Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The story behind "Hash"

Kendall Rivers had a Friday Question about the 70's sitcom BARNEY MILLER.  (It since has become an entire post)  Here's the FQ:

Could you get Tom Reeder to give a full backstory of the behind the scenes of Hash from the germ of the idea to the taping?

Happily, I was able to do that. Tom is a good friend and graciously agreed to answer your question. By the way, that is my single favorite episode of BARNEY MILLER.

This episode got written over forty years ago, so I can't say, "Oh, I remember it like it was yesterday." I went through some of the dusty clutter in my office, though, and found some notes. The original title on my first story outline for it was "The Gift" (the hash brownies given to Wojehowicz by a woman named Gloria). It had a B story about a guy who turned himself in after being AWOL from the Marine Corps for 16 years. On the next pass, that element went away and the title changed to "Pot". That lasted until the second draft of the teleplay. Someone -- it may have been Reinhold Weege -- made the sensible suggestion that the secret ingredient in the brownies be changed from marijuana to hashish, because its effects come on more quickly, which helped move the story along.

By the way, I don't think I made the original pitch of the "everybody gets stoned" notion. During that time in the middle of the third season, there were some changes happening in the production staff. As I recall, Chris Hayward was leaving and Roland Kibbee was coming in; I think maybe Kibbee was the one who lobbed that germ of a story idea. I also want to mention that in the final draft of the teleplay, Reiny contributed a lot of good dialogue. We were both new writers then; Barney Miller was the show on which both of us got our first writing assignments.

I have no idea how much past personal experience (if any) influenced the actors' performances, but I think we'd all agree that they were convincing -- particularly Jack Soo. I loved his interpretation of the song "It's Almost Like Being in Love" at the end of Act One. That song is from the musical "Brigadoon", and I had been in a production of that show while in high school. It popped into my head when I was writing the script. As Ken will attest, you never know where inspiration is going to come from.

Thanks so much to Tom Reeder. He also wrote some of the best episodes of MASH and CHEERS.

And here is the episode itself.    Set aside a few minutes.  It's well worth watching.


John H. said...

Classic episode from a classic series. Thank you for posting this Ken.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

What really strikes me watching that is that there are *no women*. Even in the production team there are hardly any - the casting director, and two or three more. I never watched BARNEY MILLER when it was on, and I'm now wondering whether this is part of why I never cared for it.

Not a criticism of you, Ken.


VincentS said...

One of the great episodes of all time.

VincentS said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: Several writers - including yourself - have complained about civilians throwing story ideas and in some cases scripts at them and some professional writers remedy that by simply lying about what they do for a living. One writer not only told people he was in the livestock business, he took the precaution of learning everything he could about the livestock business in case he was tested by a would-be writer! Have you ever lied about your profession to avoid the aforementioned situations?

Rock Golf said...

"Barney, Barney, Barney....
...Is your mother from Killarney?"

"First time in my life I feel good and it's illegal!"

How many sitcom episodes can you quote from memory after 40 years?

Tom Asher said...

This was awesome, thank you!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Ken. It was the funniest episode of Barney Miller. Jack Soo was a treasure.

Pam, St. Louis

Michael said...

Mushi mushi.

I have one nutty question. Jack Soo did Flower Drum Song. What if he had done one of the songs from THAT?

I also have to say, this was the funniest episode of Barney Miller. To me the most special one will always be the Jack Soo tribute because, if you think about it, it was incredibly unusual for a TV show's actors to be themselves instead of their characters in an episode, and it was so lovingly done.

Mike Doran said...

You have to be At Least My Age (ALMA-tm) to remember that Jack Soo had a considerable career on stage for years before coming to TV.
If you get the chance, check out the 1961 movie version of Flower Drum Song.
Jack Soo plays Sammy Fong, the comic/romantic second lead here.
He's got two big songs: "Sunday, Sweet Sunday" (duet with Nancy Kwan), and "Don't Marry Me" (semi-duet with Miyoshi Umeki) - knocks 'em both out of the park.
Dated as it may be (and please please PLEASE don't use That Other Phrase), it's still Rodgers & Hammerstein - and even second-tier R&H is way above average.

Actually, what's really hard to watch in this one - for me, anyway - is young Max Gail.
Max just wrapped up a stint on General Hospital.
These days, Max Gail is 74, with a white fringe, a bald pate, a chin wattle, and his character had Alzheimer's.
They're talking Daytime Emmy for him, but still …

LouOCNY said...

