Barney Miller (1974–1982)
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The show dealt with a detective squad at a precinct house in New York City and the often strange people from the community who went in and out their door. At the beginning of the series, the pace was fast and the comedy a bit "loud," and the emphasis was on one-liners and quirkiness rather than on real characters. Barney was the captain of the precinct, very put-upon and overworked, but nevertheless always wise and friendly. Wojo was the well-meaning detective who was a bit lacking in smarts. Harris was funny, fashion-conscious, and cool, while Yemana was much more introverted, though he would also provide the occasional witty commentary. Fish was the old man on the verge of retirement who had more ailments than you could imagine. Chano was perhaps the most "normal" of the bunch after Barney, and always tried to have a positive outlook despite being constantly exposed to the less inspiring side of life.
The detectives were racially mixed, which, at the show's inception, would occasionally provide for some comedy, though ethnic humor was largely dispensed with after the first season. Other detectives came and went after an episode or two, especially during the very early years.
By the end of the run, the pace of the show had slowed down somewhat. The precinct house was now very leisurely for a police station in Manhattan. Conversations became more relaxed as well, and you got the idea that the directors were trying to show human interaction as it often was, with people thinking before they spoke. The dialog became wittier and the characterization much more subtle. Barney was now more of a real person, the pressures of life seemingly affecting him more, and he would even get a bit frustrated with his immediate underlings. Harris, with whom Barney now clashed from time to time, had become successful financially and was becoming more attuned to the cultural side of things. He had developed into something of a snob, and was also less and less interested in police work as the series went on. Chano had moved on early, Fish retired (and had briefly had his own show), and the actor who played Yemana died, inspiring a half-hour tribute to actor Jack Soo by the rest of the cast. Dietrich was Fish's replacement, and was the intellectual of the group (one Monday morning he chit-chatted about how he had gone to the Goethe Festival over the weekend). His (often in-depth) knowledge on every conceivable subject was an extreme nuisance to Harris, but proved helpful to Barney in official matters. Wojo, by the end of the run, was no longer the loud, sex-driven brute he had been before, but rather a soulful and sensitive person, prompting Harris, in one of the show's great inside jokes, to proclaim in the final episode: "He is so MUCH improved!"
Popping in occasionally was Inspector Luger, Barney's immediate superior, a man who yearned for the old days of police work, when men were men (and died like men) and there wasn't all this "concern" for the suspect. Though Luger never changed, Barney's reaction to him did: where he once considered him as an amusing relic from the past of the city's police force, he later saw him as dangerously out of touch and a potential threat to police-civilian relations. And he turned out to be just that: at a protest by Hasidic Jews at the station house, Luger suggested that they all disperse, go home and "take a shave." The protest immediately turned into a riot.
The obsequious Officer Carl Levitt became a regular after a few seasons, always trying to become a detective, but continually rejected, apparently because of his height. And every once in a while there was a visit from Lt. Scanlon of Internal Affairs, who delighted in the hunt and, especially, the smell of blood.
Almost all the action during the run of the show took place in the squad room (which contained a single jail cell) and Barney's adjoining office. Despite the fact that the squad seemed very small considering its location (not to mention not very busy!), the viewer got the feeling that he was really in a run-down precinct house. The office was cramped, and the furniture old and in dire need of replacement. Papers and files lay around for so long that you actually got used to them being where they were, and the advertisement for boxing posted on the wall next to the stairs seems never to have been updated in seven years.
"Barney Miller," during its run, became a literate, well-written show with interesting characters and story lines. In its later years it unfortunately suffered from "social-cause-of-the-week" syndrome, à la Lou Grant, but it also knew when it was taking itself just a little too seriously, and the episode would often allow a well-timed and witty remark by Dietrich to lighten the atmosphere a bit.
"Barney Miller" is highly recommended, especially in daily reruns, where you can see its steady development into a fine television series.
Barney Miller depicted the day to day workings of a typical New York City detectives unit. Void of overly melodramatic urban drama, and the now all too over played "tough guy" act, Barney Miller was touted as being a fair portrayal of the life of a detective (with much more levity of-course).
Even though it was first and foremost a comedy series, the writers gave us a much needed balance by injecting a bit of drama into the plot and characters themselves. This dramatic element was so well done, that it added to character development, and provided for more laughter. Their witty dialog rarely left the viewer disappointed, or without a laugh, and with entertainment being the key factor of any Television production, the cast of Barney Miller delivered in episode after episode.
