1 9 7 5 – 1 9 7 8 (USA)
80 x 60 minute episodes
Tony Baretta was a tough and unconventional streetwise cop with the 53rd Precinct in an eastern city that is presumed to be in New Jersey.
Tony lived in Apartment 2C of the King Edward Hotel, an old establishment managed by his elderly friends and ex-cop Billy Truman (Tom Ewell). Tony usually wore a T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap (hang on, that sounds like a conventional American TV cop). He was also an Italian-American (Yep, see what I mean).
Baretta (badge number 609) drove a car called ‘the Blue Ghost’, was a master of disguise and because of his Italian heritage and tough appearance, he was able to infiltrate criminal groups, motorcycle gangs and even the mafia.
He always worked alone, refusing to have a partner assigned to him.
His original boss was Inspector Schiller (Dana Elcar) – later replaced by Lieutenant Brubaker (Edward Glover). The almost obligatory (for American cop shows) humorous interludes were provided by Tony’s extravagant informant/friend Rooster (Michael D. Roberts) and by his talented pet cockatoo named Fred who liked a little liquor now and then and thought he was a chicken.
Baretta started life as Toma in 1973, a series starring Tony Musante and based on the adventures of a real-life cop who used his wits and imaginative disguises. But Musante left after one season, leaving a show with reasonable ratings and nowhere to go.
It was revived in 1975 with ex-child star Robert Blake as Baretta, faring badly at first despite the name change. Then it was moved to Wednesday nights . . . Ratings soared and Baretta demolished Cannon over on rival network CBS to become an ABC mainstay, as well as earning Blake an Emmy for Best Actor.
This was a hard, action series, despite Blake’s public protestations that he was opposed to violence on TV. “Baretta is just a murderer with a badge,” said Lieutenant Dan Cooke, press relations officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, who had furnished technical advice to dozens of cop series.
Robert Blake (real name Michael Pubatosi) had mostly played American Indians until he hit fame with Baretta. He failed to go on to much greater things but did star in NBC’s Hell Town (1985) as Father Noah ‘Hardstep’ Rivers, an ex-con turned Catholic priest and guardian angel in a tough East Los Angeles neighbourhood.
The theme song, Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow, was sung by Sammy Davis Jnr.
Robert Blake found himself back in the spotlight as prime suspect when his wife was shot dead in Los Angeles in 2001. He was found not guilty.
In November 2005, a jury in a civil case found Blake liable for the wrongful death of his wife and ordered him to pay $30 million. In February 2006, he filed for bankruptcy. Blake died from heart disease in Los Angeles on 9 March 2023, aged 89.
Lt. Hal Brubaker
Michael D. Roberts