make a wild guess that for nearly all of us, this is the “right place and the right time” and the issue is really just getting to that place in your head where you”get” that….

Many actors say that watching movies as a child affected their career path later in life. When did you actually know you wanted to be in show business and did you ever want to be a serious actor?

I “knew” I wanted to be in show business from pre adolescence. First full memory of that was filling out the application for “Y” camp in the fourth grade (I was not quite nine years old). The questionnaire asked what I wanted to do for a living when I was grown and I answered “comedian.” Why the YMCA was asking an eight year old about his career plans I cannot say. And yes, I did want to be a “serious actor” and that became clear to all during my high school drama club days. I received scholarship awards from a couple of schools (most notably the Art Institute of Chicago), but my Mother would have none of it. She wanted me to remain home in Los Angeles and get a degree at something substantial…to become a teacher like my father. “Besides,” she added, I was not “good looking enough to be an actor.” This from my mother! To give the woman a little slack, to her an actor was Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn. It was years before more ordinary looking guys like Dustin Hoffman or Jack Nicholson would take Hollywood by storm.

Would you say that you enjoy writing as much as producing…enjoy Broadway as much as Television?

No. Producing was (sometimes, I guess, still is) a great job. Writing for pay is not. And “enjoy Broadway as much as television”?… Not a chance.

I’d like to focus the next few questions on Cagney & Lacey. This was a television show that garnered controversy, tackling such issues as racism, abortion, and date rape. In fact, there were episodes shown in the 1980s that are perhaps still taboo in primetime today. How did you get by the censors?

We didn’t always. There were a lot of fights in the early days and we had to earn our stripes. First of all, they had to see… and to their credit they often did see… that we were very serious about what it was we were trying to do. As time passed and we became more successful it became easier to deal with the censors. The ultimate “censor” was Leslie Moonves. By the time he came to CBS, Cagney & Lacey was an iconic hit with more dramatic awards than any show in CBS history and I was told I was “first family” at CBS. Not to Moonves. He didn’t like me and didn’t “get” Cagney & Lacey. He told me for him it ranged between being a “fluke” and a “flop.” That was one censor I could not win over. He simply drove me out of the business and my show along with it. I only mention it now because I have become aware of a whole series of recent CBS nostalgia ads on the Network celebrating the illustrious history of CBS and mostly I am aware of the absence of any mention in word or picture of the most honored CBS drama of all-time, namely Cagney & Lacey. An interesting bit of revisionist history… about which I feel compelled to comment.

Do you have a favorite Cagney & Lacey episode, perhaps one that stands out as memorable to you for some reason?

Well, I do have a personal favorite. It is not one of our award winners or one of our super political powerful message films. It is the episode called “Choices” written by Terry Louise Fisher and directed by Karen Arthur. I’m not going to tell you why, though… for that you’ve got to read my book.

There was a rumor floating around a few years ago that a Cagney & Lacey motion picture was in the works. I believe the word was that Demi Moore had been considered to play Lacey. Was this merely a rumor or was Orion Pictures actually interested in a theatrical release? I’m not sure how the diehard fans would respond to it, but perhaps it would have created renewed interest in the series and a new generation of fans.

The gossip about a feature presentation with a new, younger cast has been floated a few times. I even started one or two of those rumors in the long ago. I think I know how to take it up in a way that would be good for all the fans and for the box-office and maybe, just, maybe Renee Zellweger’s manager will read this and call me about it.

Concentrating now on the four reunion movies produced in 1994-1996, who first coined that adorable title, “The Menopause Years?”

That would be me, although now that I say that, I look over my shoulder to see if Sharon wants to claim credit. It does sound like her, and playing Cagney as menopausal was her idea, but she is not here to defend her credit so I will take it. I am pretty sure I coined the subtitle as well as labeling scenes in the Precinct’s Woman’s room, “The Jane.” I think it was just my way of trying not to take myself too seriously.

Barney Rosenzweig - Cagney & Lacey ...and Me
Barney Rosenzweig - Cagney & Lacey ...and Me

Would there ever be a fifth reunion movie? Perhaps Mary Beth could have grandchildren woes and Chris would have her share of headaches as the head of Homeland Security, although, I can also see her serving in the Obama cabinet as the top Attorney General.

I wanted to make two a year, take these women into their dotage, and keep making them until in the final episode, one of them simply doesn’t show up for lunch and we would know she had passed away. I still believe Tyne and Sharon are two of the best actresses on the planet and the best team since Tracy and Hepburn. I also believe people still like watching them and the proof of that is that 25 years later, these two gals have not stopped working or stopped picking up awards along the way. Mr. Moonves thinks otherwise. “Nuff said.

Is there an estimated DVD release date for the movies and will they be released together in one boxed set? Will you and the actors go on a promo tour for the DVD release?

I believe the quartet of movies (The Menopause Years) will be out mid-way in 2009 and will (I think) come out as a package of four as well as individually. I would hope for some kind of promo tour, but those things can be expensive and depend on availabilities and scheduling vagaries. The money that can be made on these releases is smallish so I would not expect one of my old fashioned Barnum and Bailey numbers.

What kind of “extras” will be included on the DVD?

Too early for me to know and, truth to tell, it is not my “table.” The distributor will make that judgment and somewhere along the way it will be determined whether to do a lot or a little. Again… the sale of so-called vintage television on DVD is not something that is driving the business right now. Sharon and Tyne care as much as I about having this be a good presentation. We are supplying top quality elements to our distributor but only he can make the decision what to spend to enhance what we give him.

From what you’ve written in your blog on the official Cagney & Lacey website, you’ve run into roadblocks in trying to get the other seasons of the show released on DVD. Do you think there may be a light at the end of that tunnel? What can the fans of the series do to help the cause?

It sounds very self-serving, but I can only think of one thing to recommend and that is simply to prove the naysayers wrong by buying the DVD package that comes out and proving that there is a market for this material. Buy them for yourselves and buy them for friends and family. We did our job. Sharon and Tyne went to New York, got on The View, the Fox and CBS Morning shows and all kinds of print interviews and photo ops. The results were, frankly, disappointing. We had over 20,000,000 viewers per week back in the 1980s… one would think that even with the passage of time one percent of them would show up in support. We didn’t get that… not even close. I can only do so much. I can only taunt, cajole and batter network and studio executives for so long.. Eventually, I have to put up or shut up. In this case, it is an audience that I have to deliver and I haven’t been able to do that in quite a while. Your turn..

Publisher’s Note: You can learn much more about Barney Rosenzweig by purchasing his memoir, Cagney and Lacey…and Me. Autographed copies may be ordered at www.cagneyandlacey.com. The first season of Cagney & Lacey on DVD can be purchased at www.amazon.com or in select stores in your local area.

Interview by Melissa Parker

© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.