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‘Barney Miller’: Why the Popular Show Ended Too Soon

‘Barney Miller’: Why the Popular Show Ended Too Soon

When you bring up classic TV and the guys at the 12th Precinct, there’s only one show you’re talking about: Barney Miller.

Hal Linden starred as Captain Barney Miller, whose leadership proved valuable in the squad room. Yet this show stuck around on ABC for eight fabulous seasons. The acting, writing, and storylines were so good they kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Oh yeah, we cannot forget the laughs as well. After all, Barney Miller was a sitcom that found a home as part of a red-hot ABC lineup in the 1970s.

Ratings-wise, in four of its eight seasons, the show was among television’s top 20 on the air. In its eighth season, Barney Miller finished at No. 54 in the Nielsen ratings. Even with all of its seasons behind it, the sitcom could have stayed on ABC for another season at least. If that’s the case, why did the sitcom end too soon?

Show creator Danny Arnold is the man behind that decision. Arnold, who had previous producing credits from Bewitched and That Girl, did not want the show repeating script ideas. It was his own call to stop Barney Miller from going back on ABC. It was not, in this case, the decision of the network.

‘Barney Miller’ Held Together By Great Cast

Looking back at reruns of this show, which air on FeTV and are available on Tubi, it does have a kind of 1970s feel. There were times when cast members were allowed to reference the actual year they were filming an episode. Usually, sitcoms steered away from doing this to avoid dating the show.

What a cast this show had over its long run. Linden is a musician, playing the clarinet at different times. Abe Vigoda, whose presence was felt in The Godfather, played Detective Fish. His dour look on life, along with his phone calls from his wife Bernice, added special touches. Arnold even gave Vigoda a spin-off series titled Fish, which didn’t pan out. Vigoda returned to Barney Miller for a little more time.

Maxwell Gail played Thaddeus “Wojo” Wojciehowicz, who rose from a Detective to a Sergeant. Wojo had his moments of being a little too overzealous. Yet he also had a playful side to him as well, trying to make Barney laugh here and there. Ron Glass played Ron Nathan Harris, who also went from Detective to Sergeant’s badge. Harris always looked fantastic in his suits. Plus, he got lost in his writing career at times, too. Eventually, Harris did get a manuscript published and saw his dreams come true.

Another veteran actor is James Gregory, who played Deputy Inspector Frank Luger. Now Luger is an old-school cop who has more stories about being on duty with the NYPD Blue than you. He’s usually trying to get Barney’s attention, yet also yucks it up with others in the 12th Precinct. Luger sometimes gets caught up in his own thoughts as well. Just another character who adds his touch to the 12th.

Jack Soo Left Indelible Mark on Show

Jack Soo played beloved Detective Nick Yemana, who always had a quick line or a bad cup of coffee available. A running joke became just how bad Yemana made the coffee. It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But he was a good detective. Sadly, Soo died from cancer in 1979. The show dedicated its fifth-season finale to Soo.

Steve Landesberg appeared as Sergeant Arthur Dietrich, a rather intellectual soul. Dietrich could get lost in long soliloquies, looking toward the answers to the world’s problems. Landesberg became a cast regular in the show’s latter seasons. Gregory Sierra, who also played Julio on Sanford and Son, starred as Sergeant Miguel “Chano” Amenguale for two seasons. He starts speaking in Spanish when either getting excited or frustrated. Ron Carey caught a role for five seasons as Officer Carl Levitt. He’s always trying to impress Barney in the hopes he gets a raise. But that doesn’t work out. Levitt also has a unique way of leaving the squad room by the door.

My goodness, there were a host of guest stars over the seasons, too. Barney Miller tackled societal issues like homosexuality and racism. Yet its focus was on the humor, something Arnold was devoted to doing all the time. The show won a slew of awards during its run. Even the New York Police Department gave Barney Miller high marks for how it handled cases. It ultimately was Arnold’s call to end the show when he did. But it left a lot of fans wanting more from their favorite characters.