Barney Miller takes place almost entirely within the confines of the detectives' squad room and Captain Barney Miller's adjoining office of New York City's fictional 12th Precinct, located in Greenwich Village. A typical episode featured the detectives of the 12th bringing in several complainants and/or suspects to the squad room. Usually, two or three separate subplots are in a given episode, with different officers dealing with different crimes. Once a year, an episode would feature one or more of the detectives outside of the walls of the precinct, either on a stakeout or at one of their homes.
The show's focus was split between the detectives' interactions with each other and with the suspects and witnesses they detained, processed, and interviewed. Some typical conflicts and long-running plotlines included Miller's frustration with red tape and paperwork, his constant efforts to maintain peace, order, and discipline, and his numerous failed attempts to get a promotion; Harris's preoccupation with outside interests, such as his living arrangements but mainly his memoir (Blood on the Badge), and his inability to remain focused on his police work; Fish's age-related health issues, marital problems, and reluctance to retire; Wojciehowicz's impulsive behavior and love life; Luger's nostalgia for the old days with partners Foster, Kleiner, and "Brownie" Brown; Levitt's quest to become a detective (which is eventually successful); the rivalry between the precinct's resident intellectuals, Harris and Dietrich; and continually—but reliably—bad coffee, usually made by Yemana.
‡ Murdock, Gorman, Dullaghan, and Leiber all made guest appearances in other roles in addition to their regularly recurring series roles.
Barney Miller had a stock company of character actors who made frequent appearances in different roles, among them Phil Leeds, Kay Medford, Bruce Kirby, Kenneth Tigar, Arny Freeman, Don Calfa, Walter Janowitz, Peggy Pope, Nehemiah Persoff, Rosana Soto (Rosanna DeSoto), Todd Susman, Leonard Stone, Philip Sterling, Sal Viscuso, Rod Colbin, Martin Garner, and Jack Kruschen.