Friday, May 14, 2010

The Oil Companies Can Go Bleep Themselves

A short post, but one I’ve wanted to write for awhile.

Anybody ancient enough to remember the old show from the 1970s, Barney Miller?  It starred Hal Linden as a police captain in Manhattan.  Steve Landesberg, Max Gail and Ron Glass were among the ensemble cast, and beyond the first season, the stage set was confined to the precinct room along with its barred holding cell.  

Along with The Odd Couple, another classic series that ran (also on ABC) during roughly the same time period, Barney Miller’s draw was its dry comedic approach to New York and its denizens.  The writing was almost impossibly crisp -- making Seinfeld’s plots and dialogue look downright clunky by comparison -- with an air of authority to it.  

I remember one episode, and would really love to hear from someone who can corroborate, because I know it’s not my imagination.  I’ve searched archives numerous times but come up with nothing.  So far.

In this episode, closer to the end of the series’ run than its beginning, Barney’s crew had arrested a “fanatical anarchist,” for lack of a better description.  He was in the holding cell, situated at center stage, and used the bulk of the show to rail loudly about the various issues that had brought him to this place.  

What made this episode so unusual, so impossible to forget, was that a large part of what the guy had to say was bleeped -- numerous times -- throughout the broadcast.  

Now, it’s possible he may have been censored for language, but why?  The show was not aired live, it was taped.  And unlike a lot of shows we see today, there was zero use of “salty” language.  The writers just had too much going for them to even need it.  They might have used “butt,” but never “ass,” for example.  And for a show about New York City cops, that’s really saying something.  You never even noticed the “lack.”  

So what, we might ask, was the network bleeping out?  

One clue that presented itself at least twice during that half hour was one phrase:  “The oil companies.”  Barney, Wojo, another cop, or a lawyer would talk to the prisoner, trying to get him to calm down, and he’d start in raving again:  “It’s the oil companies!  They BLEEEEEEEEP!”  And it was a long “bleep.”  Not a word bleep, but a sentence bleep.  A paragraph  bleep.  

The episode played itself out - the prisoner was either taken somewhere else or released, I no longer remember...Wojo sipped his coffee and offered his observations to Barney, who nodded, smiled his weary smile and said “Yeah,” and the credits rolled.

I seriously doubt this episode ever made it to the reruns.  

It’s been 30 years or more since that episode, and I never forgot it.  

“The oil companies.  They [BLEEEEEEEEP].”

Yes.  They do, indeed.

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