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Series / Barney Miller

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The cast of season 3 (1976-77). From left to right: Wojciehowicz, Miller, Harris, Fish, and Yemana.

Yemana: No, I don't watch shows like that. I can't enjoy them because, being a cop myself, I spot the mistakes and inaccuracies and the fantastic things that in real life never happen.
Victim: On the show they caught him!
Yemana: Good example!

A police-themed sitcom airing on ABC from 1975–82, 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 squad room of the (fictional) 12th Precinct in New York City's Greenwich Village, 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).
  • Detective Nick Yemana (Jack Soo), 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. Yemana was among the first regular adult characters on U.S. prime-time television written specifically for an American of Japanese descent.note  The character left the show in Season 5 when Jack Soo fell ill and died of cancer.
  • 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 Thaddeus "Wojo" Wojciehowicznote  (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 Nathan 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". He debuted in Season 2, became a regular in season 3 after Fish's retirement, and stuck around through the end of the run.
  • Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), a uniformed officer stationed downstairs. Levitt spent years incessantly pestering Captain Miller about promoting him to detective, combining obsequious servility with snarky sarcasm when his requests were rejected. Became a regular along with Dietrich in Season 3 and stuck around for the rest of the run.
  • 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.
  • Barney's immediate superior Inspector Franklin D. Luger (James Gregory), who does nothing but chew Barney's ear all day, get Barney to do his paperwork for him, and long for the halcyon days of acceptable police brutality.
  • In the first season, which had episodes alternating between the squadroom and Barney's home life, Barbara Barrie was a regular as Barney's wife Elizabeth; as the former setting proved more compelling, Liz was subsequently shifted Out of Focus and 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 Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. (Linda Lavin probably would have stayed on too, if she hadn't been offered the lead role in Alice (1976); she appeared promiently 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.

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 Procedural Romantic Dramedy Castle is, like this show, set in the Twelfth Precinct of the NYPD. In Jo Nesbø's novels of the police murder squad in Norway, Oslo's detective force has its own officer Bjarne Mjølle.

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.

Now has a character page for the main cast and recurring characters.

This show provides examples of:

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    Tropes A-D 
  • Aborted Arc: The romance between Wojo and Wentworth is forgotten about after Linda Lavin left the show to be the star of Alice.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Inspector Luger always called Sgt. Levitt "Levine", right up to the final episode. He once, bizarrely, referred to him as "Greenberg".
    • In "Christmas Story", Dorothy Murakami calls Yemana 'Jack', and Yemana replies "It's Nick."
    • In "Vanished", Luger is temporarily demoted to captain and set to work in the detectives' squadroom... a big come-down for him. At day's end, each of the detectives says "Good night, Inspector" and Luger responds with his usual nicknames, Har', D.D., etc. Then Levitt: "Good night, Inspector Luger." "Good night, Levitt." Levitt, quietly: "Thank you, sir."
    • And in the series finale, when Luger visits the guys before the precinct closes, he calls Levitt "Levine" again. Levitt angrily responds, "For the last time, Inspector, it's Levitt! Officer Carl E. Levitt!" Luger then tells him, "Correction... Sergeant Carl E. Levitt. You report to Capt. Murtaugh, Detective Squad, 73rd Precinct."note 
  • 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 Baby Broker")
  • Accomplice by Inaction: In "Noninvolvement", Wojo arrests Al Mitchell for not getting involved to stop a pursenapper, only prompting him by saying "Grab him" instead of identifying himself as an officer. After Mitchell protests the circumstances of his apprehension, he has a disagreement with Arnold Ripner, and after Wojo offers Mitchell a bowling ball, he declines it because it has 2 finger holes, dropping the charges after Wojo offers Mitchell an apology.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • 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.
    • When the squadroom gets a flier for a police department variety show, one of them says "Barney, didn't you sing in college?" and he says no. Hal Linden is a song-and-dance man who's been in many musicals.
  • Affably Evil: Arthur Duncan likes to rob the disabled, charities, and in general people who are particularly defenseless, but he always has a reasonable attitude about getting arrested. Sporting goods store owner Bruno Binder can be this too.
  • 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). ("Copy Cat")
    • Ray Brewer, played by the same actor as above, was this as well, until he had an epiphany upon hitting rock bottom (see What Did I Do Last Night? below) and subsequently (in two-parter "Contempt") joined the Salvation Army.
  • All Gays Love Theater: Luger thinks that every Hollywood actor, past or present, is gay—except John Wayne. (episode "The RAND Report")
  • All Women Are Lustful: Many of the civilian women who came through the squadroom were sexually-repressed spinsters or sexually-frustrated housewives.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: In "The Bureaucrat", Chano's apartment has been burglarized:
    Murray: Nothing from the man of La Mancha?
    Chano: No thanks. I lost my appetite, along with an FM radio, my wristwatch, and a sterling silver picture of my mother on the mantelpiece.
    Murray: Why would you take a picture of your mother on the mantelpiece?
    Chano: Not a picture of my mother on the mantelpiece; a picture of my mother, on the mantelpiece.
  • 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. For a little while in Seasons 4 and 5, "And James Gregory as Inspector Luger".
  • Appeal to Familial Wisdom: Yemana will often quote his father, who gave a great philosophical quote. Unfortunately, they tend to get mangled in the translation form the original Japanese.
  • Arc Number: The figure $3500 turned up a conspicuous number of times in season two.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?:
    • In episode "Heat Wave", 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.
    • In "The Dentist", 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • The man refusing to eat in "Hunger Strike" demands peace talks in Israel, denuclearization, and a return of the cleaning deposit from his apartment. At the end of the episode, Wojo manages to resolve the last one.
    • A purported psychic goes into a frenzy as the sight takes hold, predicting wars, food riots, and the cancellation of Lou Grant.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement:
    • The squad room the detectives worked in had a holding cell in one corner. No one arrested would have been placed in such close proximity to working officers. They could have been disruptive, overheard witness testimony, etc. They would have been placed in a separate section of the station house specifically designed for holding detained individuals. This was mainly done so that people arrested could be placed in a location that allowed them to more easily take part in the plot.
    • Additionally, from the first episode to the last, the detectives were portrayed as first-responders, leaving for disturbances of all sorts, arresting people in the field, and taking them back to the 12th. In real life, uniformed cops would be making most of those arrests and detectives would only get involved later.
  • Aside Comment: Fish does it a lot, stopping just short of addressing the audience.
  • 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 in "The Search", 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.
  • Awful Wedded Life: In "Middle Age", the detectives apprehend Richard Perito, a middle-aging amateur athlete who hopes to try out for the Olympics. By the time his wife Mrs. Perito comes to bail him out, she seriously threatens to leave and divorce Richard if he ever tries another outrageous stunt like the one that got him arrested in Central Park.
  • Ax-Crazy: The polite, mild-mannered suspect in two-parter "Homicide", who slit his barber's throat after receiving a bad haircut. A visitor asks if the man killed his wife, and the man says "Yes, but they don't know about that yet."
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Yemana's terrible, terrible coffee was a Running Gag.
    • In "Rain", when rain is dripping through the leaky roof into the office of the 12th Precinct, Yemana gets rainwater from a pan and uses it to make coffee.
    • In "Fear of Flying", when a woman takes an overdose of pills in the office and Poison Control tells the detectives they need to make her vomit the pills up, they use Yemana's coffee as an emetic. It works.
    • In "Quarantine" part 2, Yemana is utterly mystified when a civilian in the station cleans the mold from the coffee cups.
    Yemana I thought it was a pattern.
    • In "Loan Shark", Jack Soo's next-to-last episode, Wojo makes coffee when Yemana is out of the office. It is terrible.
    Yemana: All this time I thought it was just me.
  • Because Destiny Says So: In "The Tunnel", 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.) One bureaucrat arrested on a drunk & disorderly during the first season is more beleaguered than usual; to start with, he's saddled with a title so unwieldy that he has trouble getting through it even when sober.
  • The Bet: In "Community Relations", between Yemana (to stop gambling) and Harris (to stop smoking) on who could last the longest. Here's how it ends, after Barney has paired up a blind man who keeps getting robbed with a newly-evicted person who needs a place to stay.
    Barney: I bet they make it.
    Harris: I bet they don't.
    Yemana: You're on!
    Harris: You lose. [lights up smoke]
  • 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 Damn Kiss: In "Toys", Elizabeth and Barney kiss after their second discussion of holiday plans, indicating that their separation might be near its end. They do wind up reconciling, even though this is Barbara Barrie's last onscreen appearance.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Set as it is in the '70s and early '80s, the bureaucracy, high crime, and perpetual budget crisis make for great comedy and occasional drama.
    • In the first episode, "Ramon", Liz is listening to the radio tell all about the crimes and disasters in New York. The Miller apartment has bars on the window and multiple locks on the door. Liz begs Barney to quit the police force and leave New York City. Then, at work, Barney and the detectives are held at gunpoint by a crazed heroin junkie.
    • The opening title sequence begins with a shot of the Lower Manhattan skyline—as a garbage scow crosses in front of it.
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: See Talking Down the Suicidal below.
  • Black Comedy: Occasionally, though actual deaths were rare. The "Homicide" two-parter is rife with it. Another episode has a suspect die in the squadroom, and Nick responds with his typical dry remarks until Barney scolds him.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Season 4, Episode 15, titled "Rape." A woman charges her husband with rape. Presented as a comedy story line. See Marital Rape License below.