Thanks Tom and Ken - my favorite BARNEY - and possibly sitcom episode of all time. Until he passed away a few years ago, all my stepbrother and I would have to do is look at one another, and go, "mooshy, mooshy" to the other, and we'd both crack up laughing......

On a side note, this episode is landmark for the show, as it's here Leavitt becomes the ass kissing Carl Leavitt, we came to love.

Cedricstudio said...

“Anybody seen my legs?”

Anonymous said...

I can confess to doing this. I used tell people I stole exotic cars for a living...A writer friend who didn't know me at the time overheard me telling someone else my job and for months after would ask me everyday how I did my job.

One day or night as it were, we were at a "writer's" party and he spotted me and the game was over.

We're good friends now - and even wrote together - but he was pissed off at the time.

Tudor Queen said...

Thank you so much for posting that classic episode.

"Barney Miller" was one of my favorite comedy series of its time. The writing, acting and directing were all wonderful and worked together to present something rare back then - a workplace comedy that was thoughtful as well as funny, and gave us characters instead of caricatures. I can still quote a number of episodes, especially "Hash".

I was very sad when Ron Glass died a few years ago. Harris was one of my favorite characters and I enjoyed him so much that I kind of resented the fact that Barney didn't seem to like him much. I've loved Hal Linden since I saw him on Broadway in "The Rothschilds" (for which he won a Tony!) and he's still alive and acting.

Anyway, thanks again. And, to sign off:

"Mushy, mushy!"

KLAC Guy said...

Thanks for posting this. I have never seen it before and I really enjoyed it.

VillageDianne said...

That was a great show. While we're on the subject, here's the groovy brownie scene from the movie I Love You Alice B. Toklas.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Frank Beans said...

@ Wendy M. Grossman:

What really strikes me watching that is that there are *no women*.

The show actually had as its original premise that it would focus on the tension between home/family life and cop life of Barney Miller, hence the title. Barbara Barrie portrayed his wife, and his teenage children (one girl, one boy) were present as well. Even Abe Vigoda's Fish character had some wife and family drama as a central premise for a time.

What I believe happened was simple demographics: As a cop show in the 1970s, ABC wanted to focus on male viewership--its target audience--which by some network logic means writing out female characters. I don't know the extent to which show creator Danny Arnold agreed with this choice, but it clearly went there after the first season.

I might add that the explicit focus on racial tensions and NYC politics fell away soon after as well. I don't know if that was a coincidence.

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Doran: I think Max Gail looks better now than he did on Barney Miller. You won't find many comb-forwards worse than Wojo's.

Y. Knott said...

No disrespect to Cheers or MASH or any number of other excellent comedies, but Barney Miller is my all-time favourite sitcom. And it's easily, easily, the most realistic TV depiction of a cop's actual job. Dragnet? Dedicated to the minutiae of investigation, sure, but the characters are one-dimensional. Hill Street Blues? Entertaining, but too soapy. Homicide: Life On The Street or The Wire? Both are must-watch TV, but they're still glamourized melodrama.

Anyone who has spent any time around cops will tell you: Barney Miller gets it right.

And of course, It's very, very funny.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I concur that that is also my favorite episode. My favorite line is when Yemana says, "Let's go down to the beach and shoot some clams." Devinely absurd. I must commend the actors as well. Drunk and stoned are two different types of intoxication. It would have been easy to play "drunk" and hope no one would notice. At that time I had only recently started smoking pot. So, I could tell the difference.

I once had a similar experience when I was in radio. One of my coworkers (who shall remain nameless) offered me a muffin. I was pretty naive back then, so I didn't think anything of it. Then about a half-hour later I started feeling high. I asked him about the muffin and he said, "Consider it 'laced.'" I didn't mind that he had given me a pot muffin. I just wish he had warned me. I wasn't prepared for how strong edibles were compared to smoking pot.
Needless to say, I could barely function. Fortunately, my air shift was over, but I had to finish up paperwork and record some voicers for the day shift. Trying to type in that condition reminded me of Wojehowicz trying to type his arrest report and failing miserably.
I did manage to get it all done right before the deadline. As for the quality...well...

I no longer use marijuana. So, now I have no excuse.

Johnny Walker said...

@Andrew Wendy never said she was offended.

@Ken Great show. I've never really watched Barney Miller, but that was great fun.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Correction: "Wojciehowicz"

VP81955 said...

I'll have to watch this episode -- I liked "Barney Miller" very much during its run, but must've missed this one -- and compare to the fabled "pot cookies" ep of "Mom," perennially listed among the most popular episodes among its several sites of Facebook fans. Of course, the shows have vastly different tones and aims (and, as someone noted earlier, have different gender perspectives), but both are among the more underrated sitcoms of their eras.

