Best Sitcoms- Barney Miller

Continuing in the Golden Age of sitcoms- the 1970s- we come to Barney Miller; a show whose titular character was not even that funny, but who was a police captain in a precinct filled with zany cops and zanier prisoners.

Like many other successful sitcoms, it spawned a spinoff series, Fish, helmed by one of the series' early regulars, Abe Vigoda. That show bombed but Barney Miller ran for 8 seasons on ABC.

The other officers (mostly detectives) included a Polish cop who was legendarily dumb, Wojo (Max Gail), a snazzy black cop, Harris (Ron Glass), a gambling Japanese cop, Yemana (Jack Soo), and Puerto Rican Chano (Gregory Sierra). Later characters who were added, as other characters left or died, were gung ho Inspector Luger (James Gregory), Napoleon complected short cop Levitt (Ron Carey), and Jewish intellectual Dietrich (Steve Landesberg). While the first season featured home scenes between Barney and his wife (Barbara Barrie), later episodes were strictly set in the detective's squad room, and the very idea of rotating fruitcakes was later copied by the good (not great) 1980s sitcom Night Court. In essence, the sitcom became a de facto 24 minute comic play, with only one set available. After the second season it was very rare that any action took place off the main squad room set.

The multi-ethnic cast of the show resembled, in a superficial way, the cast of another ABC sitcom of the era, the juvenile delinquents known as Sweathogs on Welcome Back, Kotter, with the Miller character as the grownup Mr. Kotter stand in trying to reign in the juvenile antics of his 'children.' The differences between the two shows, however, were more than just the age of the characters and settings. Barney Miller was taut and well written, and featured, in my book, the best large ensemble of comedic actors in television history.

Think about it: I Love Lucy was all Lucille Ball. The Bob Newhart Show had great supporting roles, but none of them rivaled Newhart himself. Gilligan's Island, The Honeymooners, and The Odd Couple were all propelled by great comedy duos. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and M*A*S*H* had good ensembles, but Barney Miller, with its play-like atmosphere, delved further into character and 'situations,' whereas M*A*S*H* simply ran too long and had too many flaccid and preachy episodes.

Barney Miller, however, went out on the top of its game.

As a final note, and as a youth who had my unfair share of dealings with the NYC Police of the 1970s (from Serpico to Barney Miller) there is utter truth to the claim that Barney Miller is and was the most realistic cop show ever to grace television. Forget all the glamorized portrayals in dramas from Dragnet to the CSI franchises; Barney Miller was it, just as (in many ways) Welcome Back, Kotter (along with The White Shadow) was the best representation of high school kids ever put on tv (if you overlook the fact of thirtysomethings playing teenagers).

Barney Miller was a classic of the sitcom genre, and a great piece of American television entertainment.