  • Blatant Lies: In "Voice Analyzer", 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.
    • 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.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Harris puts his feet on the desk and starts doing this in "Eviction (Part 1)". Barney, who is having a particularly stressful day, gets annoyed.
  • 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.
  • Bottle Episode: Bottle Series, actually. Only thirteen episodes over the whole course of the series showed scenes outside the station: "Ramon", "Graft", "The Stakeout", "Hair", "The Hero", "Grand Hotel", "Fish", "Wojo's Girl" part 2 (itself a Bottle Episode as the whole episode takes place in Wojo's apartment), "Contempt" parts 1 & 2, "Chinatown" parts 1 & 2, and "Eviction" part 2. And most of those were early in the show's run. The first five episodes in that list were all in Season 1. Two of those thirteen episodes were Poorly Disguised Pilots (see below).
  • Brick Joke:
    • In "Ms. Cop", 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 my God, I ate my eraser!"
    • In the first scene of "Smog Alert", Det. Battista (making her second and final appearance) arrives and finds her name has been written right at the top of the chalkboard; as she is played by June Gable, who is barely 5'6", she has to climb up the bars on the outside of the holding cell to mark herself as present. In the final scene, Barney writes her name low enough on the board that she can reach it easily as Levitt asks if he thinks she'll make it as a detective (as a transparent way to ask about his own chances). As Barney enters his office with a subtle note of encouragement, Levitt erases Battista's name and writes it at the top of the board again.
    • After getting an announcement that there will be tryouts for a department variety show (this may be a Shout-Out to the fundraiser variety shows in Car 54, Where Are You?), 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.
  • Broken Tears: There are a number of examples throughout the series' run, but one of the earliest was "The Hero," the Season 1 finale. Chano and Fish are dispatched to a bank robbery and, during a shootout, Chano kills two suspects to avert a deadly hostage situation. Unlike the world-weary Fish, who — it is implied — has used deadly force several times in the past, the relatively inexperienced Chano is unnerved and shaken by the experience. The trope kicks in toward the end of the episode: Having turned on the news to hear each of the local stations lead off with the bank robbery and cop-on-suspect shootings, and after Barney stops by briefly to check in on him, Chano is alone in his dingy apartment, he breaks down in deep sobs ... the realization that he is no hero (or doesn't feel like one) and that his best attempts to avert a deadly situation failed. He ends up taking a few days off ... which for viewers will be the rest of the summer.
    • Fish experiences one in Part 2 of "Good-bye, Mr. Fish" when Barney tells Fish that he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 63:
    Barney: The rules say you have to retire at 63.
    Fish: Rules are made by men and rules can be changed by men! I know the Commissioner, I've known him for 20 years and I'm going to have a talk with him... I'll talk to him and everything's gonna be alright.
    Barney: This is not the last day of your life, Fish.
    Fish: I'm a man with a record, Barney. You think they're going to force me out? Not me! A man with my experiences, my accommodations? Not me! [tears in his eyes as his voice breaks] Not me...
  • 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: "The Vests" 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."
  • By "No", I Mean "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 
    Wojo: I thought those differences weren't important anymore!
    Barney: They're not! [Beat] But they are.
    Wojo: Thanks for clearing that up.
  • Call-Back:
    • References to detectives Amenguale and Wentworth working elsewhere in the police department continued after their actors left the show. When Jack Soo died, Yemana 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, starting in "The Judge" (season 6, episode 9). 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!"
    • In "Fear of Flying", a citizen turns in $3500 in cash that he found, only to get very interested when he's told he can get the money back in 30 days if no one claims it. Four episodesnote  later, in "The Kid", that same citizen shows up and collects his $3500.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: In "Asylum", Wojo intervenes to prevent Jininsky from being kidnapped, and is reproved by Secretary of State Jeffrey Stevens:
    Wojo: I just think somebody ought to tell this guy that people don't get away with kidnapping around this precinct. I don't care what country they're from.
    Stevens: You might have taken alternative actions if you had been a bit more perspicacious.
    Wojo [pausing]: Oh yeah?
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: In "The Judge" a woman comes into the 12th reporting a series of lurid crimes and misdeeds by the people in her apartment building. It turns out that she thinks the soap opera she's been watching is real.
  • Catchphrase: Barney's "Gentlemen, I think we all have work to do..." Often lampshaded by the other characters in later seasons.
    • When Wojo is about to be reproved, Barney tells him "Wojo, can I see you in my office?" or a similar variant.
    • Yemana's "Very well put", when one of the others says something clever or witty
    • In later seasons, Harris says "Come on, let's go, little Levitt" when paired up with Levitt, who sarcastically repeats the phrase to himself.
    • "Mail call!" (Levitt)
  • Celebrity Paradox: In "Eviction" part 1, Luger asks Yemana if Flower Drum Song is still playing. Jack Soo starred in both the stage and screen versions of Flower Drum Song.
  • 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.
  • Characterization Marches On: Wojo is extremely immature, almost to the point of being a Jerkass, and has an obnoxious "dumb guy" laugh in the first season. He tones down a lot in Season 2 and continues to do so more subtly for the remainer of the series. And Harris is more of a streetwise hipster than a pompous intellectual until sometime in the third season.
  • 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 on January 11, 1979. 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. Season 5's "Jack Soo: A Retrospective" where the cast remembers Soo, who had died of esophageal cancer, and the series' 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.
    • Jack Soo had esophageal cancer. Linden visited Soo in the hospital just before he was to have surgery. He said "It must have been the coffee." Legend ascribes this line to Jack just as he was being wheeled into the operating room.
  • Character Tic: Levitt's elaborate spin every time he exits through the squad room door.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal gun, namely an antique rifle that Wojo finds behind a wall in "Bones". The discovery of the gun leads to the building being designated a historic landmark and sold to developers in the episodes that follow, three-part series finale "Landmark".note 
  • Christmas Episode:
    • "Christmas Story", in Season 3, in which a mugger is targeting Santas.
    • "Toys", in Season 5, in which rival toy manufacturers pose a problem for the precinct, and Barney has to face his first Christmas after separation from Liz.
    • "Homeless", in Season 8, in which the precinct is overrun by vagrants with nowhere else to go. They were low-income residents of an old hotel, now being demolished to make way for luxury condos. These kinds of issues were portrayed often and with great sympathy in the series.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Not really. Fish's departure was dealt with in the two-part episode that opened Season 4, and the departure/death of Nick Yemana was dealt with somewhat obliquely (see Character Outlives Actor above). Chano's departure was mentioned in a throwaway gag two seasons after the fact, and Barney remembers him in a flashback in the final episode. Wentworth disappears after season 2 without explanation, but isn't entirely forgotten; her name is consistently seen on the precinct duty roster for about a year after her departure, and Barney also remembers her in flashback in the final episode. Other detectives (Battista, Licori, Dorsey) disappeared without explanation, but weren't around long enough to warrant a big send-off and were explicitly introduced as being on temporary assignment anyway. Detective Maria Battista, played by June Gable, appeared in two Season 3 episodes and was never seen again. Roslyn Licori, a plainclothes officer with a jealous husband, disappeared after three episodes in season 4, although actress Mari Gorman reappeared as Mr. Bender's wife. Early in season 7, the writers introduced Det. Eric Dorsey (Paul Lieber), a new detective with a blond afro and an abrasive attitude. After three episodes, he disappears.
  • Churchgoing Villain:
    • "Doomsday" features a con artist selling stolen Bibles who is dressed in a priest's robes and claims to be running a "church of the street." He is played by Steve Landesberg a few months before Landesberg made his first appearance as Dietrich.
    • 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. ("The Accusation")
    • 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?"
    • Averted when a young man comes in and announces "I want to make a confession!" Wojo tells him "Oh, St. Vincent's, right down the street. Ask for Father Paul." Turns out he wants to confess a crime and go to jail.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: In "Fog", 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 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: "Jack Soo, a Retrospective", last episode of Season 5 (May 17, 1979). This was an out-of-character tribute to Soo, who played Yemana, and who had died of esophageal cancer in January of that year.
    • The last scene of the series finale "The Landmark (part 3)" features a montage of Chano, Wentworth, Fish, and Yemana as Barney bids farewell to the 12th for one last time.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Many of the Bellevue candidates (others just cracked under pressure), but sometimes other visitors as well. In "Hot Dogs," a man making a missing person's report for his wife shows her picture: Jean Harlow.
  • The Cloud Cuckoolander Was Right: As with most of the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane examples below.
    • In the first season episode "Escape Artist," a man is brought in after attempting to leap off a roof with homemade wings. He escapes the Bellevue attendants, leaps off the station roof, and flies to the ground (Yemana: "As pretty as anything you ever saw.") Lampshaded when Barney is told they took him to Bellevue: "I don't know what for!"
  • 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 silenced-out.
  • Comically Missing the Point: In "Hash", after Intoxication Ensues from the hash brownies, Barney is worried about Yemana, who is very high. He asks Harris, who is slightly less high.
    Barney: How's Nick?
    Harris: I like him!