Brian said...

How ANYONE could watch this incredibly funny, well-written and well-acted episode of "Barney Miller" and say what "strikes them" is that there are no women in the cast or the production credits. Really? THAT'S your takeaway from this? I would imagine if you were watching "Chuckles Bites The Dust" on the MTM show, what would have "struck you" was the absence of clowns at the funeral service. Or In WKRP's "Turkeys Away" episode that no actual turkeys were hired for on-camera work. THIS is why outstanding comedy is dying and why great comedy from our past is treated as badly as it sometimes is. Thankfully, this episode and all the Barney Miller, and WKRP and Odd Couple and other classic TV sitcom episodes will live on and be appreciated by people with a sense of humor who just love laugh.

Not a criticism of you, Ken.


Andrew said...

Frank, lighten up. This is a comedy blog.

It was a reference to a line from Monty Python's Life of Brian. "Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman Imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture, and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites."

For some reason, Wendy's comment reminded me of "Are there any women in the crowd?" from the same movie. And then my brain made the connection to that scene at the end of the movie.

It was a joke, Frank.

You actually say, "please get rid of him" on someone else's blog? Were you a bully as a child, or did you become one as an adult?

Perhaps try reading my original comment in the voice of Mel Brooks. Maybe that will help.

And I share Brian's (the commenter, not the fake Messiah) exasperation over Wendy's reaction re women in the show.

OokOok said...

Mike Bloodworth, how could you get the spelling wrong? As everyone knows, Wojo's name is spelled just like it sounds!

DBenson said...

Jack Soo and Pat Morita both appear in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967) as "comic" Chinese stereotypes kidnapping girls and selling them to foreign brothels. Leaving aside the matter of that as a plot line in what's meant as an overbearingly upbeat musical comedy, you wonder if either actor had serious hopes of future stardom or even decent parts while doing that film.

Jack Soo's role on Barney Miller was, if not revolutionary, pretty darn progressive. He was an American working stiff, not an exotic who'd talk about his honorable ancestors or drink tea.

Peter said...

Earlier tonight, part one of Leaving Neverland was shown on British TV and it was horrific viewing. I needed something to cheer me up afterwards and luckily another channel later had a Cheers double bill and one of them was your and David's Now Pitching, Sam Malone. A wonderful episode. Barbara Babcock was a knockout as Sam's oversexed agent.

I'd like to thank you for giving me much needed laughs.

All I can say is: Yelnick McWawa for 2020.

Gary said...

My father was a police captain. He always said that the most realistic cop show ever shown on TV was Barney Miller!

Hop said...

Worked very recently with Hal Linden. Likes to work, still a pro. He'll be 88 this month.

Andrew Leal said...

I love BARNEY MILLER, and Yemana is hands down my favorite character (probably followed by Fish and Wojo). Jack Soo was a master at deadpan (an easily overlooked touch, one episode contrasts Yemana with agnostic Dietrich about belief in a deity, and another has him reluctant to book a minister since he hasn't gone to church in so long and "there might be repercussions"; it fit in well with guilty semi-lapsed Catholic Wojo and Barney, who was later established as a fairly non-observant Jew), and it makes his sudden fits of the giggles (interspersed with dead serious lines like "Anybody seen my legs?") all the funnier.

But I can actually understand the "where are the women?" reaction, as I've seen the entire series and it has occurred to me as well at times... especially since several times they *tried* but it didn't work out. The (all male) team they had couldn't quite manage it outside of the wives (I adore Bernice Fish, and the fact that Fish gripes and acts like a martyr on the phone... but then we see Bernice, a sweet and insecure woman who puts up with a lot and is really too good for Fish). They also usually succeeded with the guest ladies (frequent visitors included Peggy Pope, and any appearance by Doris Roberts had her practically dominating the episode). The wives were pared back mostly because, in addition to network reasons Frank Beans mentioned, they realized it was actually a one-set show (after the first two seasons, any uses of outside sets were reserved for two-parters, usually premieres and usually exactly one new set) and it was harder to have them keep dropping by. The later "Barney and Liz separate" arc was written just so they *could* justify getting Barbara Barrie back. Linda Lavin's Wentworth actually gelled pretty well and the plan was to make her a full regular and teamed with Wojo... and then she landed ALICE (I liked the fact that they included a clip of her in the finale, along with Chano, when Barney goes by the old desks.) Two other attempts at lady detectives didn't last beyond a few episodes (but then neither did younger male detective Dorsey, since by then the core group was set).

