Barney Miller

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Barney Miller
Barney Miller.jpg
Genre Sitcom
Created by
Starring
Theme music composer
Composer(s)
  • Jack Elliott
  • Allyn Ferguson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 8
No. of episodes 168 (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Location(s)

ABC Television Center, Hollywood

New York City, New York (setting)
Camera setup Videotape; Multi-camera
Running time 25 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel ABC
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Original run January 22, 1975 (1975-01-22) – May 20, 1982 (1982-05-20)

Barney Miller is an American situation comedy television series set in a New York City police station in Greenwich Village. The series originally was broadcast from January 23, 1975, to May 20, 1982, on ABC. It was created by Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker. Noam Pitlik directed the majority of the episodes.

Premise[edit]

Barney Miller takes place almost entirely within the confines of the Detectives' Squad Room and Captain Barney Miller's adjoining office of New York City's fictional 12th Precinct, located in Greenwich Village.[1] A typical episode would feature the detectives of the 12th bringing in several complainants and/or suspects to the squadroom. Usually there are two or three separate subplots in a given episode, with different officers dealing with different crimes. Once a year, there would be an episode which featured one or more of the detectives outside of the walls of the 12th Precinct, either on a stakeout or at one of their homes.

Primary characters:

  • Captain Barney Miller (Hal Linden): The sensible captain of the precinct who tries to retain his sanity while dealing with the foibles of his staff and the unending stream of budget problems and paperwork that make up his job.
  • Sgt. Philip K. Fish (Abe Vigoda): The senior detective on the 12th Detective Squad. A crotchety, world-weary, and nearing-retirement Jewish-American cop, who always seems to be suffering through some physical ailment, but whose years of experience as a police officer make him a very good detective and mentor to other members of his squad. Frequently on the phone dealing with a minor marital crisis with his wife Bernice.
  • Det. Stanley Thaddeus "Wojo" Wojciehowicz (Max Gail): Naive, gung-ho but goodhearted Polish-American, who gradually transforms from a macho former Marine into a sensitive character who tries to see things from a decidedly humanitarian point of view while performing his duties as a detective. Takes and fails the sergeant's examination seven times, but finally passes on his eighth try and gets promoted in Season 4.
  • Sgt. Ron Nathan Harris (Ron Glass): Ambitious, intellectual African-American, who lives well beyond his means, and who frequently seems more preoccupied with his attire and his career as a writer than with his police work. A long-running plotline about his various attempts to establish a writing career eventually has Harris emerge as a published author, with his lurid memoir Blood On The Badge.
  • Sgt. Nick Yemana (Jack Soo): Surreally philosophical, wisecracking Japanese-American detective. Noted for his "off the wall" sense of humor and wry observations about life, as well as for his gambling habits, extraordinarily poor paperwork filing "skills" and for making extremely bad coffee for the other members of the squad.
  • Sgt. Miguel "Chano" Amangual (Gregory Sierra): A dauntless, beleaguered Puerto Rican detective, who is very emotionally attached to his job.
  • Det. Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg): An intellectual detective with a calm, unflappable nature and a seemingly endless supply of knowledge on a wide array of subjects.
  • Deputy Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory): Miller's rambling, out-of-touch and unapologetic old-school superior who frequently drops by the precinct to "chat with" Barney.
  • Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey): A diminutive and obsequious (but competent and hard-working) uniformed officer who constantly, passive-aggressively badgers Miller about being promoted to detective.
Barney and Liz Miller.
  • Elizabeth Miller (Barbara Barrie): Barney's wife, a dedicated social worker. Intended to be a regular character, and listed in the opening credits during Seasons 1 and 2, Liz is seen fairly infrequently; she is, however, often referred to, and Barney is often seen (and heard) on the phone with her.

The show's focus was split between the detectives' interactions with each other and with the suspects and witnesses they detained, processed, and interviewed. Some typical conflicts and long running plotlines included Miller's frustration with red tape and paperwork, his constant efforts to maintain peace, order, and discipline, and his numerous failed attempts to get a promotion; Harris's preoccupation with outside interests, such as his living arrangements but mainly his novel (Blood On The Badge), and his inability to remain focused on his police work; Fish's age-related health issues, marital problems, and reluctance to retire; Wojciehowicz's impulsive behavior and love life; Luger's nostalgia for the old days with partners Foster, Kleiner and "Brownie" Brown; Levitt's quest to become a detective (which is eventually successful); the rivalry between the precinct's resident intellectuals, Harris and Dietrich, and continually — but reliably — bad coffee, usually made by Yemana.

Cast[edit]

Regulars[edit]

Actor Character Seasons Notes
Hal Linden Captain Barney Miller
1–8
Main star and regular character throughout the series' run.
Max Gail (second season billed as Maxwell Gail) Detective Stan "Wojo" Wojciehowicz
1–8
Regular character throughout the series' run.
Ron Glass Detective Ron Harris
1–8
Regular character throughout the series' run.
James Gregory Deputy Inspector Franklin D. Luger
1–8
A regular character throughout the series, usually seen in about a third to a half of any given season's episodes. Gregory was only listed in the opening credits during Season 4; in other seasons, he was listed as a "Special Guest" in the closing credits.
Abe Vigoda Sergeant Philip K. Fish
1–4, 7
Vigoda was a regular for the first three seasons. Though still in the opening credits, he appeared in only about half of the episodes in the last half of Season 3. (The character was simultaneously seen on the spin-off show Fish at this same time.) Fish "retired" as of Season 4, Episode 2, though he returned for two guest appearances, one later in Season 4 and one in Season 7.
Jack Soo Sergeant Nick Yemana
1–5
A regular in Seasons 1 to 5, Soo died on January 11, 1979 (midway through Season 5). A special memorial episode was aired, with the actors breaking character and recalling their favorite Yemana scenes. The episode ended with entire cast raising their coffee cups in tribute.
Barbara Barrie Elizabeth "Liz" Miller
1–2, 4, 5
Though appearing in only a handful of episodes after the pilot, Barrie received billing in the opening credits of every episode in Seasons 1 and 2. Often mentioned, her character returned for a one episode as a guest appearance in Season 4 and a two-part guest appearance in Season 5.
Gregory Sierra Sergeant Miguel "Chano" Amangual
1–2
Regular character for seasons 1 and 2, then left the show. No explanation is given for his character's absence at the start of Season 3. In Season 4, Officer Roslyn Licori is brought in as his replacement two years after the official request was made (with no satisfactory explanation from the Personnel Department as to why the request took so long to be filled).
Steve Landesberg Detective Arthur Dietrich
2–8
Landesberg was first seen as a one-shot character, a priest (Father Paul), in Season 2 Episode 1 - "Doomsday". Later that year, he appeared in one episode as Dietrich, a transfer from the 33rd when budget cuts closed that precinct. He became a semi-regular in Season 3 and a full-time cast member from Season 4 onwards (essentially replacing the retired Det. Fish)
Ron Carey Officer Carl Levitt
3–8
Carey first appeared as a perp, Angelo "The Mole" Molinari, in the last episode of Season 2. He began his role as a recurring character, Officer Levitt, in Season 3, becoming a full-time cast member by Season 4 (his character would finally make detective in the series' final episode).

Recurring characters[edit]

Other officers and staff[edit]

Actor Character Seasons Notes
Milt Kogan Officer Kogan
1–2
Though not seen after season 2, Kogan (the downstairs desk sergeant) was frequently referred to throughout the series' run.
Paul Lichtman Mr. Beckman, the building repairman
1–3
George Murdock Lt. Ben Scanlon, Internal Affairs
2, 4–8
A member of the Internal Affairs Department, the eternally suspicious Scanlon was not attached to the 12th Precinct. His visits from headquarters involved trying to find corruption inside the precinct, especially in the detective squad.
Linda Lavin Detective Janice Wentworth
1, 2
An extremely dedicated and enthusiastic (sometimes overly so) member of the squad who developed a romantic relationship with Wojo. After a short run as a regular guest on Barney Miller (beginning with episode 8 of the first season, "Ms. Cop"), Lavin left the series to star in Alice. Wentworth's name can still be seen on the staff duty roster through most of Season 3 and a flashback scene of her was used in the final episode.
June Gable Detective Maria Battista
3
Short-lived addition to the 12th Precinct's detective room, lasting two episodes.
Mari Gorman Officer Roslyn Licori
4
Gorman made a guest appearance (season 4, episode 3) as an amateur prostitute housewife, and then, after a three-episode run as Licori in season 4, she played another recurring role during season 8, as Mrs. Binder, wife of frequent precinct visitor Bruno Binder.
Dino Natali Officer Zatelli
4–6
A gay officer. Particularly loathed by the homophobic Lt. Scanlon, who desperately wants to find a reason to fire him; after he was outed by a careless remark by Wojo, he was promoted to a position as Administrative Assistant at Police Headquarters.
Paul Lieber Detective Eric Dorsey
7
Another three-episode detective, who came in with a cynical attitude toward the squad that Levitt took as a good sign that the newcomer would not fit in. Dorsey straightened out, but was reassigned regardless.

Murdock, Gorman, Dullaghan, and Leiber all made guest appearances in other roles in addition to their regularly recurring series roles.

Barney Miller had a stock company of character actors who made frequent appearances in different roles, among them Kay Medford, Bruce Kirby, Kenneth Tigar, Don Calfa, Walter Janowitz, Peggy Pope, Nehemiah Persoff, Rosana Soto (Rosanna DeSoto), Todd Susman, Leonard Stone, Philip Sterling, Sal Viscuso, Rod Colbin, Martin Garner, and Jack Kruschen. Some of these players later appeared as similarly quirky characters in writer-producer Reinhold Weege's situation comedy Night Court.

12th Precinct regulars[edit]

The 12th Precinct had a number of regular complainants, habitués of the holding cell, or other people who often dropped by. Characters seen on three or more episodes included:

Actor Character # of appearances Seasons Notes
Jack DeLeon Marty Morrison
8
1–8
Marty, a gay man, is arrested for snatching purses in the series' second episode. Later he is occasionally brought in as a suspect, other times as a complainant.
Alex Henteloff Arnold Ripner
7
1–8
An ambulance-chasing attorney, Ripner visits the precinct whenever he has a client to defend. His first appearance is in the series' second episode as Marty Morrison's lawyer. (He also sometimes visits just to try to drum up business amongst those in the holding cell.) Ripner later sues Harris for Harris' depiction of him in his novel Blood On The Badge.
Stanley Brock ‡ Bruno Binder
7
4–8
The owner of a sporting goods store and would-be vigilante frequently in trouble for his overzealous ways to get rid of what he considered undesirable elements.
Jack Somack Mr. Cotterman
6
1–5, 7
Owner of the frequently-robbed Cotterman's Liquor Store. In the second part of the season 7 episode "Homicide", the squad learns that he was shot in the head and killed by two would-be extortionists.
Ray Stewart Darryl Driscoll
5
2–8
Marty's somewhat more sensible and grounded lover, who lends Marty moral support during his visits to the precinct; formerly married with a young son.
John Dullaghan Ray Brewer
5
5–8
A lonely transient, Ray stops by the precinct during open houses to talk and sample the coffee. Later joins the Salvation Army.
J.J. Barry ‡ Arthur Duncan
4
7–8
A small-time crook who is frequently arrested.
Ralph Manza Leon Roth
4
3–8
A blind man who is first arrested for shoplifting, Mr. Roth returned later as both arrestee and complainant.
Doris Roberts Harriet Brauer
3
4–7
A frequent complainant (against her husband).
Peter Hobbs Phillip Brauer
3
4–7
A middle-aged married man whose attempts to spice up his married life often end disastrously.
Paula Shaw Paula Capshaw
3
3-4
A cynical prostitute who is a frequent arrestee.

cast in several different roles over the series' run

Fish's family[edit]

Fish's wife Bernice made an appearance from time to time in Seasons 1 to 4. In Seasons 1, 3 and 4 she was played by Florence Stanley (in a total of seven appearances); in Bernice's only Season 2 appearance she was portrayed by Doris Belack. In that episode, Fish also had a grown daughter named Beverly played by Emily Levine. Also seen as recurring characters in Season 3 were group home children Jilly (Denise Miller) and Victor (John Cassisi), who would eventually become Fish's foster children. In 1977, the Fishes were spun off into their own show, Fish.

Barney's family[edit]

In addition to Barney's wife Liz, Barney's son David (Michael Tessier) and daughter Rachel (Anne Wyndham) appeared in the pilot. Barney's children were written out of the show after the first episode (though they were still often mentioned), while his wife made appearances through the second season. Wyndham also reprised her role in two later episodes.

Pilot[edit]

The series was born out of an unsold television pilot, The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller, that aired on August 22, 1974 as part of an ABC summer anthology series, Just for Laughs. Linden and Vigoda were cast in their series roles; no other eventual cast members were present. Abby Dalton played Barney Miller's wife, Liz. The pilot script was later largely reused in the debut episode "Ramon".

Opening theme[edit]

The distinctive opening notes of the bass line of Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson's theme music, performed by studio musician Chuck Berghofer, are played over a shot of the New York skyline as seen from the water of Upper New York Bay — from Season 2 on, with a garbage barge being towed in the foreground of Lower Manhattan — followed by shots of the characters. Several slightly different versions of the theme featuring minor variations in composition and performance were used during different seasons. The closing credits featured a different shot of the skyline (with the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the United Nations Building in the foreground).

Production[edit]

Production of Barney Miller deliberately resembled a theatrical one-act play; scenes rarely strayed from the precinct station's squadroom, with its prominent open-barred holding cell, and Miller's adjoining office. Characters came and went, but always within the confines of the precinct. Barney Miller tended to obey two of the three classical unities of drama: unity of place and unity of time. The third unity, unity of action, was not followed, since each episode had multiple subplots.

Barney Miller was notorious for its marathon taping sessions.[2] Early seasons were recorded before a live studio audience and used a laugh track for sweetening reactions during post-production. Creator and executive producer Danny Arnold would then rewrite and restage entire scenes after the audience departed, actively looking for quieter, subtler moments that would not play well before a crowd; a taping session that began in the afternoon or early evening would then continue into the early morning hours. Max Gail referred to this in the Jack Soo retrospective episode aired on May 17, 1979, remarking that one of the clips shown was a scene that "we finished around 2:30 in the morning." In a 1977 blooper, a crew member mentions it being 3:15 a.m.

Writer Tom Reeder described working on the show:

"Danny Arnold was the creator of the show, and especially in the early years, he was a marvel. When he was "on", he could spin out entire scenes, ad-libbing dialogue — and great jokes — for every character. By the time those scenes got to script form, though, he obsessively rewrote them.

That's true of a lot of showrunners, but Danny couldn't seem to stop himself. Sometime during season 2 (or maybe it was 3) the show was no longer taped in front of an audience, partly because the script was rarely done by show night. When one season began, six pages were in print. Not six scripts — six pages of one script.

This meant that on the day the show was taped, the actors would hang around on the stage, waiting for pages to be sent down. Then — sometimes at 2 a.m. — they would have to learn new scenes. Ron Carey (Officer Levitt) would get his fairly quickly: "Here's your mail, Captain." On the other hand, poor Steve Landesberg (Dietrich) might have to memorize long speeches explaining how nuclear fission works.

In the early years, Danny benefited from the heroic writing efforts of Chris Hayward, who was a veteran writer, and rookies Tony Sheehan and Reinhold Weege who, like me, didn't know any better. They were the Barney Miller writing staff. My agent wisely turned down Danny's annual offers of staff jobs, negotiating freelance assignments (so-called "multiple deals") for me instead. Even so, the pace was frantic — on one assignment I was given 3 hours to write the story outline. On another occasion, a friend came into my office at ABC-Vine Street and said, "Hey, Reeder, want to go get some lunch?" I pointed to the paper in my typewriter and said, "This script is on the stage — thanks anyway."[3]

Employing a live audience became impractical as lengthy reshoots became commonplace. By Season 4, only a quiet laugh track was used when necessary.[4]

Marty and Darryl were among the earliest recurring gay characters on American television. Danny Arnold worked closely with the Gay Media Task Force, an activist group that worked on LGBT representation in media, in developing the characters.[5] Initially both characters were presented in a stereotypically effeminate manner but in later appearances Darryl began dressing and speaking in a more mainstream fashion.[6] Officer Zitelli's coming out was the first gay story arc on American television, occurring across the series' sixth and seventh seasons.

The series took awhile to become a hit, but ABC supported it anyway.[7] Danny Arnold ended production of Barney Miller in 1982 after eight seasons for fear of repeating storylines; the show was not cancelled by the network.

Police officer reception[edit]

Barney Miller retains a devoted following among real-life police officers, who appreciate the show's emphasis on dialog and believably quirky characters, and its low-key portrayal of cops going about their jobs. In an 2005 op-ed for the New York Times, real-life New York police detective Lucas Miller wrote:

"Real cops are not usually fans of cop shows. [...] Many police officers maintain that the most realistic police show in the history of television was the sitcom Barney Miller, [...] The action was mostly off screen, the squad room the only set, and the guys were a motley bunch of character actors who were in no danger of being picked for the N.Y.P.D. pin-up calendar. But they worked hard, made jokes, got hurt and answered to their straight-man commander. For real detectives, most of the action does happen off screen, and we spend a lot of time back in the squad room writing reports about it. Like Barney Miller's squad, we crack jokes at one another, at the cases that come in, and at the crazy suspect locked in the holding cell six feet from the new guy's desk. Life really is more like "Barney Miller" than "NYPD Blue", but our jokes aren't nearly as funny.[8]

Similarly, during his appearance on Jon Favreau's Independent Film Channel talk show Dinner for Five, Dennis Farina, who worked as a Chicago policeman before turning to acting, called Barney Miller the most realistic cop show ever seen on television.[citation needed]

Awards and honors[edit]

Barney Miller won a DGA Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1981. The series won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1982, after it ended. It received six other nominations in that category, from 1976 to 1981. The series won Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series in 1980 (in addition to nominations in 1976, 1977 and 1982), Outstanding Directing in a Comedy or Comedy-Variety or Music Series in 1979, and was nominated for a number of others.[9] It won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Comedy or Musical Series in 1976 and 1977 (from a total of seven nominations),[10] and won a Peabody Award in 1978.[11]

DVD releases[edit]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released the first three seasons of Barney Miller on DVD in Region 1. Season 1 was released on January 20, 2004, to slow sales, and Sony decided not to release any more seasons. However, the decision was later reversed and Season 2 was released in 2008 (four years after the release of Season 1), followed by Season 3 in 2009.

Shout! Factory acquired the rights to the series in 2011 and subsequently released a complete series set on October 25, 2011. The 25-disc set features all 168 episodes of the series as well as bonus features and the first season of the Abe Vigoda spin-off, Fish.[12]

On October 3, 2013, it was announced that Shout! will release season 4 on DVD on January 7, 2014.[13] Season 5 will be released on May 13, 2014.[14]

Season 1 was released on DVD in Region 4 on December 20, 2006.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The First Season 13 January 20, 2004
The Complete Second Season 22 January 22, 2008
The Complete Third Season 22 March 17, 2009
The Complete Fourth Season 23 January 7, 2014
The Complete Fifth Season 24 May 13, 2014
The Complete Series 168 October 25, 2011

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Capsuto, Steven (2000). Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-41243-5.

External links[edit]