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The Sad Story of Fish from Barney Miller Abe Vigoda

To the majority of television fans, Abe Vigoda will always be known for his time portraying the character of Detective Phil Fish on Barney Miller. The performer stumbled his way into acting after being given a small role in The Godfather, though Barney Miller proved his big break. The character of Phil Fish would later be given his own spin-off series, dubbed Fish. That series lasted for two seasons, and little was heard from Abe Vigoda after that. Today, Abe is no longer with us, though the few performances that he graced the screen with are cherished. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the sad story of Fish from Barney Miller.

Phil Fish Was Barney Miller’s Breakout Character

When the series Barney Miller premiered on television in 1975, it was initially meant to focus evenly on the titular character’s home life and his work life. Of course, that titular character would be Captain Barney Miller, who was the head of the show’s 12th Precinct. Over the course of the show’s first season, it became apparent that the ensemble of characters that could be found within the 12th Precinct were a good deal more interesting than those comprising Barney’s family. Because of this, the show began to focus less and less on Barney’s home life and more on the precinct.

Of all the detectives that could be found with the 12th Precinct on Barney Miller, the most popular character with television audiences was undeniably Detective Phil Fish. Abe Vigoda played the character of Phil Fish, and the role proved the performer’s big break. Fish was a lovable curmudgeon, and the character was actually meant to be a good deal older than Ave Vigoda was in real life.

After the first season of Barney Miller proved the success that it did, the producers got the idea to give it’s breakout character his own spin-off series. A backdoor pilot was worked into the second season by way of an episode named “Fish”. This episode revolved around the character of Fish and his home life, similar to how Barney Miller revolved predominantly around Barney and his. Series creator David Arnold was hesitant to let the character of Fish go from the greater ensemble of characters that had made Barney Miller’s first season so popular. However, the network eventually talked him into it. Meanwhile, Abe Vigoda was ecstatic about the prospect of having his own show.

Fish’s Backdoor Pilot Wasn’t Initially a Hit

Prior to the second-season episode of Barney Miller called “Fish”, the character of Fish’s wife had been seen on the series twice. On both of these occasions, an actress named Florence Stanley portrayed the character. Florence was unavailable to film the backdoor pilot episode “Fish”, so she had to be replaced by another actress. Doris Belack was her name. In addition to Fish’s wife, another character in the episode was Fish’s daughter, who was played by Nancy Levine. Upon the episode’s airing, the concept was initially deemed to be too uninteresting to support a series.

With his tale between his legs, Abe Vigoda returned to performing his supporting duties on Barney Miller. Meanwhile, the producers started brainstorming other ideas for spin-offs. One idea would have each episode focus on the home life of a different detective in the 12th Precinct. However, the popularity of Detective Phil Fish persisted. Eventually, the concept of Fish was picked back up and it was turned into it’s own spin-off series. This time, actress Florence Stanley came back to play Fish’s wife.

Fish premiered in 1977, between the end of Barney Miller’s third season and the start of it’s fourth. Series creator Danny Arnold had initially intended for the character of Detective Phil Fish to continue showing up on Barney Miller in some capacity. However, when this idea was brought up to Abe Vigoda, the actor threw a fit! It seems that Abe was adamant on forming his own identity away from the parent sitcom. Sadly, Fish wouldn’t prove nearly as successful as Barney Miller. However, the show did last for two seasons.

The Spin-Off Series Was Different from the Backdoor Pilot

As compared to the backdoor pilot episode, the actual series Fish featured a slightly different premise. This time, the series focused on Fish and his wife’s tribulations after adopting a bunch of kids. Todd Bridges played one of these kids. Of course, Todd was a child performer that would later be better utilized on the more successful Diff’rent Strokes. The first season of Fish was only 13 episodes long, but it was deemed successful enough to warrant the creation of another. Still, the show was never the success that the producers had intended it to be. Many blame the show’s lack of success on the fact that it was never aired back-to-back with it’s parent sitcom. Though Fish was a direct spin-off of Barney Miller, the two shows aired on different days.

The spin-off series Fish wasn’t a huge success, but it was allegedly successful enough that a third season was in the works before Abe Vigoda demanded too much money. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

Abe Became a Character Actor After Barney Miller

Thanks to his time playing the character of Detective Phil Fish, Abe Vigoda remained a fairly reliable character actor up until his death in 2016. However, the performer never got the star-making turn that he had hoped the spin-off series Fish was going to be. Though Abe Vigoda found success as an actor during his adult life, he didn’t intend to as a child. Abe came from humble beginnings, with his father being a tailor. When it was time for Abe to pick a profession, he initially decided on printing. However, World War II got in the way. Abe served in World War II for a period of time before returning to America. It was around this time period that Abe had a change of heart. Instead of returning to his work as a printer, he decided he wanted to be an actor.

Though Abe Vigoda wanted to become an actor, he didn’t really know what steps he should take. Fate ended up taking over when the ambling actor saw an advertisement seeking unrepresented performers for an audition. The audition was for an adaptation of the bestselling Mario Puzo novel The Godfather, and Abe ended up being just what director Francis Ford Coppola was looking for! Though Abe certainly didn’t have a very big role in the film, it remains a memorable one. The actor made an impression on audience members, and it was all because he didn’t have an agent!

It was as a direct result of Abe Vigoda’s role in The Godfather that the actor was able to secure his true breakout role.

Towards the end of Barney Miller’s run, there was a rumor going around that Abe Vigoda had passed away. This rumor started when a journalist accidentally referred to the actor as “the late Abe Vigoda” in an article. Thankfully, these rumors were wrong!

Abe Vigoda Was Perfect at Playing an Old Man

Abe Vigoda already seemed like an old man when he broke into prominence during the 1970s, though he remained relatively spritely and active up until the new millennium. After Barney Miller came to an end, Abe started showing up in random movies. In 1990, he appeared alongside Tom Hanks in the comedy Joe Versus the Volcano. In 1993, he returned to his Godfather roots by voicing a mafia-related role in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The biggest supporting role that Abe received between the end of Barney Miller and his death was arguably in the 1997 family film Good Burger, which was based upon a Nickelodeon television series. In the film, Abe played an elderly fast-food worker that was just as curmudgeonly as Phil Fish.

In 2006, Abe Vigoda actually got the chance to reprise his role from The Godfather in a video game based on the film. Surprisingly, Abe wasn’t the only cast member from the original film that was convinced into returning. The video game featured voice work from both James Caan and Robert Duvall. The game was even able to secure a few lines of spoken dialogue from Marlon Brando just before his death. With that said, he required an oxygen tank during recordings.

Abe Vigoda was married two times over the course of his life, though not much is known about his first wife besides the fact that he and her had a daughter named Carol. Much more is known about Abe’s second wife, who was named Beatrice Schy. Abe and Beatrice married in 1968, before Abe had even performed in The Godfather. They then remained married until Beatrice’s death in 1992. Abe passed away at his daughter Carol’s house in January of 2016. He was 94 years old at the time, and died of natural causes. When the announcement was made, most people who saw it thought that it was just another hoax!

Though Abe Vigoda found breakout success with his supporting character of Phil Fish on Barney Miller, that success wasn’t enough to support a spin-off. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Abe Vigoda didn’t intend to become an actor until later in life, and that he received his role in The Godfather because he didn’t have an agent? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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