Debuting with a Pilot Movie on October 8, 1981, it originally only ran for one half-season, but after CBS canned it, a letter-writing campaign brought it back, and it stuck around until May 16, 1988. Four reunion movies were produced through the '90s.
Loretta Swit played Cagney in the pilot; after the producers of M*A*S*H (on which Swit played Maj. Margaret Houlihan) refused to release her from her contract, Meg Foster stepped into the role for the remainder of Season 1. Foster, in turn, was replaced by Sharon Gless in Season 2. Tyne Daly portrayed Lacey for the entire run.
The series was repeated on BBC2 on weekday afternoons (October–December 2013, then March 2014 onwards) as part of the channel's "Afternoon Classics" strand, and as of 2018 reruns were be found on Channel 5 for British viewers. Terrestrial station This TV (owned by MGM, who inherited it via their purchase of Orion Pictures in 1997) also currently airs three reruns Sundays at 8/7 pm, 9/8 pm, & 10/9 pm Central.
Cagney & Lacey provides example of:
- '80s Hair: Given the time period of the series. Especially obvious in the first season-opening, when they go undercover as hookers.
- Action Girl: Both leads qualify for this trope. Two female cops working as partners have to be able to handle some action.
- Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: As the only women in the precinct, they had private conversations in the Ladies' Room in every episode. In one episode they give a famous actress a ride-along. Naturally, they're in the bathroom while discussing how annoying and phony she is. This was probably the first time in the show's history that their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a toilet flushing.
- The Big Rotten Apple: The New York City in the series is still mired in the various troubles and squalor that defined it for most of the late 20th century. Many of the crimes in the series relate to gang turf wars, social divisions, and the poverty inherent in the city.
- Buddy Cop Show: Possibly the first example with two female cops.
- Da Chief: Lt. Bert Samuels, the duo's immediate supervisor.
- Diplomatic Impunity: In one episode, a close friend of a diplomat commits a hit-and-run and runs to the mission. Cagney and Lacey have a warrant for his arrest, but even though he doesn't have immunity, since he is within the mission, the chargé d'affaires informs them that they are within their rights to refuse, reminding them of how their own country was horribly upset when the government of Iran didn't respect the sovereignty of their embassy in Tehran.
- Dirty Harriet: Both characters go undercover as prostitutes in the very first episode. Lampshaded:Det. Lacey: "They call these plain clothes?"
- Drives Like Crazy: Christine apparently drives like this, though we mainly just get to see Mary Beth's reaction shots from inside the car.
- Entitled to Have You: "Rules of the Game" introduces a high-flying Detective Captain who engages in some mild flirting with Chris, which makes him think that he's entitled to Chris. He threatens her career and even her job if she turns him down.
- Gentleman Thief: Jerry Fagin, an international jewel thief who made a single appearance solely to challenge Cagney to a duel of wits. His first action is to pull a heist and plant evidence all over the scene that points to the police department itself. When this becomes clear, Cagney immediately says, "Jerry Fagin! Nobody else would do this with such relentless. . . style!"
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Regularly used. Often Christine will play the bad cop, then Mary Beth will act all sweet and conciliatory. Watch out, however, if Mary Beth plays bad cop because then there is trouble.
- Hide Your Lesbians: A constant worry of CBS was that the two female characters would be perceived as lesbians — as a result, Mary Beth Lacey was married, and actress Meg Foster (playing Cagney) was replaced by Sharon Gless because she was "too aggressive and likely to be perceived as a butch lesbian by viewers". CBS hoped Sharon would be a more "high-class" and "feminine" Cagney, but fortunately, the producers resisted this Executive Meddling and kept Cagney's tough working-class character.
- Improbable Age: Sidney Clute, who played the supporting role of Detective La Guardia, was 66 (and looked it) when C&L began. He played the role for three years, until his death at age 69. At the time the show was filmed, NYC police personnel qualified for a very generous full pension and health insurance benefits after 20 years of service — meaning most NYC cops retired before they turned 50 (and a third of them retired before they were 45.) In real life, active NYC police detectives in their late 60s simply did not exist.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: The infamous catchy saxophone opening theme song.
- Lovely Angels: The title characters.
- Made-for-TV Movie: The pilot and four sequels (aired in the mid-1990s).
- Name and Name: The show's title is the names of the protagonists.
- Penny Shaving: One episode has the two detectives discover that a witness in another case has been issuing store refunds to employees in whole dollar amounts. The remainder is siphoned into a house account in the employee's name. The store manager is furious and demands prosecution; the victims, however, can't be bothered to file charges for being defrauded for bus change.
- Pretty in Mink: Cagney wears a fox fur coat in the second opening.
- Sexy Coat Flashing: Of the dirty, rather than sexy, variety. In the opening credits of the show, there is a sequence of a man in a dirty raincoat coat flashing the detectives as they arrest another criminal. Since this is set in The Big Rotten Apple, the reaction of the two female leads is just to roll their eyes and tell the guy to get lost.
- Shirtless Scene: They even put one of these in the title sequence with Detective Isbecki stripped to the waist. The show was not shy about having him change shirts in the middle of the squad room or have Christine and Mary Beth walk in on him changing. Given this show was for the ladies, this Fanservice for them was only fair. Plus it was the best kind that TV standards at the time would allow.
- Shout-Out: In one scene of her guest appearance, Judith Barsi is dressed in clothes meant to evoke the character of Punky Brewster. In a later scene, she has been put in nightwear intended to evoke Carol Anne Freeling.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: You wouldn't expect a show with frequent Downer Endings to have such an upbeat, cheerful theme tune. (In fact, when Bill Conti was signed to compose a new theme from season two onwards, he was specifically told to not advertise that it was for a cop show because CBS had scheduled it after a comedynote and they didn't want to lose the audience.)
- Very Special Episode: "Rules of the Game" tackles sexual discrimination, and sexual intimidation in the workplace, when a visiting Detective Captain tries to pressure Christine into sex.
- White Bread and Black Brotha: Inverted with Marcus Petrie and Victor Isbecki. The black Petrie is the firmly middle-class By-the-Book Cop, while the white Isbecki is the streetwise rebel.