In the Baretta TV show, Robert Blake played an unconventional cop with a charming cockatoo (1975-1978)

The Baretta TV show with Robert Blake at Click Americana

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Baretta is a 1970s TV crime drama starring Robert Blake as Tony Baretta, an unconventional detective known for his street smarts and laid-back style. Set apart from other cop shows of the era, the series also featured Baretta’s pet cockatoo, Fred, who provided comic relief. The show combined elements of action, mystery, and character-driven plots, garnering attention for its unique storytelling approach.
Years on air: 1975 to 1978
# of seasons: 4
# of episodes: 82


  • Tony Baretta (Played by Robert Blake): An unconventional, plainclothes detective who employs street smarts and unorthodox methods to solve crimes. Known for his catchphrase, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”
  • Fred the Cockatoo: Tony Baretta’s pet bird, offering comic relief and light moments amidst the darker elements of the show.
  • Billy Truman (Played by Tom Ewell, later replaced by Ed Grover): Baretta’s supervisor and friend, who often reluctantly approves of his unique methods for solving cases.
  • Roxy Roker (Played by Dana Elcar): A friend of Tony Baretta, he operates a bar and often offers Tony insight into various cases.
  • Fats (Played by Chino ‘Fats’ Williams): An informant who often provides Tony Baretta with valuable tips and information to help solve cases.
  • Little Moe (Played by Michael D. Roberts): Another of Baretta’s informants, known for his street connections and assistance in gathering evidence.
  • Terry Lake (Played by Angela Dorian): A recurring character who often serves as a love interest for Tony Baretta.
  • Inspector Shiller (Played by Dana Elcar): A higher-ranking police official who often clashes with Baretta over his unorthodox methods but ultimately respects his ability to get results.

Born in the gritty era of 1970s television, Baretta featured a unique blend of police procedural and character study.

Starring Robert Blake as Tony Baretta, a plainclothes detective who loved his disguises, the series was a different kind of cop show. Equipped with unconventional methods and a cockatoo named Fred, Baretta became an icon in the genre.

Actor Robert Blake starred in the Baretta cop TV series in the 70s

Tony Baretta was a unique character in TV land. He wasn’t your typical by-the-book cop. Instead, he solved crimes using street smarts and non-traditional methods, popularizing the catchphrase, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” 

A quirky mix of characters added some interesting layers to the storytelling. From petty criminals to his endearing pet cockatoo, Baretta’s world was as colorful as it was complex. Amid the gripping action sequences and crime-solving, Fred the parrot provided lighter moments, breaking the tension and charming audiences.

Old TV show Baretta - Actor Robert Blake with his cockatoo bird

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The show was well-received during its run from 1975 to 1978 — it was a ratings success and even led Robert Blake to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. However, the series faced its share of controversies, most notably surrounding its star. Blake’s later legal troubles shadowed the show’s legacy, though it hasn’t entirely dampened its impact on pop culture.

Robert Blake as Baretta on the cover of TV Guide ((1977)
Robert Blake as Baretta on the cover of TV Guide ((1977)

 The show had a lasting impact on TV crime dramas, an influence still visible in series like Miami Vice, The Shield, and Castle. By shaking up the formulaic approach to the genre, it introduced us to a cop who was more layered and human.

While Baretta remains a snapshot of TV from its era, its innovative themes and characters continue to attract new viewers, proving its enduring appeal. And of course, it made us all wish we had a pet cockatoo as cool as Fred.

Baretta theme song & opening credits

YouTube video

Baretta star rewrites script, seeking realism (1976)

By Gary Deeb in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas) January 20, 1976

Robert Blake is standing on the set of “Baretta,” half amused and half outraged at the inept script that he’s trying to shape into a reputable episode of the popular Wednesday night detective series. “This story is already unbelievable,” he announced. “The thing stinks so bad. Baretta’s gonna look like a dunce.”

During the next half-hour, Blake, dictating dialogue off the top of his head, completely rewrites one scene, improving it immeasurably. Then he improvises an entirely new scene to bridge the giant gaps in the script.