However, the show was produced during a time when crime in NY City was being managed with a overly diplomatic approach. An experiment that would prove it self to be disastrous, effectuated lectures by some of the shows characters, demonstrating an endorsement of this new more "liberal" approach to fighting crime.
There is not much out there today that even comes close to what we had in Barney Miller. It seems that todays Television lacks respect for their audience, as cheap sexual gags, and one liners dominate the sitcom landscape, and leave us with vacuous and cloddish jocularity.
Barney Miller will however, be an example of what Television once was. A time when mature, plot driven humor was demanded, and the crude and immature was rejected.
This show was a slow starter in the ratings, partly because of it's subtle humor, & partly because early on it would get distracted away from the police station with Barney's wife (played by Barbara Barrie). After the first couple of seasons, the show started concentrating more on it's knitting, the police station, & graduated into a more sophisticated comedy.
The recent death of the late Ron Carey reminded me of just how well he played Officier Carl Levitt. His character always behaved like all the Detectives looked down on him, an underling. Carey played that attitude brilliantly.
Hal Linden was always a consummate Captain Miller, always being put on the spot by his team & shooting from the hip at times. Steve Landesburg (Dietrich)was the most intellectual of the detectives always taking a simple conversation & making it complex.
James Gregory as Inspector Luger was alway bugging Barney with stories of the old days he'd have to listen to from a superior. In some ways this was the veteran movie actors best role. Max Gail as Wojo was always being played as stupid but often got the last word in.
Abe Vigoda was perfect as Fish, so good they spun him off from here to his own series. Jack Soo was brilliant as Yemana but sadly death cut his role short in this series, similar to Coach on CHEERS. Ron Glass as Detective Harris was very good as another mainstay on the show. This show had a diverse cast, even Linda Lavin who would go on to play ALICE got a good start on this show.
The writers were brilliant in that they constantly kept developing the characters to the point that when the last show came along, they ended the show with a script where everybody finally got what they wanted in promotions for years, and ended with Barney closing the door on the squad room for the last time.
As this show hits the DVD's, I bet it gets a slow start but once young folks get exposed to it, the sales will pick up speed. The shows are that good.
Not to mention that this person probably has not watched this entire series,but maybe just some of the episodes. Speaking as one who watched this show starting with episode 1,I know better. Just like the others here know it too.
Barney Miller in it's day,was a one of kind sitcom. Just like M*A*S*H was it's own entity,as was "All In The Family" (before the spin-offs),Barney and the men of the 12th Precinct,were a most unusual and eclectic comedy ensemble.
None of these characters are airheads,they are each funny for their character traits,imperfections and personalities.
Barney Miller is an honest man,doing an honest job and trying to control the chaos the police work can bring as well as keeping these somewhat eccentric characters in line.
Harris is an educated black man in a blue collar job trying to work his way up as a serious writer and author.
Wojo,who can be a little slow to grasp things,is a well meaning good guy lug.
Fish is a veteran cop in his 60s (Abe Vigoda was only in his 40s at the time)and has a supremely dry wit.
Amangual (Gregory Sierra) was a wise guy but a good detective and it was quite the dramatic episode when he killed someone with his gun.
Deitrich,Fish's replacement had the same dry wit but also a kind of humor that comes out of left field.
Yemana (Jack Soo) and his bad coffee,is the great running gag of the show (because even though it's lousy,no one else tries to make it.)
Thebittersweet moment in the series was when the cast made a special episode as a tribute to Jack Soo when he suddenly passed on. It may have been a one man retrospective but it was no less touching. Especially when they all raised their coffee cups at the end.
The other recurring characters : Wentworth (Linda Lavin,later of "Alice")a female cop trying to fit in with the men ,which in the 70s was still a new & uncommon idea.
Inspector Frank Lugar,played to the hilt by veteran actor James Gregory whom before he retired logged in over 170 acting credits. TV and Movies,most notably,"The Manchurian Candidate" playing a Senatorial candidate who's not fit for the job and a pawn in the game of politics ,besides.
Officer Carl E. Levitt (Ron Carey),a cop short in stature and longing to be a detective himself. Who gets on Barney's last nerve in repeated (and sometimes obnoxious) attempts to be promoted to detective.
Internal Affairs Man 'Scanlon' (who once asked Harris sarcastically,"How's everything down in Funkytown?!" ),was always trying to dig up dirt on the otherwise ,nearly squeaky-clean 12th precinct. Actor George Murdock was only in 12 shows but made Scanlon a man you love to hate.
