Sharon Gless comes to D.C. in campaign to save 'Rosie O'Neill'

March 25, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,TV Critic

Washington -- Call it Rosie O'Neill goes to Washington.

More elaborate efforts may have been made to save a TV show from cancellation, but surely none has been as public as the campaign by Sharon Gless and her husband, Barney Rosenzweig, to save "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," which has been on "hiatus" and out of production since December.

Last night, the Gless-Rosenzweig save-our-show bandwagon rolled into Washington, where some very high-profile women in law and politics climbed aboard.

"Personally, I'm a little angry and tired of asking people to support my work," Gless said. "But if that's what it takes, I'll beg."

"I've been told that this is shameless promotion," Rosenzweig said. "First of all, I think shameless promotion is a redundancy, isn't it? But what am I supposed to do, not make a case for keeping this show on the air?"

The Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia and the Rosenzweig Production Company of Hollywood teamed up last night to present a private reception and panel discussion titled "The Voices of Women on Television: Are They an Endangered Species?"

The panel included: Eleanor Smeal, Fund for the Feminist Majority; Lynn Cutler, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee; Harriett Woods, National Women's Political Caucus; Jean Firstenberg, American Film Institute; Gless, who plays Rosie O'Neill in the CBS series, and Rosenzweig, the producer of the show. That's an impressive lineup.

It's an important topic, too. The Women's Bar Association says it got involved because it's an important topic -- not because Rosie O'Neill is a TV lawyer.

"The media images that bombard all of us on a daily basis influence the public and our own perception of womanhood and can have a significant impact on our lives," said Kathleen Gunning, president of the Women's Bar Association in D.C.. "The overall portrayal of women in prime-time drama over the past 20 years has been rooted in outdated stereotypes and conventional roles. And as lawyers, we are acutely aware that outmoded perceptions can adversely affect women. We feel this is a vital issue that merits our attention."

Ms. Gunning is right about the general portrayal of women the past 20 years. She and the bar panel, though, may not be right about the voices of women being an endangered species in entertainment programs on TV.

The facts they offered in a prepared statement about how few shows there were on TV with women stars were way off. They overlooked two other realistic dramas that, like "Rosie O'Neill," star women as lawyers -- "Reasonable Doubts" with Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and "Civil Wars" with Mariel Hemingway. And, in fact, when it comes to sitcoms, arguably the three most powerful producers in TV today are women -- Diane English of "Murphy Brown," Linda Bloodworth-Thomason of "Designing Women," and Susan Harris of "Golden Girls." The trio was responsible for nine network sitcoms on the air at one point this year.

So what was it all about last night, Rosie?

It was in part about saving the show, Gless and Rosenzweig said.

In December, CBS pulled the plug on the show just as it was about to start a three-story arc about Rosie's romantic involvement with a newspaper editor, played by Robert Wagner. In an interview with The Sun, Rosenzweig said it was tantamount to cancellation since he had to lay off the cast and crew.

He explained at the time that CBS had six finished but unseen episodes that it would surely air in the spring since it had already paid for the shows. But, he added, only a "miracle" could save the show and bring it back for another year. Rosenzweig, a former public relations consultant, said he felt fresh out of miracles. The last one he had pulled off was in 1983 with a successful letter-writing campaign to save "Cagney & Lacey," a show he also produced with Gless as a star.

But that was December, and this is now. CBS is going to air the last six episodes, starting April 11.

"What's changed," Rosenzweig said yesterday, "is that I think we have a shot at saving 'Rosie O'Neill' this time. We'll be on for six straight weeks at 10 o'clock Saturday night, and I think there's an audience there to be had. I think maybe CBS does want us to make it . . . and I think events like this can help."

Rosenzweig said that the idea for last night's event started several months ago when a fund-raiser for the National Abortion Rights Action League called on him in Hollywood and he told her how much he thought the support of professional women in Washington would help his show.

The 400 or so people who attended last night's panel discussion were urged to write the four broadcast networks and request more roles for women on TV.

As for the discussion, it was a good one, smart and focused in its chronicle of gender bias and stereotypes on TV.

As for the show and the record, "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" is one of TV's only realistic portrayals of a working woman's life and ought to be saved.

"Yes, I did go through this once already with 'Cagney & Lacey,' " Gless said. "And no, it doesn't get any easier, begging for support. I'm starting to take it personally."

And with that, Sharon Gless went off to talk about women on TV and to ask 400 strangers to help her save her show.

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