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A police squadroom sitcom airing on ABC from 1975-1982, Barney Miller was considered quite realistic by actual cops, especially in comparison to police dramas at the time. The episodes tended to take place entirely within the bleak, ancient squadroom as the detectives booked and processed various suspects. Action sequences usually took place off-camera and were described by the detectives as they returned from the scene. What made the show worth watching was the razor-sharp writing and the eccentric personalities of the detectives, including:
- The eponymous Captain Miller (Hal Linden), whose underlings exasperate him and whose superiors ignore him; an Only Sane Man who often feels ineffectual and underappreciated. Best known for leaving suspects and victims together for a while in hopes that they will work things out without pressing charges (and therefore without the associated paperwork).
- Sergeant Nick Yemana (Jack Soo), Captain Miller's second in command who is in charge of "the files" and is generally the Hypercompetent Sidekick of the squadroom. He takes a laissez-faire attitude to most things and often makes inappropriate jokes. His bad coffee is legendary.
- Sergeant Philip K. Fish (Abe Vigoda), an elderly and dyspeptic complainer who alternately wisecracks about today's batch of criminals or his wife. Despite his endless moaning, he can't stand the thought of his impending retirement. The character began appearing in a spin-off series, Fish, midway through the third season but didn't leave until the end of it (getting a proper send-off in the fourth season premiere). The spin-off didn't last two years, and Fish continued to return for occasional appearances on the parent show.
- Detective Stanley Taddeus "Wojo" Wojciehowicz ("You say it like it's spelled!" or "Spelled just like it sounds!") (Max Gail), who tended to act entirely on his impulses, causing Barney endless headaches. His original uncouth and dense character gradually became more enlightened as the series went on.
- Sergeant Ron Harris (Ron Glass), whose police work frequently took second place to his novel-writing. He had a diva-esque attitude, best exemplified by his reluctance to wear anything he considered unstylish, even during undercover work. He also considered himself the squadroom intellectual, at least until the arrival of...
- Detective Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg), a Deadpan Snarker and card-carrying intellectual, whose long-winded speculations about criminal psychology, science, and just about anything else that happened to come up in conversation drove the other detectives crazy. He particularly annoyed Harris, who didn't appreciate having a rival for being "the Smart One".
- During the first two seasons, Sergeant Chano Amenguale (Gregory Sierra); an amiable, talkative guy, but basically deficient in outstanding personality quirks. He disappeared when Sierra got a lead role on another sitcom, which promptly crashed and burned, beating Fish to the punch by a season.
Also around are abrasive, uniformed Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), who longs to be a detective but can never seem to snag a promotion (he finally got one in the very last episode); and Barney's immediate superior Inspector Franklin D. Luger (James Gregory), who does nothing but chew Barney's ear all day and long for the halcyon days of acceptable police brutality. In the first season or two, which had episodes alternating between the squadroom and Barney's home life, Barbara Barrie was a regular as Barney's wife Elizabeth. She disappeared when the Millers had an off-screen separation, but returned later on a recurring basis.
Throughout the run, the show tried adding new characters to the cast; most of them would be given a "test run" of about three episodes to make an impression. More than half a dozen cops were "auditioned" this way. Save for Dietrich, none of them really worked, resulting in many a Brother Chuck. (Linda Lavin probably would have stayed on too, if she hadn't been offered the lead role in Alice; she appeared prominently in flashbacks despite being in only five episodes). Midway through the fifth season, actor Jack Soo (Yemana) died. The cast did a memorial episode out-of-character for Soo, but Yemana was never killed off in so many words. Once in a while, he would be mentioned in the past tense, sometimes with an air of wistfulness. When Levitt worked in the detective squad room, he took over Yemana's desk.
This show is also remembered for its super-catchy Instrumental Theme Tune, which has quite possibly the most famous bass line in TV history. If you've seen the show, you're probably humming it to yourself now.
Characters and references to the show still turn up. In a novel spinoff of The Blair Witch Project, Confessions of Rustin Parr, the investigations were headed by Detective Nicholas Yamana. In William P. Young's supernatural murder mystery The Shack, a Polish police detective says his name is "spelled just like it sounds". In Frasier, one of Martin's police friends was Stan Wojciedubakowski, and when he died, Martin briefly dated his widow.
- Ambulance Chaser: Arnold Ripner, a recurring character. At one point he sues Harris for putting a thinly-veiled version of him in his novel.
- Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Detective Wentworth is highly offended when a would-be rapist elbows her aside in order to get at Wojo, who is wearing drag for an anti-mugger sting.
- Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Barney in some episodes. Some government officials that get called in are also this. (Usually because of Wojo giving someone political asylum or similar.)
- The Bet: Between Yemana (to stop gambling) and Harris (to stop smoking) on who could last the longest.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Non-violent, but it's still unwise to push Barney past the breaking point.
- Black Comedy Rape: Season 4, Episode 15, titled "Rape". A woman charges her husband with rape. Presented as a comedy story line.
- Blatant Lies: Dietrich informs a prototype lie detector that he was born "a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away" after an honest but excitable Wojo flunks the test.
