Monday, September 16, 2019

Second Thoughts

Two orders for an autographed copy of my book (Cagney & Lacey…and Me) came forward in last few weeks… 12 years after its debut. That represented an above average month. The notes that accompanied each of the $30 (via Pay Pal) were filled with encouragement and salutes to what was accomplished by me and my then colleagues in the long ago. Invariably these commentaries on the production and release of our award-winning series provide a source of pleasure and, believe me, are happily received. The flip side is the reminder of one of my greatest mistakes.

People should not have to be ordering the book from me. In my fantasy, Cagney & Lacey… and Me should be readily available on bookshelves in stores and libraries all over America. Afterall, didn’t one reviewer compare it favorably with William Goldman’s classic Adventures in the Screen Trade?

“One reviewer” is close to just about all we got. Okay, there were five. Besides the rave from Publisher’s Weekly, a “fascinating” from the Toronto Star, a “Wonderful” more than once from columnists in Variety, Play Bill, and the now very missed (by me, anyway) Liz Smith. You might have noticed that there are no words of praise from the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal. That is not necessarily the fault of the book; that fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the author.

It was I who made the fateful decision that would forever sentence my memoir to relative obscurity. The decision to self-publish this tome, rather than have if taken to market by one of the traditional publishers, was a critical error. I thought I knew better. More accurately, I wanted to control the release date of the book to coincide with the silver anniversary of the series, marking what I thought would be a major roll-out of Cagney & Lacey on DVD. I loved the idea of writing about this breakthrough show of mine, and it never occurred to me that the book would be any more than a promotional add-on for those who would be purchasing the entire collection on DVD.

Sony Pictures Corporation was enthusiastic about the idea of a silver anniversary package. Their CEO was then Sir Howard Stringer, a friend in court since he had been the President of CBS all those years before when Cagney & Lacey was on his Network bringing home all those EMMY awards. The word came down from Sir Howard’s office to the SONY heads of Video, TV, and Home Entertainment to meet with me and to make this 25th anniversary of my ground-breaking show one to remember. I would pull myself off the beach in Miami to lead the charge, even though it meant breaking my pledge to never go back to the losing game from which I had departed a winner. Promotion meetings, where plans were developed were quickly organized. I “held court” passing on my sage counsel to a new generation of whiz kids. I bought my own idea of writing a book as a “give away,” a piece of promotion to help secure the success of the premium package of Cagney & Lacey that was anticipated.

Imagine my surprise when in the middle of all this, Daily Variety carried the headline that MGM, controller of the underlying rights to Cagney & Lacey, had decided to “fire” SONY Pictures Corporation.

“Can they do that?” I was not the only one in Hollywood asking that question. Everyone had come to believe that the SONY acquisition of MGM had been a fete accompli`. Not so. Could they do that? Apparently “they” could.

Within 24 hours I was at MGM pleading for a reprieve. SONY was a great fit for my series (Hello, Sir Howard… remember?). Couldn’t they fire SONY for everything else, but leave me and my series alone? They could not. Besides, they said, in an attempt at being reassuring, I would benefit from this surprise development as all the MGM product was being shifted to the “much better” distribution division of 20th Century FOX. Cagney & Lacey, they said, would be the very first of this new collaboration to be released.

Let me cut to the chase. When 3,000 MGM titles arrived at the doorstep of the Sales Department at FOX, their sales guys were appalled. “We have thousands of our own titles, that we have yet to sell, and now you want us to do this too?

The answer was to form a new division (MGM-FOX) and hire all new people to staff it. Who did they hire? People who were available (read unemployed). Mostly folks not in the top tier or they would have been working… elsewhere.

It was a debacle. That hastily bundled division never did get around to releasing the series, but rather a few individual episodes (not even a “best of,” or the Producer’s “choices” … just episodes) released in order by the numbers on the film cans. My days of holding court were relegated to doing so in front of a motley crew of wannabes… hardly the executive corps I had at my disposal at SONY. My book was thrown into the mix…. I made a deal to “self-publish” so that the book could be printed and used as a mailer to television editors who do not generally review books. In fact, it is the policy of the NY Times, The NY Review of Books, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, NOT to review any literary work at all, unless it comes from one of the standard publishing houses. No “self-published” books are ever reviewed. And that is why there are no bookstore shelves, no libraries.

A high-class problem you say. In an era of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and all that portends. I would have to agree. Envy is not an attractive emotion. It has been said to be at the root of most feelings of unhappiness. I am not an unhappy fellow. I am among the luckiest of men. I count my blessings multiple times a day and rarely have time to list them all. Still, I sure wish I had found a publisher.

Barney Rosenzweig

September 15, 2019

To order a copy of Cagney & Lacey and Me, click the link below to take you to the order page.

1 comment:

Frank Florie Jr. said...

Wow! This is a very interesting story and just adds one more twist to the many twists and turns you endured making this great series. I LOVED your book. I received an autographed copy personally from you at the Barnes and Nobles in New York City where I had the honor to meet you, Sharon and Tyne. I've read the book numerous times throughout the years.Please know that your fans really appreciated the book. Having said that, can you give us fans any information regarding a DVD release of "Rosie O'Neill?"I want so much to re watch that series again. Thank you for blogging Barney and best wishes always!!