From left to right: Wojciehowicz, Miller, Harris, Fish, and Yemana.
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.
Fish, Abe Vigoda's zodiac sign is Pisces whose symbol is the fish.
Deputy Inspector Luger is forced to take some vacation time and doesn't know what to do with himself so he asks Yemana if Flower Drum Song is still playing on Broadway. Jack Soo, Yemana's actor, was in the original Broadway run and The Movie.
Ambulance Chaser: Arnold Ripner, a recurring character. At one point he sues Harris for putting a thinly-veiled version of him in his novel.
And Starring: "And Gregory Sierra as Chano", for the first two seasons. Later, and even more fleetingly, "And James Gregory as Inspector Luger".
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.
Another female detective who is detailed to catch a dentist in the act of groping anesthetized female patients has a similar reaction when she is not groped, though she is more visibly distraught due to the effects of the anesthesia.
Attractive Bent Gender: When he goes on mugging detail, everyone in the squad is astonished, and a flabbergasted Barney says that he looks "lovely."
'Harris: I want to look good, Barney... but not better.
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.
The technician operating the machine doesn't really believe Dietrich is an alien, but he also doesn't believe the machine isn't working perfectly. Eventually his faith in the machine wins out, though fortunately for Wojo, his supervisors conclude the reverse.
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.
Character Development: All of the squad went through this as the show went on—Wojo becoming less naive, for example—and some recurring characters did as well. Ray Brewer, a recurring bum, shows up one day in a Salvation Army uniform.
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.
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, who played Yemana. This doubles as a Bus Crash.
Clumsy Copyright Censorship: In an episode where a perp beat up an elevator-music machine, the word Muzak (a trademark of Muzak Holdings LLC) is slienced-out.
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.
Darker and Edgier: The two episodes when the NYPD is reorganized into specialty squads and the 12th is assigned homicide.
And a late-season episode where a shopkeeper who wants to ignore his shop being vandalized with a swastika turns out to be a Nazi in hiding. The vandal was a Roma man in the shopkeeper's "work detail," and one of the only survivors.
Deadpan Snarker: Numerous among both the squad and the people they dealt with, but Yemana, Fish and Dietrich all deserve special mention.
Disposable Vagrant: Subverted when recurring character Ray Brewer reports that vagrants are vanishing from a shelter; Harris goes undercover to solve the case. (Turns out they're being shipped to North Carolina as slave labor.)
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.)
Eye-Obscuring Hat: Wojo reports a UFO a Captain from the Air Force shows up to take his statement, who wears his officer's cap in such a way that it obscures his eyes. Barney tries to peek around the brim.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Chano occasionally lost his temper and let loose in Spanish, including "pendejo" (literally meaning "pubic hair," but is as strong as "asshole" to a Spanish speaker.) 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.
Hypocritical Humor: Quite often from numerous individuals. During one opening, Culgan informs Wojo that Harris and Nick have been shot and and starts relaying the circumstances before saying that they're all right—Wojo yells at him that he should have said that right from the start. Then Barney comes in and Wojo tells him, phone still in hand:
Barney: Are they all right?!
Wojo: They were responding to a call from—
Wojo: They're fine! Culgan will tell you about it. [holds out the phone in embarrassment] As soon as he finishes laughin'.
Ice Cream Koan: Whenever Nick relates some kind of "Oriental wisdom" from his grandfather.
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'".
In Vino Veritas: No alcohol or drugs are involved, but this is basically the effect of putting Wojo under hypnotism in one episode.
Jerkass: Lieutenant Scanlan of Internal Affairs, a resentful, crawling man who despises Barney's decency and tries his hardest to find something for which to rake the 12th over the coals.
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.
Looks Like Jesus: The owner of an Indian restaurant and Hindu temple in Season 3.
Bookie: [in a whisper to Fish] I'll give you seventy-five to one it ain't!
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.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Although Mr. Kopekne's 'lycanthropy' is not taken seriously, his return as a victim of demonic possession is far more disturbing. There are several other incidents where you can't be totally sure the people aren't crazy.
The man who claims to be Jesus returned and gains the friendship of a suspect named Paul with a "miracle."*
a bag of drugs turning out to be a Beat Bag, freeing him of charges.
A man plagued by a poltergeist named Julius, concurrent with a lot of small accidents and an attack of clumsiness
The time-traveler who identifies himself as such because nobody will believe him, convinces Harris to invest in zinc, apparently recognizes the Arthur Dietrich, and vanishes after leaving.
A "clairvoyant" who attacks a man for a purse-snatching he hasn't committed, but it just so happens he picked a repeat offender... and he perceives the cloud of "resentment" that results from Luger turning up, subsequently broadcasting Barney's frustrations.
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."
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 (who's 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!
No, Except Yes: In "The Harris Incident," Barney tries to explain to Wojo that Harris' race gives him a particular set of problems to deal with, after being shot at by fellow cops has (understandably) made Harris angry at the world in general—although here it's not a matter of Insistent Terminology, but Barney grappling with words.
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 Niño": 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.
Paying For The Action Scene: One or more of the perps of the week have had a fight in an establishment which is pressing charges, then are informed that the establishment will drop the charges if they'll pay for damages.
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.
Premature Encapsulation: "The Desk" is the title of an episode involving a lobotomized criminal and an Amish mugging victim; the following episode, "The Judge", has the subplot revolving around removing Nick Yemana's old desk from the squadroom.
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.
In one episode they bring in a woman who everyone thinks is crazy (she escaped from a mental asylum where she's been held ever since she first arrived in the country 20ish years previously) and speaking her own made-up language. It turns out she is perfectly sane; she's just speaking a rare Macedonian dialect. The squad happens to find someone who speaks Macedonian to commuicate with her. None of the Macedonian is subtitlted.
Chano's frequent lapsing into Spanish when annoyed or upset isn't subtitled.
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."
Shout Out: In one episode, a woman goes to the police because her husband of over 20 years did something different when they were having sex, and she now thinks that he's a replacement. One of the detectives sardonically says to her, "Did you check for pods?" which is a reference to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
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.
Specifically, the titular quarantine is over smallpox, which was eradicated in 1977.
Unusual Euphemism: Harris' many creative names for the mental ward of Bellevue Hospital.
Dietrich: My favorite was "the Disoriented Express."
Values Dissonance: In-Universe example with Inspector Luger, who fondly remembers the days when police brutality was accepted practice. When he has to walk a beat with the squad, they are noticeably disturbed at his "slapping around" of a purse-snatcher.
Waiting For A Break: Harris is waiting for one as a writer; he eventually gets his book Blood on the Badge (which he affectionately refers to as "Bob") published. Dietrich isn't really waiting for one, but according to a character who claims to be a time traveler from the future (and who for the most part doesn't show any other obvious signs of being crazy, so that the detectives all wind up halfway believing him), eventually gets one anyway. The character's reaction to learning who Dietrich is strongly implies he's a household name in the future.
Dietrich (as everyone else stares at him following this revelation): I couldn't have done it without you guys.
Wham Episode: Recurring character Mr. Cotterman, a frequently-robbed liquor store owner, is killed off in "Homicide, part 2", during the 12th Precinct's brief reassignment as a homicide-only squad.
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.
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.
Recurring character Bruno Binder has a wife whom he beats. The same actress who played his wife shows up as a new detective sent to replace Chano (the request had been sent two years preveiously), while Binder is in the squadroom looking at mugshots to identify the man who robbed his store. They don't recognize each other.