While less relevant to "Hash" taken as a stand alone episode, the lack of women behind the scenes really shows when they attempted to tackle female issues in "Rape" (the one episode I don't revisit). The fact that (so I've gathered) the actual NY law of the time was also less clear regarding whether husbands could be charged with rape against their wives didn't help, but non-male writers would almost certainly have been a little less tone-deaf. I think they meant well (and it was probably one of the first TV attempts to tackle the subject period), but I ended up wishing they'd left it alone.

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks for posting this, Ken. Over the years, I've often seen Tom Reeder's credits on screen and wondered if we were related, since I meet very few people who share my family name. Weird that two Reeders in different parts of the country would both become professional comedy writers.

Also strange: before I went fulltime into radio, one of the few sitcom scripts I ever worked on was when I was in college and wrote a sample "Barney Miller" script for the Danny Arnold student writers competition. I wasn't that familiar with the show, but watched it to get a feel for the characters. I still remember the plot I came up with. Didn't win anything, but I got a nice personal note from Danny Arnold, giving some positive comments plus a few tips on how to make it better. That was enough of a prize for me.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

>>THIS is why outstanding comedy is dying and why great comedy from our past is treated as badly as it sometimes is. Thankfully, this episode and all the Barney Miller, and WKRP and Odd Couple and other classic TV sitcom episodes will live on and be appreciated by people with a sense of humor who just love laugh.>>

Comedy is dying because one person - who has watched TV comedy for 60 years - finds it surprising to look back at a comedy from 40 years ago and see how much the demographics of the cast have changed?

I said it was no criticism of Ken, and it wasn't: he wasn't the show's creator, the network who commissioned it, or in any other position of control over the main cast. On the shows Ken created, you'll find lots of interesting women.


Jeff Alexander said...

"Barney Miller" is in my top five of all-time great comedy series. A former police chief of a small town in Florida told me once that he thought it was the ONLY realistic cop show on TV because it dealt with the idiotic bureaucracy that officers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and also the mound of paperwork that they have to work on during their shift.
As for "Hash," two notable aspects:
One, they could have had Jack Soo's Yemana sing something from "Flower Drum Song," but somehow that would have been too pat. I LIKE that they chose something from "Brigadoon," which is definitely NOT a Japanese musical and, somehow, that made it funnier.
The other point is that Ron Glass's Harris immediately diagnoses what they ate was hash and that he knew "just from how I feel." How in the heck would he know that? Would have loved to have heard THAT backstory (we did find out later on that Barney got a tattoo during the war, for instance!).
A great episode in a terrific sitcom.

Aaron Sheckley said...

After spending a career as a criminal investigator for a large police department, I can definitively say that Barney Miller captured the essence of that job far better than shows like Law and Order, Dragnet, Criminal Minds, or any of the other fantasies that pass themselves off as shows about police work. At one time or another, I worked with guys who could have been carbon copies of Wojo, Deitrich, Fish, and the rest of the squad. And we spent a lot of time doing exactly what's depicted on the show; interviewing people and typing endless reports.

As far as no women being present, can make the argument that it was a sexist choice not to include them, but the reality is that during my early years on the job in the 1980's, there were very few women in police work. In the entire command I was in, which would have been around 200 officers, there were two women, and one of them was a criminal investigator in the unit I was in. Barney Miller had several female detectives that passed through the squad during the show (Linda Lavin played one for a few episodes). Having a balanced mix of male and female officers (and female command staff members) might satisfy the requirements of today, but it would have been glaringly inaccurate for the mid 70's time period of Barney Miller. You can dislike the show for being sexist or misogynistic viewed through today's lens, but that's pretty much how it was in those days.

Craig Gustafson said...

I agree with Mike Bloodworth about the drunk/stoned portrayal issue. The benchmark for this is the Bob Hope specials of the late sixties. Older performers played being stoned as drunk; it was their only reference. I don't remember Bing Crosby doing that, however, since he would have known the difference. So would Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason. Crosby told Barbara Walters he thought marijuana should be legal.

The most glaring example you can see today is in the sumptuous cinema classic "Skidoo," where Jackie Gleason goes on an acid trip and (spoiler alert - end of the film) Groucho Marx smokes pot. In the scene where the entire prison is dosed with acid, two tower guards are Hepcats on a Groovy Trip. Harry Nilsson and Fred Clark. Nilsson gets it right. Clark, in his final film role after "White Heat," "The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell" and "Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops," is playing the broadest drunk since Frank Fontaine. It nearly sinks this silver screen gem.

