When NBC rolled out its touted new cop comedy, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and received favorable comparisons to television’s last great station house sitcom, it wasn’t lost on Barney Miller himself.
Performer Hal Linden, who spoke to The News-Review last week by phone from a tour stop in Durham, N.C., said the show he starred in from 1975 to 1982 is still the gold standard for police sitcoms, and no one else has come close.
“Have you seen another sitcom as classy as ‘Barney Miller’? No, sir,” Linden said. “I’ll live and die by ‘Barney Miller.’ If you have to be associated with one sitcom the rest of your life, it might as well be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.”
The 82-year-old actor will display his other talents — those of singer, clarinetist and yarn-spinner — Tuesday night when he opens the Roseburg Community Concert Association’s 2013-14 season with “An Evening with Hal Linden,” backed by his seven-piece band, singing Broadway hits and waxing nostalgic.
The series typically contains five shows, but there will be only four due to Linden’s high price tag. Tickets are $50, twice the cost of a typical show.
His is a show rich with hits from the Great White Way and lighthearted banter. At the end, he usually gets a little philosophical, he said. It’s a 90-minute, uninterrupted set, and afterward, Linden and the band mingle with audience members in the lobby.
Landing Linden was a coup for the RCCA. The group has presented a concert series since 1945, and Linden is perhaps the biggest name to ever play in one, said board member Helen Hilgers.
“We’ve never really had an artist like this. Most of our artists are on their way up,” she said, citing classical guitarist Christopher Parkening and soprano Leontyne Price, who played the series early in their respective careers.
Next up this season are 13-year-old piano prodigy Umi Garrett (Nov. 3), guitar virtuoso Pavlo (March 18) and pianist-composer Jesse Lynch with his “Jazz 101” show (April 3).
Linden was born Harold Lipshitz in New York City in 1931. As a young clarinetist, he set out to play big band music, but transitioned to theater as the big band sound waned. He made his Broadway debut in 1957 opposite Judy Holliday (“She set the standard — probably the most generous actress I’ve ever worked with”). For nearly 20 years he played on Broadway and toured in national productions, notably “A Christmas Carol,” “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” and “The Rothschilds,” for which he won a 1971 Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical.
He was so hot in the mid-1970s, he had to be begged by his management to take the title role of a new police comedy in development at ABC.
Portraying Miller, the level-headed precinct captain in charge of a diverse squad room of off-beat personalities, Linden would go on to earn multiple Golden Globe and Emmy awards.
“Barney” fans still stop Linden on the streets, but he said it’s a little more special when they recognize him from one of his lesser-known “properties,” of which there are many.
Linden has worked steadily since his signature show went off the air in 1982, including many one-off roles in popular TV shows, such as “The Drew Carey Show,” “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” “The King of Queens” and, just the other week, the Fox comedy “The Mindy Project.”
Even in his golden years, Linden hasn’t slowed down. He can’t, he said. Last year he finished recording his first album, a project started more than three decades ago, and featuring the big band sound he dreamed of playing as a kid.
He said he eventually got tired of people asking about the album.
“People were telling me, ‘Just finish the damn thing.’”
The avid golfer said, weather permitting, he might take in nine holes when he returns to the Roseburg area next week.
He bristled when asked why he still performs.
“It’s what I do. Why do you do what you do? I’ve prepared for this my whole life, and worked hard at this my whole life. You want me to sit down and watch television? This is what I do, and why not? How much golf can one person play?”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.