- Bottle Episode: All but a few of them.
- Bulletproof Vest: A seventh season episode revolved around bulletproof vests being issued to the members of the squad, and their reluctance to wear them. Wojo said "It makes me feel like I'm some kind of supercop: like I ought to have a big W across here."
- Call Back: References to detectives Amenguale and Wentworth working elsewhere in the police department continued after their actors left the show. When Yemana's actor died, the character was occasionally remembered fondly with wistful glances at his old desk, without specifying what had happened to him.
- In fact, an entire episode revolved around Yemana's desk. Levitt protested its removal because without it he had less chance of getting his occasional assignments to work with the detectives, proving himself worthy of promotion. Barney came to regret having had it removed, and decided it wasn't enough just to get another desk; he demanded that desk back, and got it.
- Calling Your Bathroom Breaks: Played for Toilet Humor with Fish, whose advanced age has started to take its toll.
- The Character Died with Him: On January 11, 1979, midway through the show's run, Jack Soo, who portrayed Yemana, passed away. In response, a special memorial episode was aired in which Yemana had been killed. The actors broke character and recalled their favorite Yemana scenes. The episode ended with entire cast raising their coffee cups in tribute.
- Character Tics: That little spin move Levitt would always make when going out the door.
- Christmas Episode
- Cigarette of Anxiety: One time when Barney is passed over for promotion (again), he finds an old cigarette in his desk and smokes it. He had quit 3 years previously, and that cigarette was left over from before he quit.
Harris: You're smoked a 3 year old cigarette?
Barney: Just wanted to make sure I didn't get hooked again.
Harris: That'll do it.
- Clip Show: The out-of-character tribute to actor Jack Soo.
- Commuting on a Bus: Abe Vigoda's Fish did this in season 3 (due to his concurrent role on his own show) before leaving entirely at the beginning of season 4.
- The Couch: In Barney's office.
- Crime and Punishment Series
- The Dandy: Harris
- The Danza: Ron Glass as Sgt. Ron Harris.
- Darker and Edgier: The two episodes when the NYPD is reorganized into specialty squads and the 12th is assigned homicide.
- Deadpan Snarker: Numerous among both the squad and the people they dealt with, but Yemana and Dietrich deserve special mention.
- Disposable Vagrant
- Double Standard Rape (Male on Male): Wojo, who is wearing drag in order to catch muggers, is almost raped. Everyone finds this hilarious.
- Drop in Character: Ray Brewer.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Arnold Ripner threatens to sue a lobotomist free of charge should he try to operate again on a patient who was rendered mentally incompetent by his amygdalectomy. (He then threatens Barney that trying to describe his actions as "noble" could be slander.)
- The Fashionista: Harris is a male version.
- A Father to His Men: Wojo seems to view Barney this way.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis
- Five-Man Band: Barney was The Hero; Yemana was The Lancer; Wojo was The Big Guy; Dietrich was The Smart Guy. Harris was initially The Smart Guy until Dietrich came on board, and then became more of a male The Chick; after the actor who played Yemana died, he replaced him as The Lancer.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Chano occasionally lost his temper and let loose in Spanish, including "asshole" (pendejo) at least once. In an early episode, a man talking about his wife joining a cult that hoped to travel to Saturn pointed upward with his middle finger as he said "Up there, Saturn." Fish's response: "Hold that thought."
- In another episode, a suspect stoned out of his mind on pot insists on referring to Bernice Fish as "mother." When she leaves the room, he shouts, "That mother left me!"
- The Ghost: Barney's family - wife Liz, son David, and daughter Rachel - turned into offscreen characters after the first season. Both Liz and Rachel did eventually return for guest appearances in later episodes, however.
- Her Codename Was Mary Sue: Harris' novel Blood on the Badge.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: Apparently one Hal Linden didn't care for, at least compaired to some of his fellow actor's shows. Once on a talk show he appeared with some stars from other shows, all of who were introduced with a few note of their theme songs. When he was introduced Linden said "Man he has such a nice theme, and he has a great theme...me, I've got 'Bum...bumbumbum...bumbumbum...bababaddabadda bum'".
- Insistent Terminology: Wojo on the pronunciation of his name. It's almost a Catch Phrase.
- Intoxication Ensues: The "hash brownies" episode, also the Crowning Moment of Funny for the show.
- In Vino Veritas: No alcohol or drugs are involved, but this is basically the effect of putting Wojo under hypnotism in one episode.
- Landslide Election: During an election day episode, Inspector Luger is a strong proponent of a good friend of his who is running for office, even though the only thing that anybody else can remember about the candidate is that he was accused of being involved with bribery and corruption in the sanitation department (the Inspector's awkward attempts to defend the candidate on the grounds that "they couldn't prove any of that" only seem to confirm the truth of the accusations). Not surprisingly, the candidate loses by a margin of more than 5 to 1.
- Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: Deliberately averted. According to their DVD Commentary, the writers made a rule that except for previously-established characters like Barney's wife, all the guest characters had to be people the cops were meeting for the first time.