  • Coming-Out Story: A three-episode arc with Levitt's much more relaxed uniform counterpart, Officer Zatelli. Sixth-season premiere "The Inquisition" centers on an IA investigation launched by Scanlon after someone in the 12th wrote an anonymous letter saying they were a homosexual. Zatelli eventually admits to Barney that he wrote the letter. Barney agrees to keep his secret. This is revisited in episode 6-15, "The Child Stealers", in which Zatelli comes out to the rest of the squad. Then in season 7 episode "Movie" part 1, Zatelli's sexuality is revealed to Scanlon of Internal Affairs. Scanlon threatens to ruin Zatelli (homosexuality being forbidden in the NYPD in 1981), but Zatelli winds up getting promoted to a better assignment at downtown headquarters.
  • The Comically Serious: Dietrich. His stonefaced delivery while annoying his colleagues to death was a hallmark of the character.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: In "Field Associate" Jeffrey Tambor plays a man who's obsessed with the Trilateral Commission.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante:
    • In "The Vigilante", the emergence of a vigilante is a considerable problem for the squad, although they have to acknowledge they're too overworked to reach every call. It turns out to be an amiable old immigrant who intervenes whenever he sees a mugging in his unsafe neighborhood. Although he promises not to do it again before he moves, another beat-up mugger comes in. Barney and his detectives fudge the description just enough that the APB they have to put out won't catch him.
    • Store owner Bruno Binder puts up posters advertising bounties for criminals killed in the act, and Barney is outraged. Separately, Mr. Cotterman and a jewelry store owner shoot at a robber and are aghast to realize that one of them must have taken a life.
  • The Couch: In Barney's office. Lampshaded when Harris thanks Barney for the use of it because a real psychiatrist would be too expensive.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: After a flasher tries to kill himself in the bathroom in "Snow Job", Barney manages to get his heart started again by hitting his chest.
  • Create Your Own Villain: In "The Vandal", Christopher Lloyd plays a man who blames Barney for his life of crime and drug abuse. Years earlier, Patrolman Miller caused him to miss an important job interview by detaining him with a ticket for littering.
  • Crime and Punishment Series: Focusing on one particular part of the crime and punishment process.
  • Cunning Linguist: There's a funny bit in "Hash" where Wojciehowicz briefly interprets for two elderly Polish men, caught dueling with swords in the park, until they're able to pull themselves together. Naturally, Wojo's a beat behind and continues translating even after they begin speaking English.note 
    • When a Hispanic suspect is brought in, Barney asks if the guy's been read his rights. Wojo says yes, but the man demands to hear them in Spanish. Wojo promptly obliges, adding "Y'wanna hear'em in Polish?"
  • Curse Cut Short: "Asylum" features two examples:
    Stevens: I hope you understand that you had no authority to do what you did.
    Wojo: The guy was bein' kidnapped! What was I supposed to do, huh!? Stand around with my finger up my-
    Barney: Wojo...
    Barney: Mr. Jininsky, we're doing everything we can to help you!
    Stevens: (insistently) Which is nothing! None of us can do anything!
    Wojo: You speak for yourself, John!
    Stevens: Jeffrey, sir!
    Wojo: Oh, who gives a flying-
    Barney: WOJO!!
    • In "The Vandal", the visible part of the graffiti on the station's walls reads "Captain Miller is a dirty m—"
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: In "Tunnel":
    Howard Gabriel: What do you want? Do you want me to go in there like that Kotter on TV, armed only with my wit?
    Barney: Mr. Gabriel—
    Howard Gabriel: If I told them jokes like he did, they would cut my heart out with their little pencils!
  • Damned by Faint Praise: In "The Clown", Barney calls Levitt into his office to read a letter vaguely explaining why Levitt won't be receiving the Medal of Valor in spite of his heroic actions:
    Levitt: Didn't you tell them I saved the life of a small boy at considerable risk to my own?
    Barney: Well aware of that.
    Levitt: Oh. Well then, did they offer a particular reason, or are they just kissing me off for kicks?
    Barney: I'll read you exactly what they wrote: 'The board acknowledges that the actions taken by Officer Carl Levitt on November 12, 1981 were noteworthy, well in keeping with the high level of excellence maintained by the New York City Police Department; however, request denied.'
    Levitt: Well, that certainly explains it.
  • The Dandy: Harris, who always wore expensive, tailored suits, even when he really couldn't afford them on an NYPD detective's salary. He always got agitated when events at work caused his suits to get messy. He is disgusted when he has to go undercover as a homeless person in "Vanished". In "Field Associate" he is embarrassed when Barney finds out he called a discount men's store named "Suits 4 Less."
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Season 7 two-parter "Homicide" when the NYPD is reorganized into specialty squads and the 12th is assigned homicide.
    • Late-series episode "The Librarian" involves an ex-Nazi in hiding.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Yemana was rarely the subject of the A plot, usually serving as a Deadpan Snarker and one-liner machine. One rare exception was Season 5 episode "Loan Shark". One day after his 20th anniversary with the NYPD, and feeling unappreciated by his co-workers, Yemana angrily stalks out of the squad room. After he finally comes back, the episode ends with Barney and the other detectives reassuring Yemana about how much they respect him and how important his work (filing, making coffee) is. This was the next-to-last episode for Jack Soo, who was dying of cancer, and in that light it seems very much like a case of Leaning on the Fourth Wall and an in-character goodbye to Soo.
  • 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 in "Group Home" 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 military installation?
      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 in "The DNA Story" by a geneticist whose lab was robbed. He's excited about the possibility of "creating a whole new superior race of... really nice people!"
  • Diagonal Billing: During the show's second season (1975-76), in one of the earliest examples of this on television: Ron Glass and Jack Soo are billed together in the opening titles (having been Promoted to Opening Titles after season 1), but are billed this way, presumably to indicate their equality. (In subsequent seasons, Glass was billed ahead of Soo.)
    • Inverted in season 4, when Steve Landesberg and Ron Carey were also billed diagonally on the same card, but the "wrong way round" - Landesberg's name was above and to the left of Carey's.
  • Diplomatic Impunity:
    • 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. ("Asylum")
    • 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. ("The Slave")
  • 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." ("Copycat")
  • Disguised in Drag: The men of the 12th often dress up in drag to catch purse-snatchers and for prostitution stings. See Attractive Bent-Gender above.
  • Disposable Vagrant: Subverted in two-parter "Vanished" 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.)
  • Domestic Abuse: In "Heat Wave", a woman with a black eye comes in and files a complaint against her husband, who gave it to her. Fish is getting ready to go pick him up when she asks what will happen, and he tells her that since the husband was already on parole for a previous complaint, he's going to get three years. The woman sits down, and starts to reminisce about their 15-year marriage, and how he once made love to her on a field of flowers. She leaves without signing the complaint. Then, just when the story looks like it's going to end on that Ambiguous Ending, she darts back in and signs it.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop:
    • In the episode "Accusation", a victim calls Barney out on his coffee and donut breakfast.
      Victim: Oh my....and him a Captain!
      Dietrich: Nutritionally, he's still a child.
    • In one episode, Dietrich relates statistics about cholesterol and fat as Yemana and Fish defiantly bite into donuts and crullers.
  • 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.
  • Do Wrong, Right:
    • A producer yells at a playwright and an actor for fighting onstage, which isn't the behavior of theatre professionals—they wait until they get to the restaurant to attack each other!
    • A store owner who was almost robbed by a guy on work parole (he ran away because he had to get back to prison) complains that people are always in such a rush.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: In 7th season finale "Liquidation", Harris comes in to work drunk after losing a $320,000 libel judgment against Arnold Ripner, which requires him to liquidate everything he owns.
    "I poured [two bottles of vintage wine] down the sink... and then drank a bottle of really cheap gin."
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: In "The Dentist" a dentist is brought in for feeling up his female patients while they're under anesthesia.
  • Dutch Angle: In "Possession", Mr. Koepekne is possessed by a demon and hangs upside down. The camera is rotated 180° to get a brief "right side up" facial shot of Mr. Koepekne, who hangs upside down.

    Tropes E-L 
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first season, Barney's wife is a regular billed in the opening credits, although she does not appear in all the episodes. In fact, aside from Barney, most of the top-billed characters sit out for an episode or more of the first season. The characters' personalities are less distinctive, too, aside from Barney, Wojo, and Fish. Additionally, the show features scenes outside the squad room several times, something that would become very rare in subsequent seasons (see Bottle Episode above).
  • Easy Amnesia: In two-parter "Eviction", Dietrich is smitten with an attractive young woman who's brought into the precinct. She has typical Hollywood amnesia, unable to recall anything of her past or even her name. She turns out to be a nun.
  • Election Day Episode: Episode 3-05, "The Election". 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). Meanwhile, Inspector Luger goes around trying to get people to vote for a friend 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."
  • "El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Niño":
    • In "Strip Joint" a 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!"
    • In "The Vigilante" Inspector Luger asks Chano "What is the Spanish word for 'vigilante'?".
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: The woman in "Hunger Strike" 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. (See Ripped from the Headlines, below.)
  • El Spanish "-o": In "Eviction", Wojo tells an old Hispanic man to "el seato"; Barney offers the man a chair and says "Señor, aquí." Later on Levitt offers to escort this man home, saying he speaks some Spanish, but he says "Vaminos homo." Barney tells him the word he wants is "casa", so he says "Vaminos casa, no homo."
