Barney Miller

Barney Miller

The year was 1975, and after an divisive war and political scandal, America was yearning for a little honesty and a lot of humor. Barney Miller delivered on both counts. Sporting a theme song just as funky as its characters, this beloved sitcom won the hearts of millions with its hilarious depiction of daily life within a NYC police precinct.

Barney Miller introduced viewers to the misfit police detectives of the 12th Precinct in Manhattan. Wojo, Barney, Fish and the rest were juxtaposed with the freaks, crooks and lost souls who found themselves in trouble with the law – in a kind of daily contest to see who was crazier.

The shabby anonymity of the environment was its charm, a place where a gaggle of flawed and phobic civil servants went about their daily activities, seemingly immune to the outlandishness of each perp brought in for questioning. Surprisingly, real-life police officers often remarked that Barney Miller was a more honest portrayal of the daily rigors of the police world than most police dramas on tv. Of course, the cops on Barney Miller were a little more gifted in the comedy department.

Barney Miller was Captain of the 12th Precinct, a hard-working and well-respected boss (and the resident straight man). His emotions tended to range between shocked amazement and complete exasperation as he tried his best to wrangle, manage, motivate, and otherwise resuscitate the cops under his command. And oh, what a colorful collection of characters they were.

You had the lightning fast, spanglish-speaking Chano Amengual, the coffee-making deadpan detective Nick Yemana, the forever phobic Stanley “Wojo” Wojohowicz, the analytical and ever-cynical Dietrich, the cosmopolitan and ambitious Ron Harris, and the forgettable Officer Levitt, a meek yet loveable loser.

The legendary Abe Vigoda played Sergeant Phillip K. Fish (never block his access to the bathroom), a hopeless man who put one foot in front of the other, marching eternally onward into the bleakness, though clearly already defeated. Not surprisingly, this cheery, uplifting, and refreshingly authentic character spawned a spin-off series, Fish (one year run), in 1977.

Besides the menagerie of detectives, a colorful troop of hookers, crazies, petty criminals (even a werewolf/mind reader) paraded through the Greenwich Village precinct on a daily basis. The cases that crossed the desks were handled with a combination of competence and bumble, to Captain Miller’s frequent exasperation. The bumbling was, of course, the best part of the show – such as the day a bunch of the detectives tore through a bag of brownies that turned out to be evidence in a recent drug bust, then proceeded to have what must have been the most pleasant workday of their careers.

When actor Jack Soo died in 1979, there was a fondly remembered on-camera tribute in which the cast raised their coffee cups, the cups that Yemana would no longer be able to fill with his patented awful-tasting brew.

Three years later, with ratings starting to wane, writers came up with a fitting way to end the quirky series after its successful eight-season run. An antique gun believed to have belonged to Teddy Roosevelt, was found in the station, making the entire building a historical landmark. With the 12th Precinct shut down for good, Miller and Levitt received promotions and the rest of the gang went their merry way.

In a way, that crusty old precinct building was no less a historical monument to the fans of Barney Miller, a familiar and friendly meeting place that provided a steady source of humor to a generation of viewers eager to laugh. When the lights of the 12th finally dimmed, we all lost something special.

If you tuned in each week to the antics taking place on Barney Miller, we’d love to hear all of your thoughts and memories in our comments section below.

One Response to “Barney Miller”

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  1. Jim Ehinger says:

    Loved that show…was one of the best ensemble cast in TV history. I remember watching it with my mom and dad and laughing through every episode.

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