Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Barney" Googles

Just after we got done discussing how claustrophilic, how confined to so few sets "Barney Miller" was, I saw episode seven of season two, in which Wojciehowicz and Linda Lavin (as Detective Wentworth) go on a stakeout in a fancy hotel. It sure was weird to see them venture outside the squadroom. The crew seemed totally uncertain of how to light the scene.

That was the third consecutive episode in which Linda Lavin appeared, although she never made it into the opening credits. She was much less annoying here than she was in "Alice," although the entire OPC staff was privileged to see her on Broadway in Gypsy back in the early 1990s. Gypsy, of course, is the greatest American musical of the twentieth century. Coincidentally, she now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where the entire OPC staff is headed in a few weeks.

Up to this point, Lavin has as big a role in the second season as Jack Soo, who has missed more episodes than he's appeared in, I assume for health reasons. Barbara Barrie, who is still second-billed in the opening credits, has appeared in only one episode as the luckless Liz Miller. I guess it must be cumbersome and costly to reshoot and re-edit opening credits. In that episode, there's someone named Mike sitting at the customarily absent Yemana's desk; Liz calls him "Mike" about five times, as if to establish that he has been a regular denizen of the Twelfth Precinct in the past and to prepare us to see him for a while, but that was his one and only appearance on "Barney Miller."

Finally, while researching this post, I came across the following, referring to the hotel episode I mentioned above:

The smoldering romance between Wojo and Wentworth was actually part of Danny Arnold's grand plan to please ABC's insatiable appetite for a spinoff series, preferably starring Fish. The producer refused--why jeopardize the chemistry of Barney Miller by pulling Fish out of the squad room for his own series? Instead, Arnold's novel solution proposed pulling all of the detectives out of the squad room--one at a time--for a separate anthology series that each week would examine the private life of a different member of the squad. Wentworth and Wojo's romance was projected as the basis for one storyline; and alternating episodes might pick up Barney's life at home with Liz, or perhaps the camera would follow Fish home to a house full of wayward foster kids. Unfortunately, the producer abandoned the project as too ambitious for Barney Miller's already overworked staff, though he did salvage the latter storyline as the basis for the Fish spinoff, which finally aired two years later.


Pike said...

The notion of seeing each character's private life played out in single episodes strikes me as shockingly dumb coming from someone who devised a good ensemble series (and one that arguably influenced many ensemble series that came after). It sounds about as appealing as witnessing the vivisection of a child.

Gavin said...

Modifying opening credits is cumbersome more on a contractual level than on a production level.

Witness House, where the former supporting cast has been moved to the sidelines, but still linger in the show's opening credits.

Pike said...

"Witness House" was actually the original working title of "In Plain Sight."