Karen Arthur Became First Woman to Win for Directing

By Chanak Maduranga

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Karen Arthur Became First Woman to Win for Directing
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CBS’ Cagney & Lacey, the female-fronted police procedural, became a groundbreaking series for women upon its debut in 1982, but the 1985 Emmy Awards were notably historic for the show that starred Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless as NYPD detectives. During the ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Karen Arthur became the first woman to win an Emmy for outstanding directing for a drama series, honored for “Heat,” a fourth-season episode.

Arthur was well aware of what her triumph meant for other women in the industry — men had dominated the category for more than 35 years. A woman wouldn’t win the category again until Mimi Leder was victorious in 1996 for ER (Betty Thomas had taken the comedy series prize in 1994). “I was up against the big dogs, men. The big guys who always win. And so the fact that I got that over them said something also, which would have helped break the glass ceiling at that point,” Arthur, now 82, recalled on the 80s TV Ladies podcast last year.

Cagney & Lacey ultimately took home six Emmys that night, including outstanding drama series and lead actress for Daly. This was especially gratifying given that the Orion Television series had been canceled in 1983 and only landed a renewal following an extensive letter-writing campaign staged by fans. Upon its season-three return, THR wrote in its review, “Even on characterization and acting strength alone, this series deserves to be around for a while.” The show ended its run in 1988 after seven seasons and 14 total Emmys.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Chanak Maduranga

passionate journalist behind 'USA News Now 24', dedicated to delivering timely and accurate updates on US affairs. Committed to journalistic integrity and informing audiences with credible news coverage.

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