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Old 03-22-2009, 03:15 AM   #1
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Default Barney Miller, The Legacy of a Simple Situation Comedy. 1975-1982


It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time Hal Linden an actor known mainly for musical drama headed a cast on a half hour situation comedy that had more impact on Police programs than any television series before or since.
The series was “Barney Miller” a situation comedy that over time became more of what I call a dramady, a dramatic series with moments of comedy thrown in.

Most police shows before “Barney Miller” were very white bread, all of the police officers were Anglos, rarely if ever did any of them have accents and the stories were very flat and one dimensional overall.

“Barney Miller” changed that forever, you had detectives who were elderly some were Puerto Rican others were not the smartest egg and others were extremely smart. Barney Miller had a rich diversity before diversity became a catch phrase.

It’s amazing when you look back at this ensemble cast, but “Barney Miller” actually had as much to do with the wealth of its’ supporting players as it did with its’ principle player.

Yes there had been “Hawaii Five-O” prior which had a mixed race cast, but “Barney Miller” took this construct and really played it out. Here are some descriptions, see if you recognize the character.

Articulate, varied interests Political activist acerbic and compassionate.

Articulate, fair in his actions did not like being stereotyped due to his race became a writer of the fictional book “Blood on the Badge”

Articulate, mature fatherly personality brusque occasionally tempted always in midst of struggles with his wife. Near retirement.

Not as Articulate, a poet who played the flute and who had a weakness for ladies of ill repute?

Articulate, very passionate about his life and distraught by having shot a suspect.

Articulate, Quiet to some degree, not as open about his past but always gave a person a fair chance.

Articulate Father figure, passionate and compassionate. Always trying to balance his duty with his squad to his relationship with his wife Liz and daughter Rachel.

Sarcastic protective, remembers a simpler time when police were respected and feared.

Sarcastic thought the worse of everyone, expected everyone to be on the take.

Sarcastic but articulate. Diminutive inquisitive and always working toward becoming a detective.

These were the principles in a series I have not seen in syndication since 2002. For whatever reason “Barney Miller” was pulled out of syndication in 2002 and has not aired anywhere since.

But back to what made this series memorable and a template for series that followed.

Unlike other police shows like “Hawaii Five-O” or “Dragnet” “Barney Miller” focused entirely on what happened inside the squad room of the 12th Precinct. Police shows had always shown the officers mostly in the field. Barney Miller was a show that picked up before and after an arrest.

In the six years that the series ran you had as many unusual people come through the squad room doors as inhabited the squad room.

You had people who believed that they were Werewolves, Vietnam Vets who struggled with Delayed Stress Syndrome a person who believed that they were the savior of the world.

There were people who were training to be in the Olympics although they were in their mid to late 30s. There were people with language difficulties and there were occasionally the lady of ill repute. This was just the tip of the iceberg of the unique people who came through the doors of the 12th Precinct.

When Jack Soo, who played Nick Yemanna , died the cast spent an entire episode recapping moments from past shows, and letting us know a little bit about who Jack Soo had been. As far as I can remember no television series before or since has done a tribute to one of their cast members who passed on. Although I think that perhaps "Night Court" may have done this.

Episodes were cut between the events of being a police officer and what happened in the personal lives of these people. We learned that Arthur Dietrich had been involved in protests against the Vietnam War as early as 1958. We learned that Carl Levitt had at one point been an informant for Internal Affairs, because he felt it was better if he did this than have a stranger.

There were moments like when Nick was looking for a First Base Mitt and Barney told him it was a First Aid Kit. Then there was the day when everyone was reassigned and had to look at what they would be doing form that point forward? Would they stay as detectives, or would they move up the ladder? Like in real life no two people from the 12th Precinct reacted the same, which was part of what made this series special too.

"Barney Miller" looked at politics inside the police force, and it looked at how being a detective had its’ pitfalls. How internal affairs was always waiting to catch any of the men and on occasion women of the 12th Precinct with their hands in the till.

Because of the way that “Barney Miller” was written we got programs like “Hill Street Blues” look at Francis Farillo and Barney side by Side, there are definite similarities. Also Hill Street… had an ensemble cast that was diverse and again dealt with a wide variety of people who could be very dangerous and very off the wall.

One thing that "Barney Miller" didn't do, was play a type as a stereo type. We saw people struggling with their lives, whether it be Wojo possibly dealing with a paternity suit or it be a woman who had been put in a psychactric institution because she spoke a unique language; there was always a sense on humanity that truly came through in the writing and acting.

"Night Court" was again built around a very diverse cast with mix of ages and personal and professional struggles that played out. Perhaps one of the most successful series to use the template of “Barney Miller” is the original CSI. Put Gil Grissom, and Barney side by side, Warric Brown and Ron Harris Greg Sanders and Arthur Dietrich Nick Stokes and Stanley Thedous Wojohowitcz side by side. Okay Nick is a bit more mature but there are definite aspects that transcend both characters. Remember the CSI episodes that had Nick as a friend of a Call girl, he even was involved on the eve of her death. So yes Nick and Wojo do have some traits in common.

“Barney Miller” took chances for its’ day both in a wide and diverse cast, and the non typical type of story that it did.

While most Police shows used (in some cases still do use) canned scripts that are recycled stories that have been done till they are dead and have no impact. “Barney Miller” constant did new material.

Each episode built the background of the main characters and expanded that and each episode gave us a unique person who may have had a dominating wife or was looking for a way to bring value to their life. People who felt abandoned and people who knew nothing more than being a criminal.

So here 31 years later as we watch CSI or even a show like Forensic Files on Court TV, think of how these shows in one form or another came out of a little half hour situation comedy that even though it is not in syndication any longer, its’ impact is still being felt.

Here’s a toast to the cast of “Barney Miller”

Hal Linden “Captain Barney Miller, Ron Glass Detective Ron Harris Jack Soo (Deceased) Nick YeManna Steve Landisburg Arthur Dietrich Abe Vigoda Detective Phillip K Fish Max Gail Det. Stan Wojciehowicz Gregory Sierra Detective Chano Amangual James Gregory Inspector Frank Luger George Murdock Lt. Scanlon Barbara Barrie Liz Miller Florence Stanley Bernice Fish. Ron Carrey Officer Carl Levitt, (Deceased at age 71)

Many actors played more than one part in the series. There are some surprises like Geoffrey Tambor Christopher Lloyd and Ed Kotch among others.

Here are some photos of the cast members, both the principles and the supporting cast. All photos via Google Image Search and individual web pages where indicated.

Enjoy the photos, maybe we can write to TV Land or one of the other networks to rerun “Barney Miller”

Here’s to memories of the 12th Precinct and the comedy and drama these men and women brought to us for six years. Or as Inspector Luger would say. “Here’s to the men and women of the old one two.”
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Old 03-22-2009, 03:21 AM   #2
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Old 03-22-2009, 07:35 AM   #3
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Yay!! GREAT pics & article!!
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