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).
Lieutenant 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; the character was eventually moved offscreen, save for a couple of guest appearances.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 Yemana. 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. The Police ProceduralRomantic DramedyCastle is, like this show, set in the Twelfth Precinct of the NYPD.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. The detectives were made honorary members of the NYPD.Now has a character page for the main cast and recurring characters.
This show provides examples of:
Accidental Pervert: A man who was arrested for being a public nuisance by making lewd comments in a park was actually doing research for a detailed dictionary and history of obscenities.
Suspect: She called me a pervert. I'm a scholar.
Dietrich: There's no reason you can't be both.
The Alcoholic: A robber who tries to rip off a store using his finger as a gun (he forgot to put his hand in his pocket first because he was drunk).
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 uses all the unflattering adjectives Harris used to describe the character's sleaziness as proof.
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.
Attractive Bent-Gender: Usually related to mugging detail, when a squad member crossdresses to attract muggers.
Fish arrests another old man for asking him out. The guy still wants to take him on a date even after learning he's a man.
When Harris goes on mugging detail, everyone in the squad is astonished. Even Nick is too flabbergasted to say anything but "You look lovely!"
Harris: I want to look good, Barney... but not better.
Totally inverted with Wojo, and even more with Dietrich—Barney won't even let Dietrich go out because he just does not look female at all.
Because Destiny Says So: Nick discovers a horse named "Pick-Me-Nick" in the paper and decides that it's more than a sign, it's an order. Just before the end credits—after a philosophical discussion about fate and the afterlife that took place for unrelated reasons—Nick learns that Pick-Me-Nick won.
"I guess that settles that!"
Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Most government officials who visit the squadroom. (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.
Big Blackout: The episode "Power Failure." The power cuts while Barney is in his office with a psychiatrist who is apparently trying to seduce him on behalf of her arrested patient.
The Big Rotten Apple: Set as it is in the 70's and early 80's, the bureaucracy, high crime, and perpetual budget crisis make for great comedy and occasional drama.
Black Comedy Rape: Season 4, Episode 15, titled "Rape." A woman charges her husband with rape. Presented as a comedy story line.
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.
The Bore: Luger and his endless stories about Brownie, Foster, and Kleiner. A supposed clairvoyant announces his arrival by saying that he feels "a gloomy presence" approaching.
Yemana takes a call, says "Wait, let me get a pencil" and starts to eat his lunch with the pencil as a makeshift chopstick as he tells the caller to go ahead with their story. Switch to other characters doing things, then back to Yemana as he hangs up with the caller. He takes one look at the pencil and says "Oh, God, I ate my eraser!"
After getting an announcement that there will be tryouts for a department variety show, everyone present declines interest and Barney drops it in the wastebasket. The episode ends with Wojo, not present at the start, fishing it out and indignant that nobody told him about it.
Building of Adventure: The precinct house, as dilapidated as it is. Over the course of the series it sees hostage crises, quarantine, fire, suicide attempts, Jesus (maybe), and guys that look like Jesus.
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."
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.
Nick says that they can't use the towel for something because all the terry wore down. Also, it "cracked." In a later episode, Barney threatens an unruly perpetrator by saying he would stuff their towel in his mouth. When the guy isn't cowed, Barney retorts with "You haven't seen our towel!"
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.
Character Outlives Actor: Nick Yemana did not exactly Die On a Bus, even though the actor Jack Soo, who played him, died in real life. Nick disappeared from the series and was definitely gone for good; there was an episode where a lot of drama was attached to the removal of his desk from the office, and characters would sometimes mention "back when Nick was here". However, it was never made clear whether he died or just went away somewhere. The final episode cleared this up. Looking around the squadroom one last time, Barney remembers (via flashback clips) the cops who'd left the squad in years past. When he remembers Chano, Wentworth and Fish, Barney is smiling in fond remembrance. When he remembers Nick, though, his expression is very sad. Clearly, Nick had passed on.
One perp makes a big deal about how devout a Catholic he is in the hopes that Wojo's Catholic guilt will get him let go. (It doesn't work, but it does make Wojo pretty uncomfortable.)
