1 9 7 5 – 1 9 8 2 (USA)
168 x 25 minute episodes
1 x 60 minute episode
The downbeat 12th precinct squad room in Greenwich Village, New York City, was the setting for this eccentric series.
Prostitutes, crooks, lunatics and other forms of street life passing through the station house often stole the show from a fine ensemble cast, led by Hal Linden as Captain Barney Miller.
Abe Vigoda was arguably the real star of the show for many episodes as the broken down old cop named Fish, who sounded and acted like every breath might be his last.
Fish was always on the verge of retirement, and his worst day was when the station house toilet broke down. He was constantly complaining about everything, especially his seldom-seen wife Bernice.
When Fish eventually did retire in 1977 and went home to Bernice after 35 years of being a cop, other characters took the fore.
Notably the womanising but kind and well-intentioned Stan ‘Wojo’ Wojciehowicz (Maxwell Gail); Nick Yemana (Jack Soo), Oriental, philosophical and a sucker for a bet; verbose Puerto Rican Chano Ameguale (Gregory Sierra); and Sergeant Ron Harris (Ron Glass) and the ongoing saga of the lurid veritas novel he was writing in his spare time, Blood On The Badge
Seen occasionally were Inspector Luger (James Gregory), the sometimes incoherent superior officer; Levitt (Ron Carey), the 5’3″ uniformed officer who wanted to be a detective but was too short; Lt Scanlon of Internal Affairs; and female officers Wentworth (Linda Lavin) and Baptista (June Gable).
Remarkably, considering the popularity and critical acclaim it would soon attract, Barney Miller very nearly failed to get off the ground. Danny Arnold – the driving force behind the show – took years to persuade ABC to put it on screen.
The one-off pilot edition, The Life And Times Of Barney Miller, was declared a flop, and it was only thanks to the intervention of top director John Rich that the series was revived.
Rich had steered All In The Family to great heights and ABC were desperate to sign him to a contract for other work. Even though it was not his project, Rich virtually insisted that ABC develop the Barney Miller pilot into a full series if they wanted him to sign a deal.
Most of the episodes were self-contained and took place on a single set but strands of continuing storylines ran through the series.
Barney Miller episodes were frequently made great by the guest cast who acted the human flotsam and jetsam that passed through the station house: a continuous parade of crazies, crooks, purse snatchers, conmen, mad bombers, hookers, juvenile muggers and other street denizens (even a werewolf!).
The humour was sardonic and intelligent and ran to such subjects as mental illness, arson and teenage pregnancy.
Abe Vigoda – who played Phil Fish (pictured below) – was given his own series, Fish in 1977. There was also an attempt to float Wojo into his own series but this stalled after the broadcast of a special one-hour episode of Barney Miller devoted to him.
Barney Miller was a major hit with police forces across the US who felt it more accurately depicted their day-to-day work than, say, Starsky and Hutch.
The cast members were even made honorary members of the NYPD, but after eight years the show finally folded because the writers had simply run out of topics and they wanted to bow out with standards intact.
Among the notable events of the later seasons were Harris’s emergence as a published author (finally), and in January 1979, the death of actor Jack Soo.
Soo was last seen as Yemana in October 1978 but was so loved that a special episode was devoted to him the following May, with clips from past shows and reminiscences by the cast. At the end, they all raised their coffee cups in a poignant farewell toast.
The final storyline – called ‘Landmark’ – ran over three episodes and had the Greenwich Village station house declared a historic monument (the former HQ of Teddy Roosevelt, no less) following the discovery of an antique gun in the building, and the squad were forced to vacate.
In the last episode, Barney received the long-awaited phone call from headquarters. The news was bittersweet: Barney was promoted to Deputy Inspector and Levitt had finally made Sergeant. But the men of the precinct would be scattered to different locations throughout the city.
The 12th precinct was no more.
The jail cell door and the duty roster board from the set were presented to the Smithsonian Institution.
Hal Linden chose his professional surname after seeing a sign at the train station in Linden, New Jersey, while travelling from Philadelphia, where he lived at the time, to an acting job in New York City. He was born Harold Lipshitz.
Captain Barney Miller
Det. Sgt Phil Fish
Det. Sgt Chano Amenguale
Det. Stan ‘Wojo’ Wojciehowicz
Det. Sgt Nick Yemana
Det. Sgt Ron Harris
Inspector Frank Luger
Det. Sgt Arthur Dietrich
Officer Carl Levitt
Det. Janice Wentworth
Det. Maria Baptista
Det. Eric Dorsey