Baretta Season 1 on UK DVD

Sunday, 13 September 2015 23:00 Written by 

Baretta Season One - Out Now on UK DVDStephen J Cannell brought us many TV gems during his time, but one of his earliest creations, just on the cusp of memory, is one that ran for four seasons from 1975: Baretta. Famous for having a sulphur-crested cockatoo as a co-star, it had edginess to it, combined with the cute coating of a streetwise cop who loved his pet. And you could have won one of three copies of the first season on DVD which, thanks to Fabulous Films, we had up for grabs in our prize competition.

Beginning in a Friday night slot in the USA as a mid-season replacement, the first season consists of just a dozen episodes. Baretta had taken over ABC’s 10.00pm timeslot from Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and secured audiences that its predecessor could only dream of. For the following season (22 episodes) it moved to 9.00pm Wednesdays, and made the Top 30 for shows for that year. Season three (24 episodes) was rewarded with remaining in the same slot, and the show eased into being one of the Top Ten for that year. It then moved back to 10.00pm for its final fourth season (24 episodes), to make space for Charlie’s Angels, and ratings took a tumble, the last episode going out in May 1978. The Angels certainly did provide a similar audience lead-in for the show.

Robert Blake (born Michael "Mickey" James Vincenzo Gubitosi) played a single, street-wise orphaned descendent of Italian immigrants named Tony Baretta, an unmarried detective who lived out of a run-down hotel and ran around in a t-shirt and blue-jeans working cases without a partner. Due to his run-down, hang-dog appearance, Baretta was able to go undercover in the underworld, without setting off alarm bells amongst those he associated with. One thing Cannell added to the character was his delight in taking on disguises for his work, something that would become a fascination with a later Cannell character – John ‘Hannibal’ Smith in The A-Team.

There was a succession of girlfriends in Baretta’s life, but through one situation or another, none of them became a ‘keeper’. But he did have a true love - a pet cockatoo named Fred,. Fred was the series name for a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, a bird which made $1,000-a-week from the producers for its trainer, Ray Berwick, who purchased the Chinese-speaking bird from Hong Kong and therefore had to teach it English.

Baretta and Fred share a moment

In real life, Fred was called La-La, given that name due to the tendency to repeat the phrase “La-la-la-la-la”. Trainer Berwick taught the bird several clever tricks including pedalling a bicycle and imitating the sound of a dog or cat.  During the 1980s, the talented cockatoo was featured in Ray Berwick’s animal show at the Universal Studios Tour in southern California, and at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. La-La is now deceased, but lived until over 70 years old.

In 1975 Robert Blake won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the Primetime Emmy Awards for his role. In 1976 he won both Best TV Actor at the Golden Globes, and Favourite Performer at the People's Choice Awards. The show also featured many guest stars before they became famous, including Margot Kidder, Gary Busey, M Emmett Walsh, Scott Glenn, Tommy Lee Jones, Wings Hauser, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dennis Quaid. The show also featured great music, including Simon & Garfunkel and the theme song “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow” in which one particular rendition was performed by Sammy Davis Jr.

The series actually owes its existence to an overworked actor on another series.  Tony Musante, who starred as Detective David Toma on ABC’s Toma during the 1973-74 season, left that show after just one year, saying he couldn’t handle the pressures of shooting a weekly show. Since ABC had been pleased with the moderately successful format, they brought in Blake to take over the lead role, changed the location from New York to California, renaming it Baretta, and adding Fred the cockatoo to the mix.

Supporting the lead character was Dana Elcar as Inspector Shiller, who secretly admires Baretta’s methods, but wasn’t so keen to explain his actions to those further up the chain of command. Elcar guest-starred on a whole host of TV series, but went on to co-star in MacGyver as Pete Thornton for 126 episodes from 1985 to 1992 – he went blind in 1991, and his character in the show was written to also become blind.

Michael D Roberts also regularly appears as Rooster, very much a stable mate of Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch in terms of his dress sense and attitude. However, Rooster came first, making his screen debut in January 1975, whereas it was the end of April of the same year before Huggy first appeared. Roberts went on to co-star as Tyrone in Manimal, and continues to appear on TV right to this day, having co-starred in the 2012-13 first series of The First Family, and even had a guest role in a 2014 episode of Girl Meets World.

Creator Stephen J Cannell was the man behind a gamut of series including The A Team, The Rockford Files and 21 Jump Street – and the theme tune for Baretta went to No 1 in Holland!

Unfortunately Blake again became a household name in 2001, when his wife Bonnie Bakley was murdered whilst waiting for Blake outside a restaurant in Studio City. Blake was arrested for the murder. Bakley had a history of pursuing celebrities - Dean Martin, Franki Valli, Jerry Lee Lewis. It was his second marriage and her eleventh.

In March 2005 Blake was found not guilty of the murder, jurors believed the evidence to be flimsy. However, in November 2005 Blake was found liable for the wrongful death of his wife in a civil trial when Bakley's three eldest children sued him, asserting he was responsible for their mother's death. The jury ordered him to pay $30 million. But his legal fees left him bankrupt.

It would be unfair to overlook this series due to this scandal. Blake has a gritty charm, and Fred steals every scene he’s in. I have to say that the series is worth watching just for the cockatoo!

Baretta – Season One is out now as a three DVD set from Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media Enterprises. It has a ‘12’ certificate, a running time of 612 minutes approx, and a RRP of £29.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Thanks to Fabulous Films, you had the opportunity to win one of three copies of the Baretta – Season One on DVD to put on to your mantelpiece, in our prize competition. All you had to do was tell us the answer to the following question: What was the name given to Baretta’s pet cockatoo in the series? The answer was FRED, and the winners were Antony Smith of Newcastle upon Tyne, Tracey Peach of Cambridge, and Jason Nutt of Thatcham. Well done all.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 September 2015 07:37

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