Well, this is a pleasant surprise: the third season of Barney Miller is finally going to be released on DVD. March 17 is the release date. I was surprised enough that they released the second, and first good, season; I thought there wouldn’t be anything more after that one, but it looks like we will get the first really great season of this most idiosyncratic of hit network comedies.
This was the last season with Abe Vigoda’s Fish as a regular, and the first with Steve Landesberg’s Dietrich appearing on a consistent basis (he’d only appeared once in season two), and it includes many of the series’ most famous episodes, including “Werewolf” and “Hash.”
In historical terms, Barney Miller is a very important show (as well as a great one) for several reasons. It was the first cop show to focus on mundane cases and the personal lives of the cops, and thereby paved the way for cop dramas that would take the same approach. (It’s worth remembering that in the ’70s, most of the innovative work was being done in half-hour comedies; dramas were very formulaic and it was the sitcoms that had the character development, story arcs, etc. Very different from today, where hour-long shows are the place where the experimentation takes place.) And it was also the first show to do multi-plot episodes on a regular basis. The concept of the “B” story essentially didn’t exist in TV when Barney Miller came on the air, but not only did it tell more than one story per episode, but it often told two or more stories that were equal in importance and screen time. In this, too, it became a big influence on cop shows that would follow, as well as other sitcoms.