John Corson's Blog

WRITING & RANTING
for April 7, 2021

BARNEY MILLER & THE GOOD OLE DAYS

Let me take a trip back in time to the year 1981.

On an given weekday evening, around 7 pm, you would find me sitting on a bar stool at the counter that separated my kitchen from the dining room. There would be a little black and white TV - I'd say the screen was a 12 incher, and it sat just a foot or so away from the bar counter, atop the kitchen counter which was connected to it. To the left of the TV and closer to the kitchen sink there was a small deep fryer with a basket big enough to hold two potatoes cut into strips to form French fries. In the fryer was the oil already hot and set to fry those potatoes.

The cutting board on which the potatoes were prepared sat in between the fryer and the sink. The potatoes being already peeled and the peeling thrown in the garbage pale underneath the sink.

Then, the ABC Evening news was winding up and signing off. While two minutes of commercials aired, the potato slices were dropped into the deep fryer and I would pour a Pepsi into a glass, or maybe a glass of ice tea, and mount upon on of those bar stools to await the intro scene of the sitcom Barney Miller. That opening scene set the stage for a good solid silly half-hour of comedy from a show already in syndication while the weekly broadcast was ending up the seventh season and on the way to the eighth and final season. Two to three minutes into the half-hour, we see and hear what wacky thing the cops of the old 12th precinct were doing to be dealing with for the remaining portion of the show and then came the dulcet sounds of a bass guitar introducing the theme to Barney Miller.

The TV set had been properly tuned to the local ABC channel out of Baltimore, WJZ, Channel 13, which aired the program each week night. By the time the first set of commercial which followed the theme were over, the fries were done and salted and I, along with my wife would sit at the counter in front of the TV and eat those fries and laugh our butts off at the wholesome comedy being aired. Our oldest son would be playing in his room while the youngest was kicking inside his mother with all ferocity. He would be born in October and we would continue watching Barney Miller each evening while he was put down for his evening nap.

By the summer of 1981 and before Brad was born, I discovered that the local Safeway grocery store located a couple miles from the house had the best potato salad that - to this date - I have ever put into my mouth. It was full of egg, not to sharp with the dill, a slight taste of mustard and with an Amish flair. I don't know what else the deli folks put in it or the exact recipe used, I would by a quart of it and Vickie and I would slowly eat through it by the end of the week. The potato salad was a great substitute for French fries and most of the time we would alternate between the two during the week.

But it was all Barney Miller. Nothing else matter at 7 o'clock but Barney Miller. Now why I go on about this is because I have recently discovered a channel on my Verizon FiOS channels that air two episodes at midnight each night, seven nights a week. Whereas I am usually in bed at that time, I have my DVR recording both episodes which I watch the next evening after Janice goes to bed.

The antics of Sgt. Detective Phil Fish (played by Godfather alumni Abe Vigoda), with his ever so dry sense of humor and slow paced walk with quick responses almost makes me lose my water with laughter. Detective 1st Grade Ron Harris (played by Ron Glass) with his snappy attire and his quirks for cleanliness and precision are also laugh makers. Then there is Sgt. Detective Nick Yamana (played by Jack Soo) who usually responds to a question or discussion with two or three word responses that make your heads spin twice and your mouth go "Huh?" followed by intense laughter. Poor Nick, they think he is Chinese but is of Japanese stock and can't make a decent pot of coffee, yet the other detectives in the squad rely on him to make it.

In the first two years, Fish, Harris and Yamana were fellow detectives to regulars Detective 3rd Grade Stan Wojciehowicz (played by Max Gail), Sgt. Detective Miguel Amengual (played by Gregory Sierra) and their fearless leader for whom the show is named, Captain Barney Miller, played by Hal Linden. At the end of the second season, Sgt. Amengual leaves the show and halfway through the third season Sgt. Detective Arthur Dietrich joins the squad. Fish retires at the beginning of the fourth season and Vigoda goes on to do a spin off of the show and properly called Fish.

When Fish retires Yamana becomes the ranking detective. Jack Soo dies halfway through the fifth season and a special memorial episode was aired, with the actors breaking character and recalling their favorite Yemana scenes. The episode ended with the entire cast raising their coffee cups in tribute.

From that time on, the number of detectives working for Capt. Miller were three: Wojciehowicz (called "Wojo"), Harris and Dietrich. Officer Carl Levitt became a regular on the show in season 3. He was played by Ron Carey and a recurring regular was Assistant Inspector Frank Lugar, rambling, out-of-touch, and unapologetically old-school superior who frequently drops by the precinct to "chat with" Barney "in his office."  He was played by James Gregory.

Barney Miller is my all-time favorite sitcom. I highly regard it as better than All in the Family, and it's numerous spin-offs, I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, Cheers, Frasier, Scrubs, Roseanne, M*A*S*H,  and my three other personal favorites The Golden Girls, Happy Days, and Last Man Standing.

I don't know what it is about Barney Miller. The show's focus was split between the detectives' interactions with each other and with the suspects and witnesses they detained, processed, and interviewed. Some typical conflicts and long-running plotlines included Miller's frustration with red tape and paperwork, his constant efforts to maintain peace, order, and discipline, and his numerous failed attempts to get a promotion; Harris's preoccupation with outside interests, such as his living arrangements but mainly his novel (Blood on the Badge), and his inability to remain focused on his police work; Fish's age-related health issues, marital problems, and reluctance to retire; Wojciehowicz's impulsive behavior and love life; Luger's nostalgia for the old days with partners Foster, Kleiner, and "Brownie" Brown; Levitt's quest to become a detective (which is eventually successful); the rivalry between the precinct's resident intellectuals, Harris and Dietrich; and continually but reliably bad coffee, usually made by Yemana.

The typical episode featured the detectives of the 12th bringing in several complainants and/or suspects to the squad room. Usually, two or three separate subplots are in a given episode, with different officers dealing with different crimes. Rarely, about once a year, an episode would feature one or more of the detectives outside of the walls of the precinct, either on a stakeout or at their homes.

The show was just what I call well-witted fun and just plain hilarious. When I watch it nowadays, it brings back memories of those homemade french-fries, my kitchen and dining areas in Maryland, my kids when they were toddlers/infants (or being carried as in the case of pre-born Brad). For me, as you have perhaps read elsewhere on these pages, 1981 and 1982 were the best of times and the best of times (sprinkled with a little bit of boredom on one side and excitement on the other).

I don't know why I chose to write today about a silly sitcom. But it was on my mind. Now that it is lunchtime, I think I will go and get some fries and a Pepsi somewhere. I don't have that deep fryer anymore and we don't keep Pepsi's in the house.

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Blogging

Blogs are about the blogger. It's as if he or she merely toots their own horns about the things they do, say and love.

My life is boring. I read, I watch Glenn Beck and Mark Levin. I listen to Andrew Wilkow. I engage in some conversation with those who are willing to listen (they being masochistic and enjoy killing themselves with my banter).

I plan on just laying out the things that bother me and the things I love. Nothing in-between. I hope you find whatever I put here amusing.