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IMAGE: Barney Miller
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The classic 1970s series "Barney Miller," which hits DVD this week, was all about the characters, from sensible Barney to age-conscious Fish to kind-hearted Wojo.
By
TODAY.com
updated 10/24/2011 2:36:40 PM ET 2011-10-24T18:36:40

Even if you didn't know "Barney Miller" was set in 1970s New York, it would be evident from the opening credits. There they are, the Twin Towers, standing silver and calm behind the show's title while that distinctive bluesy theme song plays. Hey, old friends, it's nice to remember a time when you were just part of the scenery and didn't carry so many sad and tangled memories.

"Barney Miller: The Complete Series" comes out on DVD Oct. 25 in a 25-DVD set. Also included: A 40-page memory booklet, cast interviews and episode commentaries, and season one of Abe Vigoda's "Fish" spinoff, which has never been on DVD before.

The show was all about the characters. They had stereotypical attributes, sure, but they also stood out as real people, even with a laugh track. Here are a few classic moments from the series:

Jack Soo's Nick Yemana was known for his bad coffee, but in one episode he reveals to Barney that he is using rain water that's leaking through the ceiling to make a fresh pot. "It's coming through the ceiling, that moldy, termite-infested ceiling!" protests Barney. "It filters out the impurities," Yemana insists. (Watch the scene.)

Abe Vigoda, who played Phil Fish, is still with us today, at age 90. But even in the 1970s, Fish was the oldster of the precinct. In a touching scene, Barney tells him he doesn't think of him as old, but as experienced. "In an emergency, you'd be the first one I'd call," the captain says loyally. "You should call me first, I need time to put my teeth in," Fish responds.  (Watch the scene.)

Steve Landesberg's brainy Arthur Dietrich always had a little too much information. When a young black teenager called him "honky," he's not offended, instead he explains the word's etymology. (Who knew it derived from the nasal tone African-Americans believed Caucasians speak with?) His explaination unnerves the kid more than a deluge of profanity ever could have. (Watch the scene.)

Story: 'Jurassic Park' has one of scariest scenes ever

Hal Linden's calm and cool Captain Barney Miller held the entire station together, but when he erupted, stand back. He once threatened to stuff a towel in the mouth of a loudmouthed guy in the jail cell. When the guy blasted back that he wasn't scared, Miller's response was "You haven't seen our towel!" (Watch the scene.)

In a classic episode, Wojo's girlfriend made brownies for the squad, but this being the 1970s, they were hash brownies. When Miller finds out, he orders Ron Glass' always cool and classy Nathan Harris to have them analyzed. Which he does, by tossing another one in his mouth. "NOT THAT WAY!" howls Miller. He later tells Harris to "stay home till you feel better." "OK, Barn, I'll stay, but I ain't never gonna feel no better," a herbally happy Harris announces. (Watch the scene.)

Max Gail's Stan Wojciehowicz's was a gentle soul, one who often seemed too kind for a police job. In one episode, Miller tries to explain racism to Harris by using a Polish joke. The gag is funny, but the scene itself is less humorous than it is sweet. "Well I thought (racial) differences weren't important," Wojo says. "They're not, but they are." Miller responds, only confusing the matter further. (Watch the scene.)

There were so many more New York-set shows in the 1970s, it seemed, and the issues surrounding Puerto Rican immigrants and those of Puerto Rican descent were everywhere. In one "Barney Miller" scene, Gregory Sierra's Chano Amanguale, himself Puerto Rican, chastises a Puerto Rican teen for getting in trouble. He complains to the kid that when a fellow Puerto Rican gets in trouble, he feels he has to hide his own background, and puts on a classy British accent to show how he manages that. (Watch the scene.)

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is TODAY.com's movies editor. She is the co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s."

Are you a fan of the classic show? Which detective was your favorite? Tell us on Facebook.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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