    • Averted in "Bones", where a suspect demands to hear his rights in Spanish and Wojo obliges, adding "Wanna hear them in Polish?" There's some banter in Spanish between Wojo and Dietrich, who then tells Barney "Si mi llamen, coge mesajo"note . This was shot in 1982 and may reflect Truth in Television. It was about the time basic Spanish began to be encouraged (in many places required) for cops in areas with a large Hispanic population.
  • Everybody Did It: In "The RAND Report", Fish is dispatched to investigate a series of robberies at an old folks' home. He discovers that all the old folks have been stealing from each other in order to liven things up.
  • Everybody Must Get Stoned: See Mushroom Samba below.
  • Evolutionary Retcon: After having visibly thin hair on top and an extreme combover for the first couple of episodes as Wojo, actor Max Gail was given a thick hairpiece which he wore for the rest of the series - apart from the out-of-character Jack Soo tribute Clip Show in season 5, at which point Gail went without the toupee and revealed himself to be quite bald on top.
  • 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. (episode "Abduction")
  • Expy: Several.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat:
    • Wojo reports a UFO and a Captain from the Air Force shows up to take his statement; he wears his officer's cap in such a way that it obscures his eyes... Barney tries to peek around the brim.
    • Jilly Pappalardo is wearing a wide-brimmed leather fedora one of these when we first see her, in "Evacuation".
    • Lorraine Siegel has a stylish red one in "Kidnapping" part one.
  • The Faceless:
    • Save six appearances in the first two seasons and a background glimpse in the opening credits for awhile, Desk Sergeant Kogan qualifies, as he gets a mention every three episodes or so afterward.
    • Barney's cellmate in two-part episode "Contempt", who starts off by complaining that Barney's in his light and says increasingly odd and disturbing things during Barney's short stint in jail on contempt charges. The cellmate never moves and all we see is his feet on the bunk.
  • Face Palm: Barney gives one when Inspector Luger inadvertently incites a riot by telling a group of protesting Orthodox Jews to "go home and shave."
  • A Father to His Men: Downplayed, since they're not too much younger than him, but Barney always goes out of his way when they're in trouble. Wojo in particular views him like this. Wojo even tried to ask Barney to be a surrogate after he learned he was sterile. (Barney said "no" so fast, he almost broke his jaw.)
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Hilariously parodied in "Hash", the hash brownies episode.
    Barney: Harris, have these analyzed, and fast!
    Harris: [takes another brownie and is about to bite into it]
    Barney: NOT THAT WAY!
  • Flatline: Dietrich volunteers to test out a stress monitor and then goes out on a call. The monitor soon starts going haywire, and then it goes completely flat, with the requisite steady tone, to the horror of everyone in the squadroom. And then Dietrich walks in wearing police sweats—a woman wielding a fire hose had shorted out the sensors.
  • "Flowers for Algernon" Syndrome: In "The Arrival", Vincent Brysom, a member of MENSA, becomes so dissatisfied with the intellectual life that he burglarizes MENSA's offices.
  • Foil: The very laid-back and good-humored Zatelli to tightly-wound and sycophantic Levitt.
  • Following in Relative's Footsteps: Discussed and Zig-Zagged in the episode "You Dirty Rat". The precinct house has rats and the exterminating company Becker and Son is contracted to get rid of them. An old man shows up, identifying himself as the exterminator. Barney asks if his son is planning to come by later, only for the man to inform Barney that he is the son. He kept his old man's name in the company when he took over but his own son doesn't want to join the business, preferring to try to become a professional musician.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Officer Zatelli is gay. Everyone in the squad knows but they all basically agree not to say anything, especially to Internal Affairs. Then one time when Wojo is getting hounded by IA over some trifling thing he accidentally blurts it out.
  • Foreshadowing/Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the tag of the second season episode "Horse Thief" Fish makes small talk to Barney "They say we may be in for some rain next week". In the very next episode called "Rain" an extreme rain storm threatens to bring down the squad room roof.
  • Former Child Star: In "Old Love" the 12th brings in Irwin Kroner, a frustrated actor who struck his agent in the face with the phone. It turns out that Mr. Kroner used to be "Little Corky Carter", a famous child star, but has been unable to get parts as a grown-up.
  • Genre Mashup: Police Procedural + Work Com (all other police procedurals were dramas before this.)
  • The Ghost: Barney's family — wife Liz, son David, and daughter Rachel — turned into off-screen 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 ("Liquidation"), 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 
    • In "The Vandal", the wall's graffiti reads: "Miller is a Dirty M—-"
  • Grammar Nazi: In "The Psychic" an English professor tears down an advertisement for using words like "tongue-tastingest" and "crun-crun-crunchiest", correcting Barney's use of the word hopefully ("do you mean with hope? No!"). Dietrich tweaks him by deliberately using the non-word "irregardless" and pausing for effect.
    • In the "Quo Vadis?" episode, Harris has this interchange with an impatient Miss Jacobs:
    Harris: Miss Jacobs? Hi, I'm Detective Harris. If you'll have a seat right over there, we'll be right with you.
    Miss Jacobs: "Both" of you?
    Harris: Uh, no, I meant me.
    Miss Jacobs: Then say what you mean, for heaven's sake!
  • Halloween Episode: "Werewolf." First appearance of Stefan Koepekne (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.
  • Hanging Judge: Subverted in "The Judge". Wojo arrests Judge Philip Paul Gibson, who desperately wants to be one of these but is frustrated that the law won't let him.
  • Happy-Ending Massage: Occasionally the squad busts one of these. In "Massage Parlor", Wentworth investigates one that employs male prostitutes and arrests a good-natured cowboy who sees his occupation as a "God-given talent." In "Hair", 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.)
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: When Nick brings back a box of evidence from an erotic bakery, the detectives stare into it as Barney tilts his head incredulously.
    Harris: [giggling] What's up with them poppyseeds?
  • Here We Go Again!: In "Chinatown", Harris and Dietrich have been sequestered in a hotel room with Mr. Ling, a Chinese waiter and potential witness who maintains that he saw nothing. Barney eventually tells Mr. Ling that he is free to go, but he will no longer receive police protection. Later on, at the end of Part 2, a cook from the same Chinese restaurant is brought in for questioning, also maintaining that he saw nothing, with Harris and Dietrich about to be sequestered in a hotel room with a reluctant witness once again.
  • Heroic BSoD: Chano goes through one in the Season 1 episode, "The Hero". He and Fish respond to a bank robbery, where the armed perps have shot a guard and taken hostages. Chano manages to get inside and has to kill both robbers. It's a clean shoot, but it upsets him greatly.
  • Hidden Depths: "Wojo's Girl" reveals that Wojo the resident meathead likes to play the flute in the park on his days off.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Quite often from numerous individuals. During one opening, Desk Sergeant Kogan informs Wojo that Harris and Nick have been shot at 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—
    Barney: Wojo!
    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'.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Parodied by Harris in "Old Love" after Mr. DeLuca saved Mr. Felch's life with the Heimlich maneuver, and Mr. Felch decides not to press charges:
    Harris: There's an old Chinese proverb: "Save a man's life, and he'll never forgive you."
    DeLuca; That doesn't make sense.
    Harris: Hey man, I'm not Chinese! [ DeLuca leaves] They're supposed to be damn clever.
  • Identical Stranger: A man with curly brown hair and glasses is arrested for making a scene when his specimen at a sperm bank is ruined. At the end of the episode, Dietrich suggests he and his wife could find a man with similar physical characteristics for artificial insemination... and the wife looks at Dietrich with great interest. ("The Bank")
  • 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?"
  • Impersonating an Officer: In "Discovery", 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.
  • Improvised Imprisonment: One episode has an arrested man welcome being put in the precinct lock-up, saying it's better than "the other one." It turns out a tenants' organization has taken their role as dispute arbiters to extremes, creating a kangaroo court and ersatz prison. The arrestee had been charged with "sneaking around" and jailed in a basement storage room. When Detective Miller reminds the tenant council head that he's only allowed to mediate tenant disputes, the reply is "That was boring."
  • Incurable Cough of Death: In "The Recluse", Harris and Wojo bring in Mr. Unger, a man who lived as a hermit with his greenhouse-like apartment full of plants, and was out of touch with the outside world. After Miller has a talk with him, he suddenly comes down with a sickly cough; Harris informs Barney that the air is on second-stage smog alert. Later on, after Wojo takes Unger from the squad room to the hospital, Unger, who was unable to adapt to the air after living so many years in his plant-filled apartment, dies on arrival after he stops breathing.
  • Informed Judaism: In Season 6 episode "The Brother" Wojo mentions more or less out of nowhere that Barney is Jewish.
    • In "The Photograper", when Wojo checks the records for mention of the man going by the name of Jesus Christ, Wojo discusses Christianity and the Second Coming, and Barney tells Wojo that it isn't his area of expertise, and Wojo had forgotten Barney is Jewish.
    • Wojo mentions this again in Season 7 episode "Rachel" when wondering if that's why Barney is bothered by Wojo maybe dating Barney's daughter.
  • Insufferable Genius: Dietrich, who is widely read and very intelligent, and seems to be able to deliver an exposition lecture about just about anything that happens in the squad room. This habit of his became a Running Gag which constantly irritated the other detectives. That said, Dietrich is generally a nice guy, which Wojo brings up in "The Inventor" when he's under hypnosis and spends a few minutes saying what he thinks of all the officers in the squad.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Plenty of 'em, often examples of lame office humor like the post office man who says he "ZIPped right over."
