One of the television shows that define the phrase “Classic TV” is the ’70s cop sitcom Barney Miller, starring Hal Linden as the title character who serves as captain of New York’s 12th Precinct. For the newest installment of CloserWeekly.com’s Classic TV & Film Podcast, we sit down with Hal to reflect on the show, its impact on his career and why, most importantly, it’s stood the test of time.
Set at New York’s 12th Precinct (located in Greenwich Village), the show focused on the ensemble of cops and the various perps that would be brought into the station. Among the former were Abe Vigoda as Fish, Max Gail as Wojciehowicz, Ron Glass as Harris, Jack Soo as Yemana, Gregory Sierra as Chano, Steve Landesberg as Dietrich, and Ron Carey as Levitt.
“It took a long time for people to catch onto it and become fans,” Hal tells us during our exclusive conversation. “The reason? It wasn’t in your face. It was very subtle, basically. It was relationship, not punchlines. And everybody played it relatively realistically. All the comedy came from outside, in our reaction to the people coming in from outside, and that was not something that was expected in that time. Everything else was more straight line/punchlines. It was more sketchy than realistic. Happy Days, that’s what was expected. And there’s a lot of shows today that are quite sketchy. But [series creator] Danny Arnold envisioned it very differently, and he put the limitations on our doing shtick. His limitation was, ‘Would you go to a police officer for help who behaved like that?’ There was a lid on everything. You could never go too far just to get a laugh. You had to be a police officer, a real police officer that could do his job. Actually, that lesson stood me in good stead for the rest of my television career in terms of what works, how far you can go, or how far not to go.”
If you haven’t heard it yet, check out our Classic TV & Film podcast featuring Barry Williams from The Brady Bunch!