“Baretta” is an American detective series which ran on ABC Television from 1975 to 1978.

The show was a toned-down version of the successful 1973–74 ABC series, “Toma”. This starred Tony Musante as the chameleonic, real-life New Jersey undercover police officer David Toma. Despite its popularity, the show received intense criticism for its realistic and frequent depictions of police and criminal violence.

When Musante left the series after a single season, the concept was rebooted as “Baretta”, with Robert Blake in the title role.

Now, Robert Blake (born Michael “Mickey” Vincenzo Gubitosi) began his career as one of “The Little Rascals”, child stars of a very popular series of comedy shorts, made during the 1940s.

He was also one of the very few members of the Our Gang (as the kids were known) to:
(a) make it to a ripe old age (born 1933; he’s still with us) and
(b) make it in acting, as an adult.

But, I digress.

The Premise

Detective Anthony Vincenzo “Tony” Baretta is an unorthodox plainclothes cop (Badge #609) with the 53rd precinct of an unnamed Eastern city (suspiciously like Newark, New Jersey). He lives with Fred, his Triton Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, in apartment 2C at the run-down King Edward Hotel.

The Man

Like his predecessor David Toma, Tony Baretta adopted many disguises on the job.

When not in disguise, Baretta usually wore a T-shirt, jeans and a soft cap. He often carried an unlit cigarette in his lips or behind his ear.

When exasperated, he would occasionally speak in asides to his late father, Louie Baretta.

His catchphrases included “You can take that to the bank”, and “And that‘s the name of that tune.”

That Tune

Speaking of which, here’s a YouTube video of the opening credits, set to the iconic theme tune “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow”.
The song was composed by Dave Grusin & Morgan Ames, and performed by no less than Sammy Davis, Jr. (ask your folks, if you don’t know who he was):

Initially an instrumental, the song was released as a single in Europe in 1976, reaching number one in the Dutch Top 40 as “Baretta’s Theme”.

Wheels and Places

Baretta drove a rusted-out 1966 Chevy Impala four-door sedan nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” (license plate 532 BEN).

In the series the detective hung out at Ross’s Billiard Academy, and referred to his numerous girlfriends as his “cousins”.

Baretta’s People

Supporting characters included:

Billy Truman (actor Tom Ewell), the elderly hotel manager / house detective, who used to work with Tony’s father Louie at the 53rd Precinct.

Rooster (actor Michael D. Roberts), a streetwise pimp and Tony’s favorite informant.

Tony’s supervisors Inspector Shiller (played by Dana Elcar) and Lieutenant Hal Brubaker (actor Edward Grover).

Detective Foley (actor John Ward), an irritating stick-in-the-mud.

“Fats” (played by Chino “Fats” Williams), a gravelly-voiced black detective who often goes on stakeouts with Tony.

Detective Nopke (actor Ron Thompson), a rookie who admires Baretta‘s street smarts.

Little Moe (played by Angelo Rossitto), a shoeshine man and informant.

Mr. Nicholas (actor Titos Vandis), a mob boss.

Mr. Muncie (actor Paul Lichtman), the owner of a liquor store at 52nd and Main.

Where To, Now?

After its initial run in syndication began in 1979, the series later re-appeared on TV Land in 1999, as part of a package of series licensed from Universal.

The show has not aired in over a decade – but it’s still worth a look, as a cultural icon of its day.

“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time”.

That’s good advice, people.