An Episcopal priest is arrested for fencing stolen goods to raise money for charity. He expresses an incredible amount of jealousy of the attention and funding that big-time Roman Catholic churches like St. Patrick's Cathedral get.
A rabbi is busted when he uses the synagogue's license for a "casino night" to continuously operate a small-time casino in the basement.
A lunatic preaching that The End is near and citing endless Scripture verses is arrested for disorderly conduct. As Bernice Fish comes in, he lets loose with a passage from the Old Testament. Bernice quietly asks her husband: "Who arrested the rabbi?"
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 case of The Character Died with Him as Yemana is indicated to have died in subsequent in-character episodes.
Clumsy Copyright Censorship: In an episode where a perpetrator beat up an elevator-music machine, the word Muzak (a trademark of Muzak Holdings LLC) is slienced-out.
The Couch: In Barney's office. Lampshaded when Harris thanks Barney for the use of it because a real psychiatrist would be too expensive.
Create Your Own Villain: Christopher Lloyd plays a man who blames Barney for his life of crime and drug abuse when years earlier Patrolman Miller caused him to miss an important job interview by detaining him with a ticket for littering.
Creator In-Joke: Danny Arnold joked that if he ever found himself writing an episode where the characters did a variety show, he'd end the series. He did decide to end it in the seventh season—and in one episode, the squadroom gets a flier for tryouts in a police variety show. (Which none of them are inclined to participate in.)
The two episodes when the NYPD is reorganized into specialty squads and the 12th is assigned homicide.
A late-season episode involves an ex-Nazi in hiding.
Deadpan Snarker: Numerous among both the squad and the people they dealt with, but Yemana, Fish and Dietrich all deserve special mention.
When Air Force Master Sergeant Reville (George Murdock, before he was cast in a recurring role as Lt. Scanlon) arrives at the precinct to report a bomb threat to an Air Force base, he is clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a Japanese-American police officer. Yemana deals with his discomfort with deadpan humour:
Reville: It just isn't right. Why would someone threaten to destroy a US Air Force base? Yemana: Nostalgia?
One of Fish's favourite targets for snarkery is his wife, Bernice (who gives as good as she gets when we see her).
Wojo: Hey Fish, who's Esther Williams? Fish: She covered herself with grease and swam the English Channel. (to himself) It's a shame Bernice can't swim, she'd be all set.
Dietrich is usually The Stoic, but beneath his calm surface is an often acerbic sense of humour. In "Uniform Days", he is looking into a seven-year-old armed robbery case, the statute of limitations on which expires at midnight.
Barney: 1973!? Nixon was still President! Dietrich: No, he's got an airtight alibi for this one.
Demonic Possession: Season 7, "Possession". Mr. Kopechne, whom we first saw as a victim of lycanthropy in "Werewolf", returns claiming to be possessed by a demon, and he convinces the squad he's right with his unnatural growls, acrobatics, and Voice of the Legion.
Designer Babies: Referenced by a geneticist whose lab was robbed. He's excited about the possibility of "creating a whole new superior race of... really nice people!"
An official from the Russian embassy is seen forcing a Russian musician into a car, prompting Wojo to arrest him for kidnapping. The Russian official insists he has diplomatic immunity.
The Burmese ambassador who is keeping a debt-bonded slave as a bodyman. However, he's not immune to an uninsured car, much to the squad's delight.
Discriminate and Switch: Harris is turned down for a lease... because he's a cop and the landlord "won't rent to anyone who doesn't have a steady job."
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.)
Doing It for the Art: In-universe when Harris is tasked with making a porno to be used in investigations. He goes far over budget, gives it an actual plot (with Purple Prose dialogue), and gives himself a cameo in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock... although the actual pornographic content, when it happens, is implied to be... up to industry standards.
Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Wojo, who is wearing drag in order to catch muggers, is almost raped. Everyone finds it hilarious that the rapist passed over the attractive and actually female Wentworth (Linda Lavin) to go after Wojo in a dress.
