"As an executive, I think people have to be given their due. I think if you're hiring somebody because you think they're very talented, you need to let them do what it is that they do. I also think that you have to give them the opportunity in the community to be viewed as important. Otherwise, you have to be in every meeting, and what's the point of that?"
About This Interview
Barbara Corday talked about her early years working as a publicist. She described her transition to writing, in which she and her partner, Barbara Avedon, wrote for several popular sitcoms and dramas. She discussed the way in which women writers were treated in the industry in the 1970s and 80s. She talked about the six-year journey to get landmark police drama Cagney & Lace y on the air, which she co-created with Avedon. She talked about her work as an executive in development at ABC on such series as Bosom Buddies and American Dream. She described her continued work as an independent producer and, later, her work in several executive positions including president of Columbia Television (a television first for a female executive) and Executive Vice President for Primetime Programming at CBS. Finally, she commented about her recent association with USC's School of Cinema-Television. The interview was conducted on August 12, 2004 in Los Angeles by Darby Maloney.
Barbara Corday is one of several dozen women who first entered the television business in the early 1970s. She began her entertainment career with a small theatrical agency in New York and later worked there as a publicist. In 1967, she moved to Los Angeles and joined Mann Scharf Associates.
In 1972 she met Barbara Avedon, who had been a television writer for several years, at a political activist group. They began discussing writing and Corday sensed that her experience gave her a certain discipline and ability to tell a story succinctly and "in a kind of a linear fashion." She and Avedon became writing partners and came up with a project that "got us in the door" and that became their calling card. This led to their being hired as a writing team to do several projects, and as free-lance writers they wrote numerous episodes for television series and a few pilots from 1972 to 1979.
It was during that period that the two women developed the idea for their best known television creation, Cagney and Lacey. They began the project in 1974 as a theatrical film intended as a comedy feature. Written in the year when "buddy" movies had become popular, their project was a crazy comedy featuring two women, originally planned as a spoof of the police genre. Unable to get the movie made as a feature they tried to sell it as a television series--and all three networks rejected it. Nobody wanted a television series about two women cops. But when they tried to sell it as a television movie, CBS said "maybe" and the two women rewrote the script completely, adjusting for budget and language and story. As Corday noted, "Here we had written this insane, irreverent feature with all kinds of chases and things exploding and clearly we couldn't do that for television. We retained a lot of what we thought was the feminist point of view."
But there was a vast difference between what they created in 1974 and what it became by 1982. As Corday commented in an interview, "By the time the show went on as a television series, it was no longer necessary to say a lot of the things we had started out saying; and I think the show became far more intelligent and sensitive and interesting. The characters deepened and broadened and became much more real." Produced by Barney Rosenzweig, Cagney and Lacey first appeared as a TV movie in 1981 and then scheduled as a CBS series beginning in 1982.
In 1979 Avedon returned to freelancing on her own. Corday had by then determined that she was not able to sit down at the typewriter and create without the incentive of a particular show or episode. She liked going into the studio every day and working on projects that kept her really busy. A neighbor, an executive at ABC, offered her a position at the network. Corday surmised that the company wanted someone experienced in production and writing who could deal with writers and producers making shows for ABC. She took the job as vice president of comedy series development at ABC where she remained for three years.
In 1982 she was offered a position with Columbia Pictures where she started her own production company, "Can't Sing, Can't Dance Productions." Having demonstrated that she could bring projects to completion, she was appointed president of Columbia Pictures Television in 1984, and in March 1987 took on the additional duties of overseeing another Coca?Cola television subsidiary, Embassy Communications. She became president and chief operating officer of Columbia/Embassy Television, overseeing production and development at both units. In October of that same year she resigned as president.
In July 1988 Barbara Corday was named vice president of prime?time programs at CBS. The appointment, announced by network entertainment president Kim LeMasters, placed her in the number two position behind LeMasters in overseeing the prime?time schedule and gave her broader programming responsibilities than any other woman had ever had at one of the three major television networks. By December of 1989 Kim LeMasters resigned after CBS failed to climb out of the third place position in the rating and Corday left shortly thereafter.
In the Spring of 1992 Lorimar Television hired Corday to be co?executive producer of the CBS evening serial Knot's Landing. In the Fall of 1993 she was appointed president of New World Television where she was to create programming for first run syndciation. Following a managerial shakeup Corday resigned after ten months.
Corday is a founding member of the Hollywood Womens' Political Committee and a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. An outspoken advocate of equality in the workplace, she is one of the most articulate television executives. Her perceptive assessment of the role of women in the television industry coupled with her executive skills has earned her wide respect among her peers.
-Robert S. Alley
BARBARA CORDAY. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 15 October 1944. Married 1) Barney Rosenzweig, 1979 (divorced, 1990); 2) Roger Lowenstein, 1992. Began career as publicist in New York and Los Angeles; switched to TV writing; vice president for Comedy Series Development, ABC TV, 1979-82; co-creator (with Barbara Avedon), Cagney and Lacey TV series; president, Columbia Pictures TV, 1984-87; executive vice president, Primetime Programming, CBS Entertainment, 1988-1990; Producer, Knots Landing TV seris, 1992; president, New World Television, 1993-94. Member: Caucus of Writers, Producers & Directors; founding member, Hollywood Women's Political Committee.
1979 American Dream (pilot; writer) 1980 Cagney and Lacey (TV movie) 1981 Cagney and Lacey (series; co-creator) 1992 Knots Landing (producer)