Baretta star Robert Blake (1970s)

And the star of the show doesn’t stop there. He coaches the other actors, suggests camera positions, switches the plots, curses up a storm, and even calls the scriptwriter on the phone to let him know his work is substandard.

It’s just an average day on Soundstage 22 at Universal Studios as Bobby Blake — former child star, one-time drug addict, and currently Hollywood’s leading iconoclast — delivers another electric performance, both on camera and behind the scenes.

Vintage 70s Baretta series newspaper ads

“There is a saying in the world of psychology,” Blake tells a reporter. “He only gains his freedom in existence who daily conquers it anew.” If so, then Robert Blake has spent the last year about as close to total freedom as any TV actor is likely to get. There’s probably no star in the medium today who dominates his series as thoroughly and unequivocally as Blake.

“Jo Swerling and Roy Huggins were the producers of ‘Baretta’ in the beginning, but not anymore,” he says with a smile. “They just wanted to revise ‘Tom’ a little bit and slap some scripts together. They didn’t care if the show was good or bad. Well, I don’t buy that. I battled Universal.

“It was the ugliest fight of my life, but I won. I got my pal, Bernie Kowalski, in as executive producer. I busted my tail and wound up in the hospital. But we made the show a hit.”

70s TV show Baretta with actor on old pay phone

Far from forging a happy ending, however, the commercial success of “Baretta” continues to spell misery for Blake. Hardly a week goes by in which he doesn’t get into a wrestling match with ABC’s archaic censors. “They aren’t interested in quality,” he sneers. “They just sit there and count gunshots and cover up skin.”

Quincy M.E. with Jack Klugman was the forefather of forensic crime shows (1970s-1980s)

Then Blake relates how ABC’s dog-eared censors ruined what could have been an exciting and socially meaningful “Baretta” episode last month. “I sent Bernie Kowalski back east to have a meeting with Pierce (ABC Television president Fred Pierce) about a show we were doin’ about a runaway teenage girl. The show would have shown that runnin’ away from home is stupid.

“But within that particular scene, you gotta display some of the gritty realities that runaways come up against, right? Because if you don’t show it like it is then all these kids are gonna listen to Bob Dylan, shove a guitar on their backs, and leave ‘home to try for a hit record.”

Old police TV show Baretta publicity still of star actor Robert Blake

In the proposed episode, Blake explains, the runaway girl gets involved with a degenerate old-timer who lusts after her body. But ABC didn’t like that. “The network insisted that the old man couldn’t kiss her or even put his hands on her. They made him into a sweet old pumpkin, and they made the girl into Little Mary Sunshine. That’s irresponsibility on the network’s part.”

Despite the popularity of “Baretta,” now in its second season, Blake has slapped Universal with a landmark breach-of-contract suit that, if successful, will mean the end of his part in the series. Blake claims the studio was two months late in paying him $25,000 in overtime. Furthermore, he says, when the check finally arrived, it was $7,000 short.

Baretta TV show with the cockatoo parrot Fred (1970s)

“It’s like this: Universal paid all its actors late. That way, they can keep collectin’ interest on that money. Universal goes for weeks and weeks on end, with my money in their pockets, collectin’ interest on it.”

The outspoken actor says his case will be decided this spring or summer in Los Angeles Superior Court. “If the court says I’m wrong, I’ll shut up. But if the court says I’m right, I’m callin’ a cab and gettin’ outta here. I have dignity and self-pride.”

Baretta goes Bananas - Robert Blake on the cover of 1970s Bananas magazine for kids

Blake then steps back in front of the cameras, ready for the next scene. He mocks another segment of the script, laughing devilishly as he does, and again he dictates a hasty rewrite to preserve some credibility. The director suggests another dialogue change, but Blake is way ahead of him.

“Don’t worry about it,” intones Peck’s Baddest Boy. “I reworked it while you was gettin’ a drinka water.”

DON’T MISS! Dragnet: Jack Webb’s popular 1950s police procedural (one of the first ever!) & its nostalgic reboot in 1967

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