Monday, January 18, 2021

What’s an Algorithm?


The Trials of Rosie O’Neill is back on television. Not “soon” … not “maybe next year” … but right now. Facebook reports that the now 30-year-old series of mine is on Amazon Prime. I couldn’t find it there but did discover it on Apple TV.  Regardless of platform, it is out there… and it has been a long-time coming.

I am trying not to visualize the astonishment on your faces as you think, WTF??? Has Barney lost it? Has dementia set in? Is he hospitalized and somehow separated from any keyboard or other form of communication? How could one of the most notorious drum beaters for self-promotion in Hollywood not get everyone prepped for this event well in advance?

This release has been promised to fans of the series for at least a quarter century. There was the scheme for an international release of this short-lived series as the caboose to the train that was The Good Wife, complete with ad line stating “Before Thelma & Louise there was Cagney & Lacey…. And before The Good Wife there was The Trials of Rosie O’Neill.”

There were investigations into print-on-demand videos, potential distributors came and went… some died (literally… died…passed away mid-negotiations), and some left what has become a not-so-lucrative business. Lately, even some talk of piggybacking on the Simon & Schuster Sharon Gless memoir, Apparently There Were Complaints. A lot of talk, no action.

Then an outfit called Multicom came along and a deal was made to not only distribute the quartet of Cagney & Lacey reunion movies that were made in the mid-90s but to take on the 30 plus episodes of The Trials of Rosie O’Neill as well.

Those reunion movies are good…very good. So are the episodes of The Trials of Rosie O’Neill that debuted in 1990 on CBS as the highest rated/best reviewed new series of the season (all the more significant when one realizes that was the same year NBC released Law & Order, a series that still remains on the air 30 years after its debut). Sharon and I got married during Rosie. We came close to getting divorced during the reunion movies. Details, I am sure, can be found in Sharon’s book which gets its release this fall.

Back to Rosie on Apple (or Amazon Prime, or wherever you can find it). I must confess: I know little… hardly anything, really…about what is going on today with the various platforms exhibiting original movies, international TV series, and vintage TV. I do not much understand the Networks, vs the cables, vs the apps, no do I understand their economic models. I still await some sort of payment, and I have no idea how the algorithms come together to learn who is watching, how many eyeballs are in the room, or just how much anyone pays for any of it. This is all more understandable when it is realized that when I made Rosie, Netflix was a fledgling company trying to compete with Blockbuster Video. Some might say I have lived too long. I don’t think so, but there are those who might.

I have not seen these shows since my honeymoon with the star… really…our actual honeymoon. That happy holiday got extended when during our final week on the beach in Florida, CBS cancelled the series. With there no longer being any reason to hurry home to California, I had my erstwhile assistant, Carole Smith, ship my brand-new Mercedes SL to Florida so that my bride and I could enjoy a leisurely cross-country road trip.

I was the pilot and the navigator. Sharon was the bombardier. Thanks to her, between Palm Beach and Los Angeles, we did not miss a Dairy Queen. We each gained 13 pounds on that trip and Sharon swore she would never take another driving trip with me again… and in the 30 years since that journey she has been true to her word.

In so many ways, the two years spent making The Trials of Rosie O’Neill were the happiest of my 40+ year career. I was pretty much given carte`- blanche to do whatever I pleased. There was no studio and no bosses (except for me), and I basked in the afterglow of the once in a lifetime success that was Cagney & Lacey. I was surrounded by people I cared about and who were happy in their work. I implemented a theretofore unheard-of labor centric work schedule that proved to be surprisingly lucrative while providing a decent work environment; something that had always been elusive in Hollywood. My late brother got his shot to direct a few episodes. My daughter Erika came home to California, worked on the show in post-production, and wound up married to the show’s top editor, David Handman. They are happily married still.

It was on that set where Torrie, my youngest daughter, left her work on the camera crew for greener pastures and, on departing, gave me the best stock tip I have ever received which I, of course, ignored. My middle daughter, Allyn was a costumer on the show. Sharon’s niece, Bridget, took her shot at getting into the acting business while Sharon got two EMMY nominations and a Golden Globe for her work in the series as well as the opportunity of a reunion with her favorite leading man, Robert J. Wagner. CBS hosted Sharon and I at the winter Olympics in the French Alps…with everything included, from parkas, to snow mobiles, and French chalet.

Life, as it often does, got in the way. Jeff Sagansky decided to prematurely leave his post as head of the Network to get rich in the East Coast version of show business, leaving me at the mercy of lower-level CBS execs who had resented my relationship with their boss and who (to be honest) had been bullied and/or ignored by me for the better part of two years.

There was the series Christy to make, the four C&L reunion movies, and then the ascension to the CBS throne of Leslie Moonves, which effectively ended my career in Hollywood. I don’t know much about the sexual harassment charges from a number of women that, in the era of ME TOO, brought the Moonves career to a close, but he sure screwed me.

Sharon and I moved to Miami’s Fisher Island. By the time I decided to unpack the boxes containing the VHS video tapes, those recordings of The Trials of Rosie O’Neill had deteriorated to the point where they were unwatchable. (For those too young to remember, VHS was what we used before DVDs and DVR.)

Last night, after streaming three episodes of Your Honor, a very good Showtime limited series starring Bryan Cranston, I glanced at the email app on my phone and learned of Rosie being on Amazon Prime. I finally found the show on the Apple platform and, as I hit “play,” Sharon left the room (after all these years she still resists watching her own work).

It was late. I had resolved only to watch the opening sequence and the main title and that is what I did. The opening sequence in the series is always a monologue as the camera focuses only on Rosie at what we learn is her weekly visit to her psychiatrist. I thought it was terrific and that my then wife-to-be was not only wonderful, but gorgeous. I cannot wait to watch the rest… but to do so I have got to find a way to get Sharon out of the house. Not easy in an era of Covid. In the meanwhile, I guess I could study up on just whatever it is, that an algorithm… is.

Barney Rosenzweig

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