    • Mr. Lun from the Water Department can't seem to shut it off: have to understand, captain, that this drought situation has put the entire water department under a great deal of pressure... I go home at night, and I am completely drained. [A rainmaker] was spouting off about how he could make it rain... note  if it ever leaks to the press that some drip from the water department hired a rainmaker at the taxpayers' expense... This is coming out of+ my own pocket. After this, I am tapped out.
  • Indentured Servitude: In "The Slave" a diplomat has a slave. The slave's grandfather borrowed money from the diplomat's grandfather and he's still working off the debt.
  • Inkblot Test: In "The Psychiatrist", said psychiatrist has the squad look at inkblots. Yemana sees an elephant wearing a hat. "Now turn the picture upside down and tell me what you see." "An elephant lying on his back. Wearing a hat."
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Wojo on the pronunciation of his name. It's almost a Catchphrase.
    • And the District Attorney when he starts talking about himself—them—the District Attorney's office!
  • 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, I've got 'Bum...bumbumbum...bumbumbum...bababaddabadda bum'".
  • 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 saber duel. The actor fumes over a review in which the critic said he played his role "like a howling jackass". The irritated critic says, "I apologize to the jackasses!"note 
  • Internal Affairs: As in every other cop show, IA is the enemy.
    • In "Graft", the fourth episode, an IA detective comes sniffing around the 12th Precinct looking for cops on the take. He follows the corruption trail all the way to the commissioner's office, which winds up getting him busted back to beat cop.
    • Later there would be a recurring character, Lt. Scanlon from Internal Affairs, who shows up from time to time to cause trouble for the detectives in the 12th. In "Chase", a heroin dealer who tries to bribe the men of the 12th turns out to be an agent provocateur sent by Scanlon.
    • In "Field Associate" the 12th gets a nasty memo from IA about all the petty ways they violate regulations, such as Wojo being consistently late for work, or Harris tending to personal business like his book while on the clock for the NYPD. Turns out that Levitt, who is bitter about the lack of respect he gets from the detectives, has been informing on them.
  • Intoxication Ensues: See Mushroom Samba below. In possibly the most famous episode, "Hash", Wojo brings in his girlfriend's brownies which unbeknownst to him are laced with hashish. Everyone except for Barney eats a brownie and gets high.
  • In Vino Veritas: No alcohol or drugs are involved, but this is basically the effect of putting Wojo under hypnotism in one episode. Also occurs when the detectives are quarantined in the squad room, and Harris talks in his sleep.
  • I Owe You My Life: Dietrich saves Harris's life on a call. Harris is very annoyed at being in Dietrich's debt. ("Identity")
  • 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. (episode "Quo Vadis")
  • Landslide Election: In "The Election", 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 (Luger: "they couldn't prove any of that"). 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!"
  • Last-Name Basis: While Barney and the other detectives are on familiar terms with each other, Barney and Dietrich address each other as "Captain" and "Dietrich". In the two-parter "Eviction" they try out "Barney" and "Arthur" but Dietrich decides he doesn't want to get too familiar.
  • Laugh Track: The show eventually stopped using a studio audience and switched to a very soft laugh track for a number of reasons:
    • Scripts were constantly being rewritten and recording sessions lasted well into the early hours of the morning. The bulk of the used footage was actually shot after the studio audience had left, anyway.
    • The writers stopped swinging for belly laugh-inducing punchlines and opted for a more understated humor. This meant that what live audience reaction there was was very soft and rendered the audience's presence moot.
  • 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.
  • Lethal Chef:
    • Yemana, at least when it comes to making coffee.
    • Also Yemana when cooking shabu shabu in the squad room, in episode "Fire '77". After Wojo says it smells like garbage, Yemana indignantly lists the ingredients—fish heads, cabbage leaves, cucumber rinds, celery tops— then says "Come to think of it, that is garbage!" At the end, after Barney tastes the shabu shabu and likes it, Yemana concludes he cooked it wrong.
  • Like Father, Like Son: 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 and starts listing the health problems they could have used to knock down his price.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Lots of gags in "Sex Surrogate" after Harris investigates a report of a child burglar and finds out that it's not a child, it's an elderly little person (played by Billy Barty).
  • Lobotomy: "The Desk"note  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.
  • Lockdown: In "Quarantine", the 12th precinct is locked down and everyone is stuck there after they find out a guy Wojo arrested might have contracted smallpox in Africa.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: "Wojo's Problem" deals with this. Wojo blames it on the tidal wave of women wanting to have sex with him.
  • Lottery Ticket: Two cases involved winning lottery "Advancement" a man who had the winning numbers attacks a store owner who forgot to register it before the drawingnote ; and a man who started throwing his winnings out a window to the people below on the street after being driven crazy with guilt from people asking for financial help.
  • 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.
  • Looks Like Jesus: The owner of an Indian restaurant and Hindu temple in Season 3 episode "Abduction".
    Bookie: [in a whisper to Fish] I'll give you seventy-five to one it ain't!

    Tropes M-R 
  • Mail-Order Bride: A late-series arc has Inspector Luger, lonely and facing retirement, deciding to get a mail-order bride. In one episode he strong-arms Barney into writing the letter for him. In 8th-season episode "Arrival" Luger's Filipina mail-order bride shows up. In series finale "Landmark" they are happily married.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In 8th-season premiere "Paternity", Wojo is hit with a paternity suit. He finds out that he's sterile, which gets him off the hook for the paternity suit but actually makes him feel worse.
  • Marital Rape License: The plot of fourth-season episode "Rape", which almost certainly is the most dated of all Barney Miller episodes. A woman comes into the 12th Precinct and accuses her husband of raping her. This is the cause of much confusion and consternation in the squad room. Once the assistant DA and the husband's defense lawyer arrive, there is a long debate about things like "English common law" and "basic biological laws" giving a man the right to violate his wife, versus the wife's privacy and dignity. The debate is ended when the wife agrees to drop charges after the husband promises to be nicer to her and more affectionate. It might seem bizarre to a 21st-century viewer, but in The '70s there was much debate over whether marital rape was a thing. 47 states actually had the Marital Rape License written into law. The highly publicized Oregon v. Rideout case, in which John Rideout was acquitted of raping his wife Greta, happened in 1978, the year after this episode aired.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There are several episodes invoking this trope in which it's not clear if the person in question is crazy. Many of them are played by recurring guest star Kenneth Tigar.
    • Twice Tigar appears as a character named Mr. Kopechne. When Mr. Kopechne claims to be a werewolf he isn't taken seriously, but his second appearance as a victim of demonic possession is much more disturbing, complete with a Voice of the Legion.
    • In "The Photographer", a man who claims to be Jesus returned (also played by Tigar) gains the friendship (and discipleship) of a suspect named Paul with a "miracle" akin to changing water to wine: a bag of drugs turning out to be a "beat bag", freeing him of charges. Paul had asked him for a miracle "like when you made all those sandwiches."
    • A man (Tigar again) plagued by a poltergeist named Julius, concurrent with a lot of small accidents and an attack of clumsiness.
    • In The Psychic, A "clairvoyant" played by, yes, Kenneth Tigar, who attacks a man for a purse-snatching he hasn't committed, but it just so happens he picked a repeat offender... who is instantly recognized by another repeat offender... and he perceives among a myriad of other things the cloud of "resentment" and "hostility" that emanates from Ol' Inspector Luger and Barney passing by, broadcasting Barney's internal frustrations.
    Psychic: Luger? LUGER? DO YOUR OWN DAMN WORK!!!!
    • 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. ("The Child Stealers")
    • 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. ("The Rainmaker")
    • In "Strip Joint" 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."
    • A man who believes he is plagued by a succubus falls asleep in the cell, where he dreams very loudly and... vividly. ("Graveyard Shift")
    • In "Computer Crime", 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".
  • Messianic Archetype: Parodied in "The Photographer" when Wojo brings in a man (Kenneth Tigar) who identifies himself as Jesus Christ. Halfway through the episode, we have this interchange between Wojo and Dietrich:
    Wojo: You know, I know the guy's a fruitcake, but I can't help feeling like I'm betraying him.note 
    Dietrich: Listen, don't let it get to you; you're just doing your job.
    Wojo: My job?
    Dietrich: Yeah.
    Wojo: I'm gonna go wash my hands.
    Dietrich: There's certainly precedent for it.note 
    • After Wojo has the Jesus claimant transferred to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital:
    Dietrich: 1 down, 11 to go.note 
    Barney: I take it that's, uh... a humorous reference to the 12 Apostles?
    Dietrich: Something like that.
    Barney: And I'm sure you're prepared with many more Biblical allusions?
    Dietrich: Yeah.
    Barney: Unfortunately, it's almost check out time, so I'm afraid we're just going to have to forego them.
    Dietrich: I guess so; I'll see you tomorrow then.
    Barney: Okay.
    Dietrich: You doing anything for supper? [Barney glances at Dietrich] Gotcha.
  • Midseason Replacement: Season 1 premired January 23, 1975, and ran only 13 episodes.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only Max Gail and Darlene Parks appear as Wojo and Nancy in "Wojo's Girl, Part 2", where Wojo attempts a relationship with his ex-prostitute girlfriend.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: A mobster trying to flee into the East River turns back to save Wojo from drowning. He complains bitterly to the squad that he just "can't help himself" from doing things like volunteering as a Big Brother and working at a crisis hotline.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In "Stakeout", Barney and Fish are getting an apartment in order to stakeout a drug operation across the street. The landlord thinks they're a couple.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute:
    • The man who hits on Fish while he's on mugging detail offers "her" money. ("Group Home")
    • Levitt assumes that Rachel, Barney's college-age daughter, is a prostitute when she visits the precinct (episode "Rachel"). Barney, of course, is outraged at the assumption. (Rachel isn't wearing anything unusual, either.)