In an early episode from November 1976, taking place on election day, an arrestee insists on using his right to vote so Wojo takes him to the polls, where he escapes. In a subplot Inveterate Gambler Nick is torn between who to bet on winning (Ford or Carter).
In a later episode Inspector Luger goes around trying to get people to vote for a firend of his. The only thing that anyone remembers is that he was involved in a political scandal, and the best that Luger can come back with is "they never proved any of that."
Eloquent In My Native Tongue: The woman who's been in a mental asylum for two decades because she speaks "hebephrenic gibberish". Turns out she's a native speaker of Macedonian and perfectly sane.
Executive Meddling: In-universe with the first short story Harris sells to a magazine—a dirty magazine called "Sir Gent" that sleazes it up considerably.
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.
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.
Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Sometimes. Usually a character about to swear would simply be interrupted, e.g. "Oh, who gives a flying f—" "WOJO!" However, when Ron Harris spoke about his belief that a civil action filed against him and subsequent judgment for the plaintiff were racially motivated, he was allowed to say "You are looking at one mad nigger! but "They won't suck another nickel out of this bad motor scooter."note emphasis added
Halloween Episode: "Werewolf." First appearance of Mr. Kopechne (veteran character actor Kenneth Tigar), here playing a man with lycanthropy who had at least Yemana convinced he was "changing."
Yemana: Look at that. Hair is growing out of his face.
Barney: That's called a beard! Haven't you ever seen one?
Yemana: Not in my family.
Mr. Kopechne later got rid of the lycanthropy, but became possessed by a demon as a side effect.
Happy Ending Massage: Occasionally the squad busts one of these. Wentworth investigates one that employs male prostitutes and arrests a good-natured cowboy who sees his occupation as a "God-given talent." In another episode, Fish goes to a parlor that had been busted, to Bernice's chagrin, but he really did just go for a massage. (And fell asleep on the table.)
Hypocritical Humor: Quite often from numerous individuals. During one opening, Desk Sergeant Kogan informs Wojo that Harris and Nick have been shot at 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 checkin' out this disturbance—
Wojo: Yeah, they're fine—Kogan? Kogan? Kogan'll fill you in on details. [holds out the phone in embarrassment] Soon's as he finishes laughin'.
Identical-Looking Asians: Inverted when an Asian mugging victim and prostitute is looking through the mugbooks. When she remarks to Yemana that "they all look alike," he says "I know, I'm Japanese too."
Ignore the Fanservice: A High-Class Call Girl, who is the victim of a semi=related crime, throws herself at Dietrich to a ridiculous extent. As it happens he's trying to swear off sex, and does his best to ignore her. When she tries to test out her seductive new perfume on him he snaps, "Lady, will you get your stinking hand out of my face?"
In one episode a man claiming to be a detective from the 12th precinct is accosting men as they leave gay bars and demanding money or else he'll beat them. (He's collared by a patron who is himself an off-duty cop.)
In a benign version, a retired man puts on a uniform and starts doing a variety of small administrative tasks because he doesn't have anything else to do and he wants to help out.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Plenty of 'em, often examples of lame office humor like the post office man who says he "ZI Pped right over."
Indentured Servitude: In one episode a diplomat has a slave. The slave's grandfather borrowed money from the diplomat's grandfather and he's still working off the debt.
Instrumental Theme Tune: Apparently one Hal Linden didn't care for, at least compared 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'".
And the District Attorney when he starts talking about himself—them—the District Attorney's office!
Insult to Rocks: In "Hash", a pair of Polish immigrants, one an actor and the other a theatre critic, have been arrested for fighting a sabre duel. The actor fumes over a review in which the critic said he played his role "like a howling jackass". The irritated critic mutters, "I apologize to the jackasses!"note Which the unknowingly stoned Nick finds hysterical.
In Vino Veritas: No alcohol or drugs are involved, but this is basically the effect of putting Wojo under hypnotism in one episode.
I Was Quite a Looker: A poignant bit when an older woman insisted that a local art gallery had "smut in the window". The smut in question turned out to be a tasteful nude portrait of herself in younger days. She'd been lovers with the now-dead artist, and the picture was a private endearment, never meant for exhibition.