There was recurring character Marty and his same gender lover Darryl Driscoll. Both are delightfully loony but still are given human qualities and not played as homo-sexual stereotypes.
After eight seasons,the old 1-2 closed up.
The farewell show,saw the menre-assigned to different locales in New York,instead of being kept together. The detectives and now Detective Sgt. Levitt all said their farewells to Barney and exited out the door. Barney stayed to close up shop.
The last moments were Barney glancing at different desks,recalling fondly Fish,Amangual,Wentworth and(with a despaired look on his face) Yemana. The final scene is simply Barney taking one last look at the squad room and shutting out the lights.
Then...a long round of applause ,which plays over the end credits and is actually recorded audience applause ,as the show had not been 'live' before an audience' in 4 years.
Lame show?? Hardly.
As for only 1 Emmy win? In the '70s it was up against shows like M*A*S*H,All In The Family,Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi...and that's a pretty tough bunch to beat out! In '81,it was just their year.
It also won a Golden Globe Award and the highly prestigious Peabody Award. (Which oddly enough was also won by the show "South Park" this year!)
The show deserves a better place in TV history as well as the fact it should have been nominated and won more Emmys. ( 06/16/09 ) : I'm hoping that with 3 seasons out in stores now,they'll all be available on DVD very soon.)
06.25.2015 (edit) : Season 8 DVD due out in July.
The show was about a detective squad at a precinct house in New York City's Greenwich Village,and often the strange people from the community went in and out their door each week. At the beginning of the series,the pace of the police department was fast and the comedy a bit loud.,and the emphasis was one-on-one liners and quirkiness rather than on real characters. Captain Barney Miller(Hal Linden)was head of the precinct,very put-upon and overworked,but nevertheless always wise and friendly. Wojo(Max Gail)was the well meaning detective who was a bit lacking in smarts. Harris(Ron Glass)was funny,fashion-conscious,and cool,while Yemana(Jack Soo)was much more introverted,though he also would provide the occasional witty commentary. Fish(Abe Vigoda,who was on the show for two seasons before being spun off into their own show "Fish")was the elder statesmen,the old man on the verge of retirement who had more ailments than you could imagine. Chano(Gregory Sierra)was the normal of the bunch after Barney,and always tried to have a positive outlook despite being constantly exposed to the less inspiring side of life. Other characters that appeared were Barney's wife Liz(Barbara Barrie),Barney's supervisor Chief Inspector Frank Luger(James Gregory),and Officer Carl Levitt(Ron Carey),and Detective Arthur Dietrich(Steve Landesberg).
The detectives were racially mixed,which,at the show's inception,would occasionally provide for some comedy. Other detectives came and went after an episode or two,especially during the very early years of the series. Its amazing that "Barney Miller" survived,but it laid the groundwork for what was great comedy and the awards that this show received: It won the DGA Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1981,and it won back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series(Hal Linden)in 1979,1980,and 1982. Not to mention winning the Peabody Award in 1979,and the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy or Musical Series twice in 1976 and 1977.
Almost all of the action took place in the squad room and Barney's adjoining office,despite the fact that the station seemed very small considering its location. "Barney Miller" during the seven seasons that it ran on ABC,became a literate,well-written show with interesting characters and story lines mixed in with some grand comedy. In its later years it unfortunately suffered from "social-cause-of-the-week",syndrome by way of a'la' Lou Grant and every other socially conscious show that exploded onto TV screens in the mid-1970's and early 1980's. This was a series that is highly recommended as one of the best to come out of the 1970's and survived until its demise in the early 1980's.
Barney Miller dealt with important topics as gay police officers and the fact that even though they are gay, they are still valuable members of society.
There are not really and funny shows anymore. What is a TV viewer suppose to watch? Friends?? Paris Hilton washing a cow. Please give me something!!!
If you watch the show, you realize he was more of a supporter despite having his name on top. He mostly kept it all moving well. The eye of the 'cane if you will.
This was a very well cast show that had nothing BUT likable characters. Everyone had their quirks.
Wojo was your typical naive youngster. Fish was the cynical vet. Harris your (almost) militant. And Yemena (RIP Jack) the sarcastic one.
Harris was a paradox. One episode had him as a powerful black man while another had him as a staunch republican. Deitrich (Steve Landesberg also RIP) replaced Fish basically. Both in role and personality.
The humor was bone dry.
Great show and I'm glad it's in reruns still.