Ken Levine shares some memories of Barney Miller creator Danny Arnold, one of the greatest producers television has ever known, and one of the craziest. Tom Reeder (a writer of many episodes of Barney Miller and Night Court) also has a story about pitching a story to Arnold.
You don’t hear a lot of stories today about producers who are quite that volatile. Not in television, anyway. The angry TV producer, screaming at subordinates, always on the verge of his next heart attack, and screwing people out of credit (when the director took his name off an early episode of Barney Miller, Arnold took the directing credit for himself), seems to have gone out of fashion. (When Don Bellisario was forced out as the showrunner of NCIS, that may have been the end of an era.) Today’s producers, even ones who fight the hardest for their vision, need to have some measure of diplomatic skill, otherwise they’d never be able to get their vision past the increasing number of network executives.
Arnold, who got into TV writing after finding middling success as a comedian (it’s not like Larry David or Judd Apatow invented that trajectory), can be seen below in a cameo on another show he produced, That Girl.
“There was a time when making Barney Miller a hit on the air was my life. I cared about nothing else. That was all I was concerned with. And I told my wife and I told my children if it costs me my relationship with my family, I’m committing five years of my life to making the best television show I can possibly make. Whatever it costs, under any circumstance. And I hocked my house, and I gave up my salary and I did everything to give the show a chance to start going. And that’s what you have to do.” — Danny Arnold