It’s about 90 degrees inside a renovated Los Angeles warehouse where a crew is filming what seems — at the moment, anyway — a particularly trying installment of CBS’ new dramatic series The Trials of Rosie O’Neill. The weary cast is rehearsing a scene in which public defender O’Neill, played by Sharon Gless, triumphantly marches into her seedy office with a down-on-his-luck blues singer she has just successfully defended on kidnapping charges. The direction seems fairly simple: The extras around the watercooler in the office’s ”bull pen” are supposed to clap and cheer when Rosie and ”Fish Fry Baby” appear. But somehow, after nearly 10 hours on the sweltering set, the actors keep missing the cue and clapping before, then after, then before Gless appears.
Exasperated after half a dozen takes, director Jim Frawley shouts, ”Sharon Gless is the star of the show! When she comes into the room, give her the applause.”
Suddenly, a woman’s throaty voice breaks the uncomfortable silence.
”I’m Sharon,” Gless reminds her fellow actors. Everyone laughs — Frawley included — and the scene continues.
Of course, there really isn’t a moment’s doubt who Gless is or how essential she is to the Monday-night series. Rosie, a compelling chronicle of the days and nights of a strong-willed lawyer, bears the stamp of two outspoken feminists, both respected TV veterans: Gless and executive producer Barney Rosenzweig. The two first teamed on CBS’ ’80s police drama Cagney & Lacey (for which Gless won two Emmys as tough but tender Christine Cagney) and have been romantically involved for the last two years.
Their new show is about a Beverly Hills lawyer who gives up a wildly successful corporate practice and hurtles into a new, decidedly unglamorous career after her partner/husband leaves her for a younger woman. The title works on two levels — the show follows Rosie’s courtroom and personal trials. As a public defender, she finds herself arguing on behalf of both the wrongly accused and the guilty. As a newly single 44-year-old (Gless is 47), Rosie confronts depression, loneliness, and the daunting world of dating. Gless and Rosenzweig view Rosie as more than a new Gless vehicle. The show’s liberal politics seem as important to them as its ratings — an opportunity to raise mass-media consciousness, as Cagney did, about causes from feminism to homelessness.
”No one took the baton from us after Cagney & Lacey,” Gless says, throwing her legs over the side of a director’s chair and lighting a cigarette. Gless is slimmer than she was in her Cagney days, her white-blond hair is shorter, and, as Rosie, she sports Armani instead of Cagney’s wash-and-wear. ”There really hasn’t been a ‘woman’s show’ since. In the hour format, it’s Angela Lansbury and me. Shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law are never written for women. They’re just not given the material.”