Barney Miller was a sausage fest. Oh, they tried—Liz Miller was on the first couple of seasons, until she and Barney split up. He had a daughter who appeared once or twice. But real talk, a show where all the main characters are cops is just going to have more men than women by definition. It may be one of the more progressive cop shows in TV history, but basic statistics do exist. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure it had a higher percentage of female detectives than original Law & Order. At least in the manner of regular or recurring characters. Which is a little disheartening, if you think about it.
Linda Lavin as Detective Janice Wentworth was very open about the problems she had working for the NYPD. It was hard for her to find departments where she was taken seriously. She didn’t want to do traffic detail, she actually wanted to go out and solve crimes and things. Barney gave her a chance, and she was grateful for it. She was also considerably more interesting than Levitt, who took over her “trying really hard to work for the detective squad” role after she left to go be on Alice.
She played a lot of struggling characters over the years. I’ve discovered a made-for-TV movie where she fights sexism in manufacturing. (It’s called The $5.20 an Hour Dream, and I don’t know if she’s fighting for minimum wage or what but that would be nearly $19 an hour today.) She played Mama Rose—apparently June Havoc saw her in the role and sent her a picture of the real Mama Rose as a tribute to the quality of her performance. If you were to typecast Lavin, it would mostly be as working-class women fighting for what they wanted.
Not exclusively. She was Kermit’s doctor in The Muppets Take Manhattan. She did a ton of Courage the Cowardly Dog, and as she wasn’t a major character, you can’t say anything about her time there. She played writer Madelyn Pugh in Being the Ricardos. She was Virginia Funicello in a made-for-TV movie about Annette Funicello. She’s done a fascinating assortment of characters overall, and she’s still one of those actresses most people don’t seem to remember.
Her stage history is fun, too. Not just Mama Rose, though she replaced Tyne Daly as Mama Rose as established. But she’s on the original recording of The Mad Show singing “The Boy From . . . ” and reprised the song for Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday celebration. Even better, she sang a song called “You’ve Got Possibilities” on Broadway, apparently one of the best-received of the songs from the show in question. The character’s name was Sydney, which doesn’t mean anything to me. But the show was It’s a Bird . . . It’s a Plane . . . It’s Superman, a notorious flop that I will see someday.