Woke up this morning to discover that Steve Landesberg had died. Landesberg was best known for playing Det. Arthur Dietrich on Barney Miller, which was one of my mom’s favorite shows (largely because she had a crush on Hal Linden.)
As someone who is occasionally accused of being an intellectual (an occupational hazard, I guess — frankly, I prefer the term “smart guy”), I think Dietrich’s character was one of the more interesting elements not only of Barney Miller, but of popular culture. There was no question that Dietrich was an intellectual, but he was also a skilled, respected, highly competent member of his team. Furthermore, he was well adjusted and funny — on purpose. In contrast, consider John Ratzenberger’s Cliff Clavin from Cheers, or the various male characters in Big Bang Theory (both of which are shows I watch occasionally and enjoy). Here, the intellectual-as-dork cliche carries the day, and when these guys are funny, it’s often as the butt of the joke.
As an aside, I wonder if a connection can be made between Dietrich and another of my favorite characters, Law & Order: Criminal Intent‘s Robert Goren. I think Goren could be read as a darker, more neurotic and alienated version of Dietrich, as the two shows represent what Frye might have seen as displacements of a mythic New York.
Farewell, Mr. Landesberg. Thanks for the laughs — we could always use them.