Jury and Witness Tampering: A man about to testify in a mob investigation is Properly Paranoid when some poisoned sandwiches are delivered to the squad-room. He refuses to eat, but Big Eater Wojo is taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped. Making the best of a bad situation, Barney has Harris check Wojo into the hospital under the witness's name, and Harris leaks to the press that he died.
When Wojo is reported to be okay, Yemana opines: "He could eat a desk."
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.
Large Ham: The district attorney, complete with Incoming Ham, pacing around the squadroom ranting about the sympathetic suspects who happen to be in. "You're killing me, Miller!"
Lethal Chef: Yemana, at least when it comes to making coffee.
Lobotomy: "The Desk" featured a former criminal who who was rendered mentally incompetent by his amygdalectomy. Arnold Ripner threatens to sue the surgeon free of charge should he try it again.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the final season, the squad start to feel how repetitive the police work is and wonder if it's time to move on. The reason Danny Arnold ended the show was because he felt they'd hit the point where they were repeating themselves.
Like Father, Like Daughter: In "Kidnapping," the kidnappers demand that Siegel's start giving away free merchandise, which the young Ms. Siegel protests vehemently because it's bad business. When Mr. Siegel is recovered through a ransom and learns how much it was, he yells at them for not haggling.
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.
Although Mr. Kopechne'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. (And most are played by Kenneth Tigar.)
The man who claims to be Jesus returned gains the friendship (and discipleship) of a suspect named Paul with a "miracle" akin to the loaves and fishes: 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.
A time-traveler in a long striped scarf, who identifies himself as such because he's sure 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.
A rainmaker hired by New York City's department of water during a drought appears to be successful after being arrested for lighting a ceremonial fire in Central Park. (He insists he was doing it scientifically by stuffing the raw chicken with cloud-seeding chemicals.)
A man who claims to be "a combustible" (as in, spontaneous) insists that he is overheating in the cell and needs ice just before the wastebasket across the room catches fire. Barney's response? "Get him some ice."
An obeah woman at one point seemed to prevent Harris from opening the cell door by looking at it. Toward the end of the episode, she presented Barney(who at the time was reconciling with his semi-estranged wife) with a talisman.
Obeah: Just wave this talisman three times over your bed, and souls that were separated will soon be reunited. (Barney gives Wojo a Death Glare) Wojo: I didn't say anything, Barn!
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."
The man who hits on Fish while he's on mugging detail offers "her" money.
Levitt assumes that Rachel, Barney's college-age daughter, is a prostitute when she visits the precinct. Barney, of course, is outraged at the assumption. (Rachel isn't wearing anything unusual, either.)
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 - Yemana thinking his legs had walked off, Harris getting giggly, and Fish jumping across a roof to chase down 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!
Cotterman and a jeweler are horrified to realize that one of them—they don't know which—shot and killed a burglar.
In "Possession," the police chaplain loses his temper at the "possessed" Kopechne's insults and tries to attack him. When he calms down, he's so ashamed of himself that he says he can't call himself a priest.
Name and Name: Averted - While negotiating for his Spin-Off, one of the alternatives Abe Vigoda suggested was instead retitling the parent show Fish and Barney.
Played for Laughs in "The Bomb." An elderly, German-accented FBI bomb agent is a little too enthusiastic about a physics student's mockup A-bomb.
Agent: [wistfully] Can you imagine how things would be if we had developed this first? Student: We did. Agent: [remembering himself] Oh sure, sure. Now we did. But before... we didn't.
Played for Drama with the seemingly-funny and whimsical Mr. Zelinka of the prank shop. The squad assumes that he's the victim of antisemitism when his shop is vandalized with swastikas until they arrest Mr. Baru, the Sole Survivor of Zelinka's Romani "work detail" in the concentration camp Birkenau.
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.note What he was trying to say is that it's wrong to judge someone by race, but they should be aware of the fact that Harris still has to face racism.
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.
The same thing sort of happens with the graffiti in the station house hallway, back by the bathroom. All you can see is CAPTAIN MILLER IS A DIRTY M, but it obviously goes on to elaborate, and we get to see the reactions of everyone who reads it. (Barney's is: "Heh... marvelous.")
