Barney Miller
1975-1982 - ABC

 

This ensemble sitcom was set in a police station in Greenwich Village.  It starred Hal Linden (at right in the top photo) as Captain Barney Miller.  Early in the run, the writers introduced a recurring gay role for local color: Marty, a swishy purse snatcher.  When the first Marty scripts were written in late 1974, ABC censors worried the character was too much of a comic stereotype and would offend gay viewers.  This was just after ABC's second run-in with gay protesters over Marcus Welby, M.D., and network executives did not want a repeat performance.

The show's producer/creator, Danny Arnold, phoned the Gay Media Task Force (GMTF) and got its endorsement of the script.  ABC agreed and the episode aired.  Many gay viewers contacted GMTF and its East Coast counterpart, the National Gay Task Force, to say they were offended.  GMTF leader Newt Deiter took the complaints to Arnold and they agreed on a solution.  Marty would no longer be a criminal, and he would be given a lover, Darryl.  The episode introducing Darryl would deal with antigay harassment and blackmail.  Guest characters would include a nonstereotyped gay cop.  Arnold was excited about the idea: the script could be funny and poignant, and offered opportunities to develop some of the regular characters.

 

In the late 1970s, the major networks made a concerted effort to tone down stereotypes of comical male sissies (and homicidal lesbians).  This series is an example of how quickly things changed.  In 1975, Darryl and Marty (Ray Stewart, left, and Jack DeLeon) were effeminate and wore eccentric clothing.  Viewers knew little about them, and they were the show's only gay recurring roles.  By the 1979-1980 season, Barney Miller was offering a broader range of gay male types.  Darryl - now sporting a suit and tie - looked and sounded more mainstream, though Marty remained a very funny, over-the-top queen.  That season, the series added a third recurring gay role:  Officer Zitelli (Dino Natali), whose sexual orientation was known only to Capt. Miller and the viewers.

Early in the season, Zitelli wrote a letter to Internal Affairs saying he was a gay policeman in the 12th Precinct, and that the New York Police Department needed to end its discriminatory policies against gay officers.  His story and eventual coming out stretched across much of that season.


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