Barney Miller: making us Smile

By | July 24, 2022

[July 24, 2022]  It was with great interest that drove me to watch an old television sitcom from my past, Barney Miller (1975 to 1982), set in a New York City Police Department police station.  My wife, Nancy, is always looking for something to watch.  One day she said, “Hey, you got to see this show.”  I remembered watching it years ago before I was married.

It takes a lot of horsepower and fortitude to keep a television show going for more than one season.  The success of Barney Miller is the chemistry between actors, good writing, believable but zany plots, and plenty of humor that made the show enjoyable to watch.  If you grew up in New York City, there are plenty of references only New Yorkers can understand.

The show takes place almost entirely in the confines of the detective’s squad room and Captain Barney Miller’s adjoining office (to make it easier to film before a live audience).  As part of the scene, the crew is part of the NYPD fictional 12th Precinct located on the west side of Lower Manhattan in NYC.  Classic comedy.  Classic New York City.

What made the show stand out, and this is my wife’s opinion as well, was the “strong characters” employed.  Hal Linden as Captain Miller, the sensible, poised precinct captain who remains calm and deals with the quirks of his staff with a sense of humor.  As detective “Wojo” Wojciehowicz, Max Gail is the naïve, gung-ho, Catholic Polish-American who gradually transforms from macho Marine to humanitarian.  Ron Glass, as the only black detective Ron Harris, ambitious, intelligent, with a taste for the finer things in life, is preoccupied with being a writer.  Abe Vigoda, as the older Sergeant Philip Fish, crotchety, near retirement, suffering from some physical ailment.  Gregory Sierra, as Sergeant “Chano” Amenguale, the Puerto Rican who is emotionally attached to his job and regularly reverts to manic Spanish when things go awry.  And although there are many others, Jack Soo stands out as Sergeant Nick Yemana, a Japanese American who is a wisecracking, dry-witted, gambling, erratic drinker who makes terrible coffee.

The plot regularly revolves around the detectives bringing several complainants or suspects into the squad room.  Usually, there are two or three subplots in a given episode.  Bad coffee, dysfunctional bathroom, malfunctioning air conditioning, absent senior headquarters, and a host of typical people coming into the squad room and the detectives solving their problems.

If you are interested in a throwback television show, this one is for you.  I highly recommend it.  It matters not whether you grew up in New York City; you will laugh and smile.  It’s worth watching each short episode.

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Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Barney Miller: making us Smile

  1. Braniff

    I started watching Barney Miller after I discovered the depth, character and situations on Hill Street Blues. An encyclopedia article about Hill Street Blues cited a critic who called it “Barney Miller goes outdoors” or something on that line. I began to watch Barney Miller and I don’t regret it. It seemed to be a cross between the Norman Lear sitcoms of the 1970s and a forerunner of Hill Street Blues.
    Alas, I ventually I gave up watching all television–it was taking up too much of my time, but I have no regrets for the time I spent watching Barney Miller.

    Reply
  2. Eye Cat

    The genius behind “Barney Miller” was writer-director-producer Danny Arnold.

    Reply
    1. Ronny Fisher

      Arnold might be more comparable to Paul Henning, whose “Beverly Hillbillies” sitcom was enormously popular in the 1960s, along with “Petticoat Junction” and the brilliantly absurd “Green Acres.” Remember them ALL!!!

      Reply
  3. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Police detectives often cite this as the best cop show ever seen on television. Dennis Farina, who really worked as a policeman before becoming an actor, says it’s the most realistic. In 2014, it was called the most intelligent and literate U.S. sitcom ever made. The fictional detectives were made honorary members of the NYPD, and the chalkboard roster and Jack Soo’s coffee cup now reside in the Smithsonian.

    Reply
    1. USA Patriot II

      “Barney Miller” was a brilliant, complex, highly literate, superbly written show with depth and high social significance – all done within the confines of a half-hour commercial sitcom!

      Reply
  4. Audrey

    This show is also remembered for its super-catchy Instrumental Theme Tune, which has quite possibly the most famous bass line in TV history.

    Reply
  5. American Girl

    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).

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Got that right, American Girl. I’m sure happy today that Gen. Satterfield published this article. It brought back some great memories.

      Reply
  6. mainer

    I’m really enjoying this leadership website and now a bit of a break from the seriousness to read about one of my favorite shows from when i was a kid.

    Reply
  7. Idiot Savant

    Detective Ron Harris:
    Hey Fish, does it hurt when those stones come out?
    Fish:
    It can’t be too bad. The doctor says it’s like giving birth.

    Reply
    1. Army Captain

      Wojo: Hey, Barney? If a police officer loses his badge, does he report it to his superior or just wait til somebody turns it in?
      Barney: He reports it to his superior officer.
      Wojo: I lost my badge.
      They just keep on coming. Hilarious.

      Reply
    1. Willie Strumburger

      The 1970s were a time for some great sitcoms, ranging from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show to pretty much everything Norman Lear produced (All in the Family, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Maude …. the list goes on). And one comedy that came out of that era that remains beloved — if not talked about as much as those others — is Barney Miller, with Hal Linden leading an amazing cast of performers.

      Reply
      1. Greg Heyman

        The series had an eight-season run and it seemed like it would go even further — until series creator Danny Arnold met with the cast and made the announcement that things had reached a point where every script being written felt like a rehash of things they’d done before and if the show couldn’t maintain its level of quality, he didn’t want to go on with it. “Everybody was writing the monologues that Dietrich did, or the coffee jokes,” explains Linden. “They were just rewrites of the same material, basically. And Danny said, ‘We’ve had a good run. You guys should go on to something else.’ So he retired the show at the end of that year; it wasn’t canceled. I suspect that we probably could have gone on as long as M*A*S*H.”

        Reply
          1. osmodsann

            Yeah, me too …. I hate YouTube but they do have a lot of videos. I wish there was an alternative to these “book burners.”

  8. Frank Graham

    I remember the series well, Barney Miller made me smile. 😊😊😊😊😊

    Reply
    1. Harry Donner

      Ha ha ha, yep, same there Frank. I loved the show and the show with “Fish” that came later based on his character.

      Reply

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