Office Romance: Between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left the show.
Scanlon of Internal Affairs. He takes malicious glee in targeting Barney's squad, frustrated by the fact that they are thoroughly not corrupt.
Numerous bit characters appeared from governmental departments who either didn't do much to help, weren't sure what their job was, or were an active hindrance. One example was the man from Immigration who was supposed to have been in the Department of Agriculture.
Paying for the Action Scene: One or more of the perpetrators 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.
Pulled From Your Day Off: The detectives walk off the job as a part of a citywide police protest, but a call comes in and Barney is suddenly overworked because it's just him, Inspector Luger and Officer Levitt holding down the fort. So Wojo goes out on the call, telling the other guys he'd just do this one. After getting back now Wojo has to process the perpetrator. Another call comes in about a grocery store holdup in progress. They all decide they all need some groceries right now, and if they "happen" across any crime they can make a citizen's arrest.
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 communicate with her. None of the Macedonian is subtitled.
A young German woman is in the precinct and nobody can understand her until Dietrich shows up.
Chano's frequent lapses into Spanish when annoyed or upset aren't subtitled.
Wojo has conversations in Polish with several characters over the course of the series; though he occasionally translates parts of them into English for Barney (and the audience)'s benefit, others are not subtitled.
Recurring Character: Lt. Scanlon from Internal Affairs, Officer Zatelli, Marty and Darryl, Arnold Ripner, Bruno Binder, Ray Brewer, Arthur Duncan, Mr. Cotterman...
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."
Shaggy Dog Story: In "The Inventor," the squad calls in a hypnotist so Wojo will remember the name a thief shouted to his partner during their escape; all Wojo can remember is "Hey—!" What was it? "Behind you!"
Shaped Like Itself: "Mr. Thompson's device is still being examined and tested by our trained examiners and testers."
Shoo Out the New Guy: Early in season 7, the writers introduced Det. Eric Dorsey (Paul Lieber), a new detective with a blond afro and an abrasive attitude. Then it was decided that the seventh would be the final season, a nostalgic arc about the closing of the 12th precinct began, and Dorsey vanished without a word.
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.
The beggar in "The Harris Incident", who finances a very nice house and nanny after being laid off from Wall Street, is a reference to the Sherlock Holmes story "The Man with the Twisted Lip."
In the episode "Obituary" a newspaper reporter's city editor is named Lou. Lampshaded by Harris.
Spotlight Stealing Squadroom: The show was originally intended to focus on Barney's home life as well as the activities of the precinct, but the writers soon came to realize that the latter were funnier and more interesting than the former, so Barney's wife and kids were shifted Out of Focus and then moved offscreen entirely by season 2 (see The Ghost, above).
At times during the three part final episode, the chuckles of the crew can be heard faintly in the background.
Talking Down the Suicidal: A semi-regular occurence; the squad will get a call about a jumper and then return with the would-be suicide. In one episode Fish goes out to talk someone down while a woman is having a baby at the precinct. After she delivers Fish shows up and is told about the delivery. "You win some, you lose some." He was unsuccessful.
Tension-Cutting Laughter: It's the audience rather than the characters, but the joke is still a tension-breaker. After the sobering account of the Birkenau concentration camp in which Mr. Baru was the only survivor from thousands of Roma, and the inability to jail Zelinka, the ex-Nazi, Baru has to make one confession to the squad:
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.
Uncoffee: Wojo tries to come up with a coffee substitute during a drought and uses Dietrich's idea of hot Dr. Pepper.
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.
Waiting for a Break: 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.
Steve Landesberg appeared as accused fake priest "Father" Paul in the Series 2 episode "Doomsday" before being cast as Dietrich later in the season.
Ron Carey played bank robber Angelo "the Mole" Molinari in the Series 2 episode "The Mole", and began appearing as Officer Levitt starting in Series 3.
Before being cast as recurring character Lt. Scanlon, George Murdock appeared as an Air Force master sergeant reporting a bomb threat to an Air Force base in the Series 3 episode "Group Home".
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.