Detective Arthur P. Dietrich is a fictional character on the TV series Barney Miller. He is a police officer assigned to the New York City Police Department's 12th Detective Squad, and was played by Steve Landesberg. He originally appeared in the show's second season, and was slowly phased into the show over the third season, becoming a full-time regular by season 4.
|“||I'm not really much like Dietrich. He reads everything. Science, technology, economics. I have no interest in that stuff....I try to play him as a cop. Intellectual and funny, but a good cop.||”|
— Landesberg on Dietrich, from a 1979 interview with the Washington Post
Dietrich (a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania) is "infuriatingly cerebral"; his deadpan and unflappable know-it-all persona proves to be a major irritant to Detective Ron Harris, with whom he is partnered in stake-outs and other situations in which they find themselves in close quarters.
Dietrich's varied educational background is a regular focus of humor. In an exchange with a psychiatrist on the condition of an elderly woman facing arrest, the psychologist condescendingly says, "I have a Ph.D. in Abnormal Psychology. Do you?" to which Dietrich deadpans, "Yes." The psychologist then angrily replies, "Got it on ya?" At times Dietrich fudges a bit: when a suspect with multiple personality disorder is brought in, Dietrich references Schizophrenia Nacht Enfendungen by Gregory Zilboorg. The author exists; the book doesn't. In an episode where an elderly woman was groped in an elevator, she requested a female officer take her statement. Dietrich replied, "It's OK, I've been to medical school. That kind of talk doesn't affect me. That's the price you pay." While being booked after being arrested at an anti-nuclear protest, he told Harris that he was divorced from his law school sweetheart.
In the episode "Old Love" (Season 8, Episode 17) Dietrich is visited by his college sweetheart, in which it is revealed that they attended Columbia University fourteen years prior, and were student activists together. As the episode aired in 1982, this implies that Dietrich was involved in the real life occupation of university offices by radical students which took place at Columbia in 1968.
Confronted with a distraught man who expresses fears of the Trilateral Commission, Dietrich tells him his concerns are valid and he will bring them up at the next meeting, since he is a member.
Dietrich apparently also has extensive knowledge of human anatomy, history, physics and engineering. In an episode with a pregnant woman who only speaks German, Captain Miller looks lost until Dietrich begins fluently conversing with her. "You speak German?" Barney asks. "Don't you?" Dietrich responds.
In another episode, the detectives dismiss the claims of a man they've arrested that an item found in his home is a nuclear weapon. Dietrich then enters the squad room and, seeing the item, casually says, "Where'd you get the atomic bomb?"
In one episode, it was revealed that Arthur Dietrich, before becoming a police officer, had been an actor and a teacher. Dietrich said he had also been a lumberjack and a beekeeper, though this might have been a joke. He revealed that ultimately he decided to become a cop because he could have been good at a variety of jobs but only as a police officer could he be the best there is.
The seemingly inhuman breadth of Dietrich's knowledge also sometimes results in questions about his past and his future. In the episode "Voice Analyzer", the department decides that all of the detectives must submit to lie detector tests. When Dietrich is examined and asked a routine question as to when and where he was born, he responds, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," the famous opening words of Star Wars’ scrolling prologue. The lie detector indicates that über-calm Dietrich is telling the truth. Dietrich explains that it's possible to control the micro-tremors in one's voice so that false statements escape notice. The other detectives view Dietrich with curiosity and suspicion for the remainder of the episode until Dietrich ultimately gives the actual date and place of his birth, adding, "I thought it needed to be said."
Dietrich's vast knowledge also includes philosophy. In the season 7 episode "The Vests" Inspector Luger is assigned to gather personal information on all of the detectives in case of the need for an obituary. In one scene he is seen talking to Dietrich who says "By my mid teens the writings of Schopenhauer and Kant had begun to dominate my epistomological outlook," to which Luger replies in exasperation, "I asked if you had any pets!" "Ant farm," Dietrich says.
Dietrich verified in the episode "The Radical" that he had been a Boy Scout in 1957 and earned a badge in International Affairs. There are several hints that his family is Roman Catholic. In the episode "Voice Analyzer", he reveals that he was born in a Catholic hospital. When a possible romantic interest turned out to be a nun, he said "When I lose, I lose to the biggest". In an episode featuring an immigration official, the official, showing off his extensive knowledge of various ethnicities' physical characteristics, correctly guesses that Dietrich's mother is French. Dietrich is then enigmatic in reply to the officer's question about his father, revealing only that "He's dead", prior to which point "He was alive".
In another episode, a man arrested and claiming to be a time traveler hears someone call Dietrich by his last name. The “time traveler” stops and asks if he is Arthur Dietrich ("The Arthur Dietrich?"). After Dietrich confirms that he is, the “time traveler” tells him it is an honor and asks to shake his hand, implying that Dietrich would be famous sometime in the future. The other detectives overhear the exchange and look on in amazement.
Dietrich has a dry and sometimes teasing sense of humor. In an episode where the door to the men's room is removed, Fish is unable to wait; while he is in the washroom, Dietrich stops and offers a casual greeting at the door, much to the annoyance of Fish as evidenced in his slow exit from the washroom later. In the 3rd season episode "Asylum", he asks a State Department official to tell the President "Arthur said hey," and that the President would know who the greeting came from; when the official asks Yemana who Dietrich is, Yemana replies, "We're not sure."
Very occasionally, strong emotion emanates from him. At one point Dietrich attempts celibacy, which he hopes will result in a more centered persona and heightened efficiency at work. However, soon after he begins, a group of prostitutes is arrested, causing him sexual frustration and a "need" for mild hostility with one of the ladies. When a glamorous high-price call girl extends her arm and asks what he thinks of her new perfume, a frustrated Dietrich closes his eyes and exclaims. "You wanna get your stinking hand out of my face??"
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2011)|
- "Steve Landesberg dies; comic actor played intellectual detective on sitcom 'Barney Miller'". Los Angeles Times. December 21, 2010. Retrieved 2011-06-11.