  • Mushroom Samba: In "Hash", 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!
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Cotterman and a jeweler are horrified to realize that one of them—they don't know which—shot and killed a burglar. ("Good-Bye, Mr. Fish: Part 1")
    • 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.
    • Chano goes through this after he shoots and kills two bank robbers in "The Hero".
  • Nazi Grandpa:
    • Played for Laughs in "Atomic 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 in "The Librarian" 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.
  • Newhart Phonecall: A recurring gag. Example, from "Stormy Weather", when New York is getting hammered by rain:
    Barney: No, sir, I'm not aware of any ordinances against ship-building within city limits... Sorry, but for animals you'd have to contact the Central Park Zoo... No, I don't know how many feet are in a cubit...
  • New Year Has Come: Season 2's "Happy New Year" takes place on New Year's Eve. See Talking Down the Suicidal below.
  • N-Word Privileges: In Season 7's "Liquidation", Harris has just lost a libel suit to Arnold Ripner, who has sued Harris for being libelously characterized, regardless of the fact Harris didn't mention him by name. After giving a summary of the verdict, Harris remarks:
    Harris: Barney, you are looking at one mad nigger!
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In "Rachel", Barney offers Ripner a copy of Harris's "Blood on the Badge" novel, which Ripner uses to sue Harris for libel, which results in Harris's virtual bankruptcy.
    • In "Homicide" parts 1 and 2, Inspector Luger has the 12th precinct specializing in dealing with homicides. When Mr. Cotterman comes to them for help, they reluctantly decline because his problem doesn't fall under homicides. Later, Mr. Cotterman gets murdered, and Barney voices his displeasure to Luger, because they were assigned to the homicide specialty squad and were unable to help Mr. Cotterman while on the homicide squad.
  • No Longer with Us: In "Smog," Fish collapses on a call and is put into an ambulance. They later call Wojo, who reports to Barney that "they lost Fish." Meaning, they lost him because Fish left on his own.
    Barney: For God's sake, Wojo, would you choose your words more carefully?!
  • Non-Ironic Clown: William "Bingo" Krebs in "The Clown", who wears facial makeup, a red derby hat, and a blue overcoat with plaid elbow patches. He was mugged while performing outside a theater.
  • Noodle Incident: In 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 in "The Vandal", when the squad room is vandalized and said vandal leaves a message that goes down the back hallway. 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.")
  • Noodle Implements: In "Tunnel", history teacher Howard Gabriel is brought in possessing handcuffs, mace and a blackjack, after he loses his cool.
    • In "Evaluations", Dietrich is going through a box of sexual paraphernelia seized from the Schumans' Garden of Earthly Delights merchandise store which has been selling porno:
    Dietrich: Look at this, will you?
    Barney: What do you got?
    Dietrich [takes out a whip, handcuffs, and a horse harness]: You got... here, you got your novelties, got your paraphernelia, party favors...
    Barney: Look, uh... hold off tagging that stuff until we see what happens.
    Dietrich [finds another object which the audience doesn't see]: Yeah.
    Barney: What, uh, what's that thing with the feathers?
    Dietrich: No idea; it's reasonably priced, though.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • 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. ("Asylum")
  • Odd Couple: At one point during a season-long arc in which Harris tries to desperately find a new place to live, he reluctantly accepts Dietrich's invitation to stay at his place. Interestingly Ron Glass would go on to play half of the most famous Odd Couple directly after Barney Miller went off the air in 1982's The New Odd Couple.
  • Office Romance: Between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left the show.
  • Old Flame: In "Old Love" Dietrich's old girlfriend from college shows up. She tells him that she's Happily Married, but she still gives him a passionate kiss, and they leave for a long lunch that's strongly implied to really be a nooner.
  • One Phone Call: Played straight many, many times, when suspects brought into the 12th get their one phone call.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Children's Center, according to young Jilly Pappalardo and her friend Victor Kreutzer in "Evacuation".
    Jilly I hate it, I don't want to live there, you get pushed around and the food stinks!
    Fish If I can take it, you can take it.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: In 'The Vandal", Barney asks Yemana to clean up the office, starting with rearranging the files. A disgusted and weary Nick snarkily manages to get the last word, in a way of speaking:
    Barney: You might as well get started reorganizing the files.
    Nick [pointing at the vandal]: Why me? He did it.
    Barney: Just get on it, will you?
    Nick [sullenly]: Yes, sir.
    Barney: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
    Nick [glances at the graffiti that reads "Miller is a Dirty M—-"]: I have nothing to add.
  • 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.
  • Percussive Maintenance: In "Stress Analyzer", a stress measurement device is strapped to Dietrich just before he goes to investigate a disturbance with Levitt. After he has been gone for a while, the monitor to which the device sends its signal goes haywire and then flatlines, leading the personnel of the 12th to believe Dietrich has been killed in action. At one point, Luger pounds the top of the device; Dr. Danworth (James Cromwell), who is running the stress measurement test, tells him he already tried that. Luger asks, "Did you try this?", and kicks the desk in anger. When Levitt returns and reveals that Dietrich is alive and unharmed, Danworth takes a moment to absorb the news, then tries kicking the desk.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: In "Hash", when Yemana dunks his brownie, he says that "mushy" is a good word, and he says "mushy, mushy". In Japanese, when someone answers the phone, they answer with "moshi moshi".
  • Pilot: "The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller". After ABC rejected the pilot, it was burned off as an installment of a summer anthology series called Just for Laughs (this was a common network practice for failed pilots back in The '70s). However, favorable reaction to the pilot and interest by an ABC director named John Rich led the network to revive the show.
  • Place Worse Than Death: "Fear of Flying" reveals that Yemana feels this way about Cleveland when he learns that Wojo, who is on assignment to the district attorney's office, has to escort a bigamist there to stand trial.
    Wojo: [enters in a suit and tie with the bigamist, Fred Clooney, handcuffed to his wrist] Hi, guys. [starts unlocking the cuffs]
    Chano: [chuckles] Well, well, well! Don't we look classy!
    Harris: You know, uh, with that suit he's either getting married or he's dead.
    Wojo: I came by to pick up some things. I'm goin' to Cleveland.
    Yemana: He's dead.
    [later, when Clooney's New York wife, Gloria, has shown up and overdosed on secobarbitol]
    Barney: How are you feeling, Mrs. Clooney?
    Mrs. Clooney: Oh, embarrassed. Disgusted. Alone. Deserted.
    Mr. Clooney: [horrified] Deserted!? I'm not deserting you, Gloria, they're taking me to Cleveland by force!
    Yemana: That's the only way I'd go.
    [still later, with Mrs. Clooney en route to Belle Vue and Wojo having confirmed that his flight will not be delayed by weather]
    Barney: Have a good time in Cleveland.
    Yemana: You could be the first.
  • Police Procedural: With a heavy emphasis on the paperwork.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot:
    • Season 2 episode "Fish" (Dec. 4, 1975), besides being the first appearance of Steve Landesberg as Dietrich, also takes place mostly at Fish's house, introduces his daughter Beverly, and includes a different actress in the role of Bernice. It was in fact a back-door pilot for a Fish spinoff series. Fish the series didn't debut until 1977, and when it did, it used the original Bernice and the character of Beverly was never seen or mentioned.
    • "Wojo's Girl" part 2 (which originally aired together with part 1 as a one-hour episode) takes place entirely in Wojo's apartment, and the only characters who appear in the episode are Wojo and his new girlfriend Nancy. This was a backdoor pilot for a proposed spinoff series called "Off Duty" which would follow the detectives' lives away from work. Nothing further came of it.
  • [Popular Saying], But...: The show manages to accomplish this trope with the actual saying, because the second part is usually left unsaid and so comes across as a Non Sequitur:
    Barney: (trying to get Levitt to stop overextending himself and take some time off) You know, all work and no play.
    Levitt: (who's never heard the expression) ... Sir?
    Barney: (very reluctantly and anticlimactically) ... Makes Jack a dull boy.
    Levitt: (baffled) If you say so, sir.
  • Prefer Jail to the Protagonist:
    • In one episode inveterate gambler Nick comes in crowing about a big score he had made: he picked all the bowl games, then bet it all on a hockey game and won there too. Then his bookie comes into the detective squad room and turns himself in for illegal betting: turns out everyone had had the same string of luck and he can't cover his bets. And not everyone is as nice as Nick is.
    • In "People's Court" a burglar had been caught and tried in a makeshift community court (which had been designed for small civil disputes) and had been serving his "sentence" locked up in the basement. He escapes and is picked up by the real cops; he's grateful to be in a real jail.
  • 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.
  • Prison: Barney gets thrown into a cell in two-part episode "Contempt" when he is held in contempt of court for not revealing the identity of a confidential informant.
  • The Problem with Pen Island: The broad white, all capital, rounded-corners font of the show's credits wasn't exactly complimentary to series co-creator Theodore J. Flicker.
