I’ve watched Barney Miller at least 7 times through. Why is it my favorite show? It would be the writing, the acting, and that glorious dirty set that only got dirtier as the show went along. Another reason would be the continuity of the show. My pet peeve with shows is when you would meet someone’s “Uncle Joe” as his only uncle…and a season or two later…the same person never had an uncle. That is lazy writing and research…Barney Miller doesn’t have that. The show ran from 1975 to 1982 for 171 episodes.
You will see the same actor play different criminals (great 70s-character actors and actresses) but the storyline is set. Barney Miller was a comedy but also would dip in drama at times. Whatever was going on…the characters stayed true. It doesn’t hurt that the show had one of the best…if not the best theme songs. Dig that bass!
Many real life detectives were asked about the most realistic police show on television. Barney Miller was picked because they showed the drudgery parts like the paperwork involved that is a part of every policeman’s day. I’ve read where some officers today still say it is accurate in that way.
The guests on the show every week were usually the criminals they captured. They never had serial killers or anything like that (save for one episode when they were switched to homicide for that one show) …usually just people who caused a disturbance. You had every known petty criminal in the world on that show. Pickpocket, prostitute, madams, thieves, white-collar crime, and etc.
The jail cell in Barney Miller encapsulated the seventies and its times. The show could be topical about New York in the seventies. One episode has the squad listening to an actual speech given by President Ford only a few weeks before the show aired, in which he refused to bail out a near-bankrupt New York City while still committing aid to essential services like the police.
Danny Arnold created this show. He also wrote and produced some of Bewitched, That Girl, McHale’s Navy, and more.
Hal Liden has mentioned that they would film until 2-3 in the morning with script changes at the last minute. That was normal, not the exception. They had a studio audience at first but soon dropped that partly because of the script changes. The show never went down in quality. It was never a big ratings show because frankly, it was written well with subtle humor that it wasn’t as accessible as other shows.
If you haven’t given Barney Miller a chance…it’s worth one.
I’m going to list the characters in this show because it is such a character-driven show.
The characters are:
Barney Miller (Hal Linden) The man that leads with common sense and wisdom over his squad of quirky detectives and officers. Hal Linden has said that his character could not get as crazy as the other ones because the audience had to identify with him and have someone to compare the others to.
Det. Stan Wojciehowicz..”Wojo”(Max Gail) – An ex-Marine who fought in Vietnam who is sometimes naive and childlike but really looks to Barney as a mentor. Wojo is not always tolerant of people with different views than him but is a good detective but highly emotional.
Det. Ron Harris (Ron Glass) – A well-dressed man who lives beyond his means at times. He wants the finer things in life and can be a little snobbish at times but he is a good guy. As the show continued, he was trying to establish a writing career and he wrote the best-selling book called “Blood on the Badge” that sometimes disrupted the station but he would stay loyal to Barney even through their differences.
Sgt. Nick Yemana (Jack Soo) – A Japanese Detective that always had an answer, loved gambling and he would call his bookie often… and he made the coffee for the office…and supposedly the worse coffee ever…To me, he was one of the funniest characters on the show. Actor Jack Soo passed away while the show was in its 5th season in January of 1979. During that season the cast did a tribute show speaking as themselves and showed clips of Jack.
Sgt. Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) – A one-of-a-kind character and my favorite on the show. Dietrich was a know it all…not in the usual way. He really knew about every statistic on any subject that came up. He was an intellectual but also could have fun with it. One of the funniest and deadpan characters I’ve ever seen on television. He never lost his cool in any situation.
Sgt Philip Fish (Abe Vigoda) – The senior member of the crew who was played by Abe Vigoda always looked older than he was at the time. It was a running joke about him having hemorrhoids, needing to go to the bathroom, being old, and delivering many marriage jokes. He would leave the show for a spinoff “Fish” officially in the 4th season. He would come back and make guest star appearances. He was the break-out star of the show.
Sgt. Chano Amenguale (Gregory Sierra) – He was Puerto Rican and would be very talkative and emotional. Whenever he was really upset, he would start speaking Spanish loudly. I really liked Sierra’s character, but he left after the second season.
Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey) – Levitt was a short overachiever and kept hounding Barney for a promotion. He would not be too subtle to Barney about his hard-working habits. The rest of the station would pick on him but all of them respected his hard work. He would fill in when a Detective was out. He finally got promoted at the end of the show’s run.
Deputy Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) – A totally old school superior who would drop by “the old one two” to talk with Barney. Luger never even tried to keep up with the times. He would tell Barney of the good old days…sometimes to Barney’s annoyance. Overall Luger was a great character who was brilliantly played by James Gregory.
Elizabeth Miller (Barbara Barrie) She was Barney’s wife who always wanted him to quit the force because she worried about his safety. She was on regularly at first but the show started to concentrate on the station rather than their home. She was involved in a story later on in the series when Elizabeth and Barney separated for a while…they eventually got back together.
Det. Janice Wentworth (Linda Lavin) She was a detective in the squad room who had a romantic interest in Wojo. Prone to excitement trying to prove herself in a room full of men. The writing for her character was great…it was realistic and always suited Lavin’s character. The character would have stayed on the show but Linda Lavin got her own show…Alice.
Ben Scanlon(George Murdock) – Scanlon worked in Internal Affairs and was the one bad guy in the show. He would try to find trouble when he visited…always wanted to find some wrongdoing to bring down the 12th Precinct because they had a perfect record.
I’ve searched on youtube for some different scenes…most of what they have is the “best of” each character. The good news is… youtube has many full episodes. I’m including the full episode of one the best….It’s called Hash. I’m also including the super theme song…again you gotta love that bass!
The theme song to Barney Miller