Jeff Baker: Barney Miller’s Gay Connection

This is the latest in Jeff’s series of articles looking at lgbt content in vintage US TV shows – and yet another series I’d never even heard of. It brings home how few US shows ever made it to this side of the pond and it’s always interesting to read about the ones that didn’t, and what made them stand out. (And I do love the ‘anonymous’ joke – read on to find it!)


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            One thing was certain when you entered the 12th Police Precinct of New York City; you would be treated with respect, a few quips and some questionable coffee. At least that was the way it was on the fine American sitcom “Barney Miller” which aired from 1975 to 1982. And LGBT people were welcome there too, from the very beginning.

            In fact, the series may have affected the course of LGBT history but that wasn’t obvious at the time.

            “Barney Miller” was a situation comedy about a squad room of detectives in New York City’s fictional 12th Precinct. The show premiered in January 1975 and within a few episodes Marty Morrison (played by Jack DeLeon) was brought in for shoplifting. Obviously and unapologetically Gay, Marty would be a semi-regular and would show up in several more episodes and we would be introduced to his partner Darryl Driscoll (Ray Stewart) by the end of the year.

            Marty: (entering the squad room.) “I love what you’ve done with the place!”

            Darryl: “Quit perpetuating a stereotype.”

            The pair would encounter the humanity and hilarity of the 12th as well as introducing viewers to Darryl’s ex-wife who tries to file for custody of their son, jealous of the good time he usually has with Darryl and Marty at fancy restaurants and shows.

            They were not the only Gay characters to traipse through the 12th. In the episode “Inquisition” Barney receives an anonymous note from an officer working in the building who outs himself just to say there is a Gay presence in the department. Word of the note reaches the heads of the NYPD and soon someone from Internal Affairs is snooping around. Barney learns that the writer is Officer Zatelli (played occasional guest star Dino Natali) but won’t tell. The hostile Lt. Scanlon of Internal Affairs (the hilarious George Murdock) demands to know who wrote the letter. Barney says the writer prefers to remain anonymous.

            “I wanna hear that from him!” Scanlon bellows.

            By the episode’s end, suspicions of each other among the Detectives have been quelled by Barney, and the case of a man who tried to trash a Muzak player is also resolved. (That was the sort of oddball the 12th frequently attracted.)

            While there are some Gay jokes in these episodes, often they show up the ignorance of the people making the jokes, and humanity and character are always put first in this well-acted, well-scripted series.

            Years later, a far-right anti-Gay activist revealed that he had gone to the network and voiced objections to the Gay characters on the show and the network had shot back “You mean, you object to them just because they’re Gay?”

            The activist said that the question had caught him unprepared and he didn’t know what to say.

            “Had I known how to respond,” he said later, “there would have been no “Will and Grace,” no Gay Marriage…” The pop culture perception of the LGBT movement affected the movement for real, and some of that can be traced back to this 70s sitcom.

            Barney Miller, even edited to make room for more commercials, is one of the best T. V. Comedies, no, best T. V. series ever. a familiar friend airing in countless reruns on cable and broadcast. And the subtle benefits of the interactions of the LGBT community with the men of the 12th are still being felt today.


4 thoughts on “Jeff Baker: Barney Miller’s Gay Connection

  1. Pingback: RoMMantic Reads: Barney Miller’s Gay Connection – EllieThomasRomance

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