  • Profiling: In "The Harris Incident" two white cops come upon Detective Harris with his gun trained on a suspect. The cops shoot at Harris.
  • 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 frequent guest star throughout the show's run).
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: This is almost Wojo's Catchphrase — full name Wojciehowicz. He repeatedly insists that "you say it like it's spelled!" when people unfamiliar with Polish inevitably mangle it.
  • Pulled from Your Day Off:
    • Due to a budget crisis, Barney has to (temporarily) lay off Harris, Chano, and Wojo; immediately after they get a call about a grocery store hold-up. The former detectives decide they all need some groceries right now, and if they "happen" across any crime they can make a citizen's arrest.
    • In Season 3 finale "Strike" 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.
  • Put on a Bus: Fish at the beginning of Season 4, although he would return as a guest in a couple later episodes.
  • Racial Face Blindness:
    • In "Christmas Story", Dorothy Murakami (played by Canadian-born Japanese actress Nobu McCarthy), an Asian mugging victim and prostitute is looking through the mug books. When she remarks to Yemana that "everyone looks so much alike," he says "I know what you mean, I'm Japanese too."
    • Happens again when a woman who grew up in foster care finds the man she thinks is her father and asks the nearest detective if they look alike. That happens to be Nick, who says, "You're asking the wrong person."
    • In "The Recluse", Fish asks Nick Yemana if he knows of a good Chinese restaurant, and he suggests "Yamamoto's". Later in the episode, when the Fishes take the two foster children with them to a restaurant:
    Jilly: Where are we gonna eat?
    Bernice: Boy, are you gonna love it. It's called Yamamoto's.
    Jilly: I never ate Japanese food before!
    Yemana [a few moments later, after showing a tell-tale grin]: They all look alike to me.
  • Raised by Wolves: In the last scene of the last episode, "Landmark" part 3, Dietrich offhandedly confesses that he was raised by wolves.
  • Ransom Drop: One episode has the kidnappers demanding that a police officer drop off the ransom while running in the park, which the victim's family decides to pay. Wojo ends up running for a good few miles before the kidnappers actually show up to claim the ransom and release the victim.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles:
    • In "Hunger Strike" 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. Dietrich tracks down 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. ("The Baby Broker")
    • 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, gay couple Marty and Darryl, Arnold Ripner, Bruno Binder, Ray Brewer, Arthur Duncan, Mr. Cotterman...
  • Remote Vitals Monitoring: One episode features an experimental stress monitor being tested at the precinct, which Dietrich wears while on assignment. At one point, the readings start displaying erratic numbers followed by a Flatline. Everyone fears the worst until Dietrich returns to the station. It turns out he had encountered a woman with a fire hose which ended up shorting out the sensors.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated:
    • In "Discovery", Fish's paycheck hasn't arrived. It's because the NYPD thinks he's dead.
      • Ironically, Abe Vigoda's life would become one of these with frequently erroneous reports of his death, until he actually died for real in January 2016.
    • In "Obituary", a man whose obituary is mistakenly run in the paper is arrested when he hits the editor for refusing to correct it.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Dietrich turns up in a Fish episode.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Many episodes were loosely based on Real Life stories.
    • The characters would frequently cite the actual articles or court cases that inspired the episode.
    • In "The Layoff" (1975), Barney has to lay off Chano, Harris, and Wojo because New York City is broke and can't pay its bills. In Real Life NYC was in desperate financial straits at the time.
    • In "Protection" the detectives listen to the actual speech by President Ford (The one that inspired the famous Daily News headline 'Ford to City: Drop Dead'), and celebrate when he says that even though he intends to veto any measure to bail out NYC, he intends to keep funds going to essential services such as Fire and Police.
    • In "Hunger Strike", a Macedonian lady has been institutionalized for twenty years as a schizophrenic speaking meaningless gibberish because no one understands her language. This is based on the story of David Tom. A film of his story is in the works.
    • In the 1981 episode "Possession", Mr. Kopechne says he is possessed by a demon who smashed windows using his body. Dietrich mentions that possession actually was recently used as a legal defense. He means the Arne Cheyenne Johnson case.
  • Romantic Candlelit Dinner: In an episode a woman is robbed by a man she met through a dating service; amongst her stolen valuables are a pair of silver candleholders she had set up for the dinner she was cooking for him.
  • Roof Hopping: The hash brownies consumed in "Hash" allow Fish to jump a 12-foot gap between buildings to run down a burglary suspect.
  • 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."

    Tropes S-Z 
  • Sarcasm Failure: In "The Clown", Harris refrains from the urge to make a witty comment when William "Bingo" Krebs is brought in for questioning after being mugged:
    Harris: Sounds like our man, huh?
    Bingo: What man?
    Barney: I'm afraid you were the third clown to be assaulted in this precinct in the last two weeks.
    Harris: I didn't have the heart to say it.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • In Season 2 episode "Rain" (Nov. 27, 1975), the leaky roof of the 12th Precinct is blamed on the building being "forty years old", and a maintenance man says the building was built in 1932. In series finale "Landmark" the 12th Precinct is sold to developers when it is discovered to be a historical landmark—Theodore Roosevelt had an office there during his time as New York City Police Commissioner (1895-97).
    • In Season 6 it's established that Barney is Jewish (see Informed Judaism above) But in season 3's "Christmas Story" Barney is exchanging gifts with his detectives and in Season 5's "Toys" he's reminiscing with Liz about taking David to see Santa.
      • Jews often incorporate Santa into Chanukah celebrations. Part of the reason Chanukah has been played up over the decades — it's really a minor holiday, Purim in early spring is the big banquet-and-gift-giving one — is that it occurs around Christmastime so kids can feel there's a "Jewish Christmas".
  • Seriously Scruffy: After Dietrich is sequestered in a hotel room with Harris and Mr. Ling in "Chinatown (Part 2)", he develops a shabby-looking 5 o'clock shadow when Barn comes over in the hope that Mr. Ling would testify; Ling chooses not to get involved or testify primarily due to fear of gang retribution.
  • "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." ("The Vests")
  • The Shut-In: In "The Recluse", the 12th arrests a man who ignored a summons to jury duty. It turns out that the man hasn't left his apartment in thirty years. Being outside in New York City promptly kills him.
  • Silent Credits: "Jack Soo: A Retrospective" concludes with a silent still photo of Jack Soo, and the directing, writing and creating credits end with no applause and no theme music before the end credits play.
  • Silent Snarker: Nick, to Barney at the end of "The Vandal", after Barney asks him to clean up the scattered files:
    Barney: You might as well get started reorganizing the files.
    Nick [pointing at the vandal]: Why me? He did it.
    Barney: Just get on it, will you?
    Nick [sullenly]: Yes, sir.
    Barney: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
    Nick [glances down the corridor at the graffiti that reads "Miller is a dirty m..."] I have nothing to add.note 
  • Skyscraper Messages: One episode has a call about a man on a ledge. It's quickly followed by a report that the man is writing on the windows. Barney asks "It's not a jumper?" Wojo replies "Unless it's a suicide note."
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Rosalyn Licori assumes this when Barney innocently asks her to sit down on the couch and insists that she got her job on merit. Barney immediately and apologetically assures her that he has nothing of the sort in mind. (She then says that she did have opportunities.)
  • Somebody Else's Problem: In "Noninvolvement", Wojo arrests a man who could have intervened in a purse-snatching but didn't, causing another headache for Barney.
  • Spicy Latina:
    • Detective Battista, one of the several attempts to add another detective to the squad. Appeared twice in Season 3.
    • Miss Elezondo in "Eviction" is another one as is Teresa Tasco in "Strip Joint" and Miss Del Fuego in "The Courtesans" — all played by Rosanna DeSoto.
  • Spin-Off: Fish. Lasted two seasons.
  • Split Personality: The guy arrested for assault in "Power Failure" says he didn't commit the assault, his split personality did. The split personality later emerges, cheerfully admits the deed, and demands to be let go. Later on a third, unknown, and very polite personality comes out.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: In "Strip Joint" the 12th arrests a man who says he is prone to spontaneous human combusion and is a danger to burst into flames at any moment. They finally get him some ice after a trash can across the room bursts into flame.
  • Springtime for Hitler: In "The Inventor", Harris needs places to put all the profits from Blood on the Badge, and he offers to bankroll an inventor's forever life battery. The inventor sees through this, correctly noting that Harris is looking for the battery to fail so he can claim a write off. The inventor says, "I'll take your money, Sergeant, and my battery will be such a success, I'll push you into the 70% tax bracket!"
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: 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).
  • Stalker with a Crush: In "Altercation" a woman is mugged outside the precinct building. She seems strangely attentive to Captain Miller. It turns out that she has been stalking Barney since Patrolman Miller stood up for her against some bullies back in 1966; the reason she was outside the precinct building is that she was following Barney around. She's a benevolent stalker, telling Barney not to worry if he ever notices her following him.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: In Part 1 of "The Landmark", Howard Spangler, who had been held captive in South America for 18 months, becomes disgruntled after returning to the U.S.A. and being slighted, in contrast to other hostages who received heroes' welcomes after being released from Iran. Despite the lack of sympathy from his employer and the rough experiences he had in the South American prison camp, Spangler writes out a tirade to his ex-bosses denouncing their capitalistic tendencies, believing that militant revolutionary "people power" and his presence inspired the rebels to overthrow their government.