- Mad Magazine: Blarney Miller
- Meaningful Name: The aging inspector who looks back fondly on the life-threatening shootouts of the old days, waxes nostalgic about his old comrades getting shot down in their prime, and doesn't understand the modern force's need for things like proper procedures, suspects' rights, and paperwork is named "Luger."
- Mix and Match
- Mushroom Samba: In one of the most famous episodes, Wojo's girlfriend-of-the-week gave him a box of homemade brownies laced with hashish. Everyone but Barney (whose watching his weight) become affected by them in different ways - Yamana thinking his legs had walked off, Harris getting giggly, and giving Fish the energy to chase down and capture a suspect a third his age.
Fish: The first time in twenty-five years I've felt really good... and it has to be illegal!
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Inspector Luger's tendency to call officer Levitt "Levine."
- New Year Has Come: Season 2's "Happy New Year" takes place on New Year's Eve.
- Non Sequitur Distraction: A riot breaks out in front of the precinct station. Barney gives an impassioned speech to a representative, saying among other things "Maybe we are all going to hell in a handbasket." When things quiet down, Dietrich says to Barney "Hell in a handbasket?"
- Noodle Incident: One one episode, a man is brought into the station for writing on the walls of a women's restroom, where he left his phone number and an offer to engage in an unspeakably disgusting sex act. The act itself is never named out loud, but characters read a transcription of the message and crack jokes about it throughout.
- "El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Nino": A recurring Latina character calls Officer Levitt (who is quite short) "poquito". He finally asks her what it means and she says, "It means macho," and leaves.
Levitt: "I thought "macho" meant macho!"
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Scanlon of Internal Affairs. In fact, he takes malicious glee in targeting Barney's squad.
- The Other Darrin: Abby Dalton played Barney's wife Liz in the pilot, while Barbara Barrie took over the role for the series.
- Florence Stanley played Bernice Gruber Fish in seasons 1 and 3. In Bernice's only appearance in season 2, she was played by Doris Belack.
- Pilot: "The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller", originally produced as a one-off installment of an ABC summer anthology series called Just for Laughs.
- Police Procedural
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Ron Glass and Jack Soo in the second season; Ron Carey and Steve Landesberg in the fourth. James Gregory also got a promotion in season four, complete with an And Starring credit, but it didn't take, and he was back to guest star billing the following season (though he remained a regular throughout the show's run).
- The Problem with Pen Island: The broad white, all capital, rounded-corners font of the show's credits wasn't exactly complimentary to writer Theodore J. Flicker.
- Put on a Bus: Fish, although he would return as a guest in a couple later episodes.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Barney.
- Recurring Character: Lt. Scanlon from Internal Affairs, Officer Zatelli, Marty and Darryl, Arnold Ripner, Bruno Binder, Ray Brewer, Arthur Duncan, Mr. Cotterman...
- Required Spinoff Crossover: Dietrich turns up in a Fish episode.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Most of the cases were loosely based on Real Life stories.
- The characters would frequently cite the actual articles or court cases that inspired the episode.
- Rule 34: In the episode "The Indian", the detectives catch a shoe fetishist. Wojo says "You can point to any object in the Sears catalog, and there's someone out there who wants to sleep with it."
- Spin-Off: Fish
- Spiritual Successor: Night Court, created by former Barney Miller writer Reinhold Weege.
- Stock Sitcom Grand Finale
- Stop Being Stereotypical: Harris is very irritated at a Jamaican doctor who claims to be under a curse from a voodoo priestess.
- Studio Audience: Used for the first three seasons, before being discarded in favor of a (very sparsely employed) Laugh Track.
- At times during the three part final episode, the chuckles of the crew can be heard faintly in the background.
- Those Two Guys: Harris and Dietrich.
- Tontine: A season 8 episode revolves around one of these.
- Uncanceled: The pilot was originally not picked up, and just "burned off" in the summer. However the ratings of that one showing revived interest in the concept, and more episodes were ordered the next season.
- Unintentional Period Piece: In particular, a rerun of the two part episode "Quarantine" inspired the revival of that trope's YKTTW.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Harris and Dietrich again. They're even roomies at several points.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Bruno Binder, a neighborhood vigilante who turns up in several episodes.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Asked of Dietrich when he threatens to quit the police force as a response to being told he couldn't attend an anti-nuclear protest on his own time. His co-workers list all the jobs he had had previously and abandoned, convincing him he was just making an excuse to quit yet again.
Dietrich (After the others list all his previous occupations): You forgot Lumberjack and Beekeeper. that was my wilderness period.
- Work Com: With a little Dom Com thrown in the first season.
- Write Who You Know: Gets Det. Harris in trouble when his thinly veiled portrait of sleazy attorney Arnold Ripner in his novel isn't veiled enough.
- You Look Familiar: Steve Landesberg and Ron Carey both appeared as suspects being hauled in before joining the cast as Dietrich and Levitt.
- The show made frequent use of the same actors, so a mugging victim in one episode might reappear as an armed robbery suspect the next season.