Barney Miller ran for 8 seasons from 1975-1982. The show never was high in the Nielson Ratings. Maybe part of the reason is that it was on ABC who stayed in 3rd place in the major three network race at the time. Maybe it didn’t have enough obvious humor.
One of the best-written sitcoms of any decade. It centers around the 12th precinct police station. I started to watch this in 1979 and I have been a fan ever since. The show had a core cast that did have changes through the years but the writing was always top notch.
One very interesting part of Barney Miller is they had a bunch of very good character actors pass through the show. They had a very good excuse because usually the guests were either witnesses or they committed some sort of small crime so it was a natural parade of people passing through.
The show was not all about humor. They had stories dealing with domestic abuse, social, and racial tensions and interaction close to real life.
The set really looked like an old run down police station.
The characters were explored so deep and you got to know them…their past, their quirks and inside jokes. They were consistent with their character and the continuity stayed to the end.
The characters were
Barney Miller (Hal Linden) The man that leads with common sense and wisdom over his squad of quirky detectives and officers.
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) – One of a kind character. Dietrich was a know it all…not in the usual way. The guy 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 what he actually 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.
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.
LT. 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.
If you haven’t tried watching this show and you want a smart sitcom…watch this. This is not just another sitcom.
This is a great article on the legacy of Barney Miller