  • Stock Sitcom Grand Finale: The three-parter "Landmark", which had the 12th Precinct building declared a national landmark and sold to a real estate developer, leading to the squad being broken up and and the characters reassigned to other precincts around the city. Additionally, both Barney and Levitt get long sought-after promotions, to deputy inspector and plainclothes detective respectively. Luger gets married. An array of recurring characters (Bruno Binder and his wife, Marty and Darryl, Ray Brewer, others) turn up to wish the detectives farewell. The show ends with Barney, alone in the office, looking around and wistfully remembering Chano, Fish, Wentworth, and Yemana, before leaving.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical:
    • In the first episode Puerto Rican officer Chano rants at a Puerto Rican criminal for being so embarrassed when catching his fellow Puerto Ricans committing crimes that Chano has to arrest them in an exaggerated white-guy accent.
    • Harris is very irritated at a Jamaican doctor who claims to be under a curse from a voodoo priestess. ("Computer Crime") The doctor retorts that he is proud of his heritage... but admits that being dictated to by an angry obeah woman bothers him a little.
    • In "The Child Stealers", Camp Gay Marty's Straight Gay partner, Darryl Driscoll, exasperatedly asks him to "stop reinforcing the stereotype" on one visit to the squadroom. This is plot-relevant, as Mr. Driscoll is trying to get the 12th to make his homophobic ex-wife honor his child visitation rights with their son.
  • Straight Man: Barney, inevitably to whatever zaniness was going on around him. Nowhere more prominent than in "Hash", where he's the only one who didn't eat one of the hash brownies. In the DVD commentary the writers say that Barney was given jokes on occasion early on, but it became clear that the humor was more effective with Barney as a straight man for all the wacky visitors to bounce off of.
  • Studio Audience: Used for the first three seasons, before being discarded in favor of a closed set and 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.
  • Stupid Crooks: Dozens, and way too many to list. Among those that stand out: A flasher who is arrested in the middle of December when it's below zero (he later joins a support group and returns as the attorney for a flasher from the same group), a man in a wheelchair who shoplifts and twice tries to flee the station ("Wojo's Problem"), and a convict who is given unsupervised prison furloughs for work release, but uses them to commit armed robberies.
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: In "Vanished" Part 2 the detectives arrest one Alfred Royce, a kook who committed armed robbery in order to fund his campaign for the Presidency in 1980. Barney reads his bumper sticker: "Alfred Royce, the people's...candidate."
  • Sweeping the Table: When Yemana has acute appendicitis they need to lay him down on a flat surface until the paramedics arrive, so Wojo picks up one side of his own desk, dumping the stuff on the floor.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: In series finale "Landmark" part 3, Harris reacts to the news that he is being transferred to Queens by shouting "I quit!". When a frustrated Harris rants that he can just be a full-time writer, Barney agrees with him. Since it's the series finale we never find out if Harris follows through.
  • Take a Third Option: When a vicious dog follows his arrested owner into the squad room, Nick is the only one there to deal with it. He doesn't want to shoot it, and he certainly doesn't want to be attacked, and the owner is demanding to be set free in exchange for calling it off. So Nick picks up the keys, very slowly walks over to the cage... and locks himself in there next to the owner.
  • Taking the Bullet: In "Hair", Det. Gardeno, a temporary transfer to the 12th Precinct, takes a bullet for Chano. Subverted when a shamefaced Gardeno admits to Barney that it was an accident; he knocked down Chano not to take the bullet for him, but because he was turning to run away.
  • 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 "Happy New Year" Fish goes out to talk someone down while a woman is having a baby at the precinct. He fails, and the jumper jumps. After the woman delivers Fish shows up and is told about the delivery.
    Fish: You win some, you lose some.
  • Tension-Cutting Laughter: In "The Librarian". 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:
    "I have over three hundred parking tickets."
  • Thanking the Viewer: After the final freeze frame of the final episode, the credit "Goodbye and thank you from all of us at the old One-Two" pops up on the screen before the credits roll.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "Thanksgiving Story", in which a man is brought into the precinct for stabbing his brother-in-law with a fork over Thanksgiving dinner.
  • That's What She Said: Gender-flipped by Sgt. Fish in "Heat Wave"; Beckman has just finished maintenance, and the detectives can't get the fan to turn on:
    Harris: Hey, it can't be turned on, it's not doing anything!
    Fish: My very words to Bernice.
  • This Is Reality: One criminal copycats heists from shows and TV movies. They catch him after he fails to pull off a subway heist. ("Copycat")
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Although he's usually dismissive of Levitt, Harris tells one quasi-philosophical suspect that Levitt will just shoot him down "like the others" if he tries to run. He doesn't even look up from his paperwork, speaking of it as though it's something that's happened a million times—and then calls the suspect an "amateur" when it comes to resentment.
  • Tontine: A season 8 episode revolves around one of these. The remaining two shareholders, a pair of amicable elderly men, tried playing cards to determine who would "bow out," as it were.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Two-part episode "Chinatown" involves a gang called The White Dragons that killed some people in a Chinese restaurant. Harris and Dietrich wind up in a hotel room with the only witness, a frightened waiter, trying to get him to tell them what he saw.
  • Try To Fit That On A Businesscard: In "The Bureaucrat", E.J. Heiss has the lengthy job title of Chief of the Bureau of Federal Regional Development and Planning for Underdeveloped Suburban Areas for Mines, Parks, and Indians:
    E.J. Heiss: I am the Chief of the Bureau of Federal Regional Development and Planning for Underdeveloped Suburban Areas for Mines, Parks, and Indians.
  • Turn in Your Badge: Barney has to do this in "Eviction (Part 1)". As is typical of this low-key cop show, it's because Barney was trying to avoid an ugly confrontation. He is relieved of duty after dragging his feet about enforcing a court order to eject some renters from their soon-to-be-demolished apartment building.
    • In "Dietrich's Arrest", Dietrich has to turn in his gun and badge, in addition to being assigned to restricted duty, after he attends a nuclear demonstration rally and gets arrested for failing to disperse.
  • 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. ("The Rainmaker")
  • The Unpronounceable: Various people with foreign names, such as a Polish drama critic named Zbigniew Psczola. "You spell it like it sounds, pay ess chay zay oh ell ah." This was a running gag with Wojciehowicz.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • Harris' many creative names for the mental ward of Bellevue Hospital.
      Dietrich: My favorite was "the Disoriented Express."
    • One prostitute gives her occupation as "human relations consultant" for the arrest report.
  • Vice President Who?: In "Field Associate" a conspiracy theorist loon starts rattling off the names of prominent members of the Trilateral Commission. After naming Carter and Henry Kissinger, he mentions Mondale and Dietrich says "Who?"
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Harris and Dietrich again. They're even roomies at several points.
  • 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), he eventually gets one anyway. The character's reaction to learning who Dietrich is strongly implies he's a household name in the future. ("The Child Stealers")
    Dietrich (as everyone else stares at him following this revelation): I couldn't have done it without you guys.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Bruno Binder, a neighborhood vigilante who turns up in several episodes.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Ray Brewer relates an incident of this to Barney while explaining what prompted his joining the Salvation Army. He found an unlocked door, which turned out to be the service door of a liquor store that had closed for the night, and woke up driving a subway train.
  • Who's on First?: At the beginning of "Possession", Harris buys a portrait from A. Katt, an artist:
    Barney: It's interesting.
    Harris: Isn't it?
    Levitt: What is it?
    Harris: It's a Katt.
    Levitt: Where's the head, the tail, and the body?
    Harris: That's the artist's name: Andrew Katt. He just signs himself "A. Katt", double 'T'. This print is called simply "Opus 64".
    Levitt: But what is it?
    Harris: It's an Opus 64.
    Dietrich: You remember what Nietzsche said, Carl: "Art has no need of certainty." The artist may have felt that the cat had been there and gone.
    Harris: A cat has nothing to do with it; that's just the artist's name.
    Dietrich: Yeah, I heard you; I was just thinking that uh... it could have been a self-portrait of A. Katt, the artist, after he'd been there and gone.
  • Will Talk for a Price: The squad keeps a supply of petty cash on hand to pay off informants.
  • Work Com: With a little Dom Com thrown in the first season.
  • Writer's Block: A storyline at the beginning of Season 8 has Harris mad at Barney because Barney forced him to miss a meeting with his literary agent. In "The Car" Harris admits that his real problem is a severe case of Writer's Block; he has been unable to write anything since "Blood on the Badge".
  • Write Who You Know: In-Universe Gets Det. Harris in trouble when his thinly veiled portrait of sleazy attorney Arnold Ripner in his novel isn't veiled enough. This is a multi-episode storyline that ends in "Liquidation" when Harris suffers a devastating court loss and has to cough up $320,000.
  • You Just Had to Say It: From "The Clown", when investigating the mugging of William "Bingo" Krebs:
    Harris: Sounds like our man, huh?
    Bingo: What man?
    Barney: I'm afraid you were the third clown to be assualted in this precinct in the last two weeks.
    Harris: I didn't have the heart to say it.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: In "Field Associate" an old con is pretty unconcerned about Harris arresting him for burglary. It's because the old con has liver cancer and six months to live.
  • Your Television Hates You: Played for Drama in the first-season episode "The Hero", where Chano has to shoot (and kill) two bank robbers who took hostages. He goes home and turns on the radio to find that every station is leading with that story. Even the Spanish-language station.