Brian said...

>>Comedy is dying because one person - who has watched TV comedy for 60 years - finds it surprising to look back at a comedy from 40 years ago and see how much the demographics of the cast have changed?

No, "wg", comedy is dying because studios and networks and advertisers cater to unfunny people who don't know what is funny and pass judgment on what is, killing comedy for the rest of us... they only know that they are offended... and it's not enough that that person is offended... they have to let EVERYONE know that they are offended or their offendedness doesn't count.

wg... rest easy, your offendedness is duly recorded. On to your next affront. Might I suggest "The Phil Silvers Show"?

Mike Bloodworth said...

You asked the same question I was thinking of. Is Pat related to Tom? I guess it's time to break out the DNA tests.

Andrew said...

Frank Beans, and Ken,
Forgive me. I did not mean to offend.
- Andrew

Frank Beans said...


On my behalf, apology accepted. I didn't mean to be so caustic either. We all share the same basic values.

Kendall Rivers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kendall Rivers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kendall Rivers said...

Thanks very much for answering my question, Ken. Barney Miller has become one of my favorite sitcoms of all time. It was so well written, acted and directed as well as one of the funniest tv shows while at the same time one of the most poignant, I love the quiet moments or moments of characters having self reflection. Its also one of the greatest ensembles of all time with every actor and every character from Barney, Dietrich, Nick, Harris, Wojo, Levitt, Fish and Inspector Luger having some of the best chemistry I've seen alongside such great ensembles like Cheers or Frasier or All in The Family, Sanford and Son, MASH, Everybody Loves Raymond, WKRP In Cinicinatti. Etc.

Andrew said...

@Frank Beans,
"We all share the same basic values."
Yes we do. Thank you.

Peter said...

Wojo typing Fred's name made me laugh for the rest of the day. Thank you.

Kendall Rivers said...

@wg you're entitled to your opinion but you're missing out on one of the greatest sitcoms and tv shows period ever created. I know plenty of women from my mom and grandmas to my teenage nieces and six year old daughter who love this show as much as the men in my family. Funny is funny and no one cares about gender of the characters that they love like how I love The Golden Girls or I Love Lucy or The Mary Tyler Moore show for ex. I'm curious if you have this same criticism of shows with basically no men and all women like The Golden Girls or Sex and the city etc?

DwWashburn said...

Jack Soo carried that episode.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

kendall rivers: I have somewhat unpredictable tastes, I guess. I loved the first five seasons of THE BIG BANG THEORY. Currently, I'm enjoying MOM, SUPERSTORE, THE GOOD PLACE, THE GOOD FIGHT, and parts of THE OTHER TWO. I really liked YOU'RE THE WORST until this season. I never cared that much for: CHEERS, any variant of LUCY, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, TAXI or THE GOLDEN GIRLS. I liked FRASIER, MASH, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, EMPTY NEST, EVENING SHADE, and MURPHY BROWN. I thought the first season of SEX AND THE CITY, when they were still working from Candace Bushnall's original source material, was clever. Post season 3 I found it unwatchable. I never watched Westerns - but I liked JUSTIFIED (which despite being a male show has some *great* female characters). I also like THE HONEYMOONERS, THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW, and *love* the Marx Brothers.

It was a stray thought. I don't *know* why I never got into BARNEY MILLER. Part of it is probably that I missed a lot of 1970s TV because I was traveling all over the US and didn't have a TV, and a lot of 1980s TV because I was living overseas and the Internet wasn't with us yet. And part of it is probably weird quirks, like I never watched TAXI because I hated the credits music so much. Yes, I know there was good stuff in it, and I've seen a little bit of it.

It's also a quirk that I don't particularly like seeing people either given drugs without their consent (which in my book is assault) or accidentally taking them. I would not find it at all funny if it happened to me; I would be enraged, and people who thought *that* was funny would be out of my life. So this wasn't the best episode for me to start with. :) There may be a connection here to having allergies, which means that someone lying to me about the ingredients of a foodstuff might actually require me to seek urgent medical care.

Brian, a data point: I said the absence of women was striking. That is not "taking offense".

Aaron Sheckley: I'm aware that at the time there would hardly have been women in the police station, and I was not calling the show out for sexism; you have to allow things to be of their time. CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, which I recently rewatched and enjoyed, had the same problem. Toody had his wife and Muldoon had his mother, and there was a policewoman in one episode, but that was it.


Janet Hardy said...

Just re-watched this episode for at least tenth time. One thing I wonder is whether any of this brilliance was improvised by the cast, or was it all written into the script?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree!