Barney Miller is back. Recently, star Hal Linden spoke to the AV Club about the popular ABC sitcom.
Created by Danny Arnold and Theodore J. Flicker, the series followed the detectives of New York’s fictional 12th precinct. Linden played the lead, Captain Barney Miller, alongside Abe Vigoda, Max Gail, Ron Glass, Jack Soo, Gregory Sierra, and James Gregory. The show ran on ABC for eight seasons before ending in 1982.
In the interview, Linden said the role was always meant for him:
But at the time, I had a musical in one hand and a TV series in the other hand, and I very cavalierly said, “Well, we’ve done Broadway. Let’s try television.” A cavalier decision, but look how it impacted my life. Can you imagine if I’d made the other decision? The show folded in three weeks!”
He later added that he sometimes grew tired of always being the straight man:
Well, in the beginning, you didn’t know. It was just a script. It was about you, you executed it, and you didn’t know what was next. Or I didn’t know, anyway. But then we got to the hash brownies episode, which is probably the quintessential Barney Miller episode. And if you notice in that, everybody’s got an aria. Everybody’s got a moment to react stoned. Jack Soo sings. Abe Vigoda leaped from building to building. Max [Gail] started to cry. Ron Glass giggled. Everybody had their own little reaction to it… except me. Because I said, “I’m putting on too much weight. I don’t want any brownies.” And at some point, either while we were shooting it or afterwards, I said to Danny, “Everybody gets an aria but me.” And he said—and this is the wisdom, so think about it—“I have to have somebody to compare them to.”
Linden said he thinks the show still holds up because of the quality of the acting:
So all of the stuff in Barney Miller by all of the actors was approached not as a piece of comedic material but as a piece of acting that had to be accomplished. And quite honestly, I think that’s why the piece stands up today. You can sit down and watch Barney Miller episodes today, and they’re still hysterical. People have seen them a dozen times. Because the construction of the piece was never jokes. There are very few jokes in the show. There’s a lot of situation humor that had to do with character, situation, action… All the stuff of acting, not “straight line, punch line.”
What do you think? Are you a fan of Barney Miller? What are you favorite moments from the show?