Barney Miller Seasons 1 and 2 - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 1 Old 03-16-08, 04:30 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
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Barney Miller Seasons 1 and 2

Barney Miller is finally being released on DVD. It was a popular eight
season sitcom that ran from 1975-1982. Thus far seasons 1 and 2 are available on standard DVD. And standard DVD is all they should be seen
on. In the fifties and sixties, most sit coms, dramas and programs in
general were shot on 35mm film. The networks broadcast them
once and occasionally reran them in 35mm. Then those sold
to syndication would be shown in 16mm. Beginning with
Norman Leer programs like "All in the Family" and "Sandford and Son",
networks began to shoot and broadcast shows on videotape either
two inch or one inch which was an unfortunate choice. Videotape
was extremelly unstable and would deteriorate over time. You could
keep recopying it to newer tape for reruns but each generation loss would be
evident since it was an analog medium. Anyone who made VHS to VHS
copy knows what I'm talking about. The tape would shed oxide
particles each time it was run. Sometimes they would become
completely unplayable or stick together as they degraded.
Shows shot on film have held up much better. Film can be transferred to any digital format without a loss of quality. They can also be transferred to high definition. Shows shot on video are stuck with the resolution they were photographed on
(525 lines) and look poor when they are bumped up to high definition.
Anything based on magnetic data is not archival.

Barney Miller was one of those sitcoms photographed on videotape. Given
it's time span I would guess that they started with two inch tape and finished broadcasting on one inch tape. The disc sets in general look acceptable but some are bit fuzzier and grainier than others, specifically
those on season one. My guess is that they didn't have the
originial two inch tapes to work with and some episodes were derived from duplicate tapes used for syndication. I didn't see any static
or drop outs so they were in better shape than older ones from the early seventies. The lighting is very flat which was typical for all shows on tape. You didn't have a good contrast ratio in that medium. All you could do is
blast the set with lots of high key lighting without nuance.
It takes some time to get used to if your accustomed to contemporary
shows which have better lighting.

The program itself is very amusing and fun to watch. I only saw the first
season in its network broadcast. I was attending NYU for the rest of the seventies and didn't watch any sitcoms except for "Mary Hartman" late
at night. I was afraid the show would date since they incorporated the
politics of the time which was high inflation, unemployment and New
York City's fiscal insolvency. This was the pre-Guiliani era so there
was also high crime and Times Square was populated with drug dealers
and prostitutes as portrayed in Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" which was made
in the same era. However, unlike that movie, this show depicts urban
decay for satire. I don't think it dates that much since it's a
character driven sitcom and the main cast is very good. There aren't
any big laughs in the series. They tend to play the humor in a low key
fashion deriving it's jokes from the personalities and crazies they arrest.

Most of the series takes place in a run down, rat infested squad room
where a group of detectives work under the guidance of their Captain
who's name is show's title. Hal Linden plays Miller who is a sarcastic
and world weary middle aged man but has a soft spot and often drops
charges against first time offenders or people he feels sorry for.
Linden is the perfect anchor for the series and you can identify
with him. One of the curios of the show is that he has a generally
off screen wife played by Barbara Barrie. The pilot episode featured
her and she gets co-star credit in these two seasons but rarely
makes an appearance. My guess is that they signed her up for a
long term contract based on the pilot but discovered she didn't register
with viewers so they focussed on the rest of the crew of the
precinct instead. Abe Vigoda (Tessio in "The Godfather" in 1972) plays
a burned out cop named Fish, waiting for forced retirement in a
couple of years. He's one of the funniest characters since he's
so cynical and grumpy that they often just cut to his gloomy
looking face for a reaction to make you chuckle. He looks a bit
like a balding Boris Karloff which is often referred to. Another
wise cracking character is Detective Yemana played by
Japanese actor, Jack Soo. He spends much of his time betting on
horses rather than police work and there's a running gag about
the attrocious coffee he makes from the contaminated
water in the building. Soo spent his youth in a Roosevelt
internment camp during World War II so they work that in for
his character too. Max Gail plays the goofy Polish Detective
named Wojociehowicz which no one can pronounce. He has
the tendency to flirt with the prostitutes they pick up. Ron Glass
plays a super cool black detective along the lines of Shaft who is
well read and quotes famous poets or writers. Gerogory Sierra
(Julio in "Sandford and Son") is a hot tempered Latino Detective
who flies off the handle and when he gets frustrated.

Aside from the lead characters, much of the humor is derived
from the New York crazies they arrest and interact with. This is
a politically incorrect show so when they pick up transvestites
they are portrayed in an over the top manner. The show is rather
sympathetic to these characters but does not treat them in a
reverential manner as they are today. Since I lived in Greenwich
Village for four years, what people might consider 'stereotypes'
today are actually accurate depictions of sub-culture denizens who
dressed and acted in an intentionally bizarre manner back then.
Many were exhibitionists which is where the stereotypes
were derived from.

Others they arrest are drug dealers, junkies, massage
parlor hookers and con men. This is one of those shows that
has compounding appeal. The more episodes you watch,
the funnier it is based on your familiarity with the characters.
For example, in one episode Fish is suffering from hemaroids
(among a multitude of old age problems) and is considering an
operation to alleviate them. When they arrest a doctor and
put him a holding cell, the physician talks about surgeons who
accidentaly leave instruments inside the patient. When they
cut to Fish's reaction to this it's hysterical. It's also touching
when Miller gives someone a break. When a college student is
arrested for selling pot (very common at NYU), he let's him go
with a warning rather than a felony record at such a young age.

I look forward to the later seasons if they are released and the
tape masters are usable. Unfortunately, Jack Soo died during
the run of the series and isn't in the final seasons. So I recommend
this show with the proviso that you don't attempt to project it on a
DLP or large screen monitor. If you've never seen it before,
you'll have to watch a number of episodes to become
involved with the characters to appreciate
it's humor.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 03-17-08 at 10:52 AM.
Richard W. Haines is offline  


barney , miller , seasons

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