Friday, October 26, 2007

Never Give Up Hope

No doubt in response to my recent Danny Arnold post, Sony/Columbia is going to release the second season of Barney Miller four years after the first (not very good) season came out.

The show was still finding itself in the second season -- including its various, never-quite-successful attempts to come up with a regular female character -- but it was a lot better than the first season, and it mostly abandoned the first season's attempts to focus on Barney's home life. Also the second season saw the arrival of the three writers who, along with Danny Arnold, would do the most to set the style of the series: Reinhold Weege (later created Night Court), Tom Reeder (prolific freelancer) and Tony Sheehan (executive-produced King of Queens and... er... Mr. Belvedere).

One problem the first season had was that it used a format Arnold clearly wasn't comfortable with, the videotaped studio-audience format that All in the Family had popularized. (The unsold pilot of Barney Miller was shot single-camera on film.) To succeed in that format you traditionally need hard jokes that can make a studio audience roar, and Barney Miller probably had fewer hard jokes than any sitcom ever: half the time the punchlines were barely even jokes at all, just wry little character-based lines. (Dietrich, who makes his first appearance this season in the first of the "Fish" backdoor pilots, was the king of this kind of line: he says things deadpan, leaving whoever he's talking with to wonder if he's joking or not.) The first season sometimes didn't know if it wanted to be Barney Miller or the kind of broader, louder show that a videotaped sitcom is expected to be. By the second season the staff was more comfortable doing their own kind of humor, though you can sometimes hear that the studio audience doesn't get it (which may be another reason why they ditched the audience a couple of years later).

Now, the question is, when will Sony to put out the third season? 2025?


Anthony Strand said...

Yeah, that's great news. I was one of those people who didn't get the first season because it isn't that good, and I've been feeling guilty all this time. I'll get season two for sure.

Anonymous said...

What's more amazing is Arnold was able to make "Barney Miller" more cerebral (for want of a better term) at the same time Fred Silverman was arriving at ABC and giving the network its first-ever No. 1 ranking by basically dumbing-down the prime-time line-up, both in the sitcom and drama shows (Arnold was able to survive Fred's penchant for spin-offs, when he decided Abe Vigoda's character could carry a series on his own, but other than that Silverman seems to have allowed Danny to run the show his way).