Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Created by Stephen J. Cannell, the weekly, hour-long crime series Baretta rose from the ashes of 1973's Toma, a short-lived weekly based on the exploits of David Toma, a real-life undercover cop with a penchant for elaborate disguises. For the "new" series, only two vestiges of the original Toma remained: Lead character Tony Baretta was an undercover detective, and he revelled in adopting bizarre costumes and eccentric "alternate" personalities. Otherwise, the two characters could not have been further apart. Remaining faithful to its source, Toma featured a tough but compassionate New Jersey cop who, though he preferred to buck the system and argue with his superior officers when pursuing a case, generally played by the rules; he also had a loving wife and two darling children, and lived in a modest but comfortable and well-appointed home. Conversely, Tony Baretta was a logical extension of Robert Blake, the bantam-cock actor who played the role. Like Blake, the streewise Baretta was fiercely, almost violently independent, bending and breaking the rules whenever possible and making no secret of his disdain for the by-the-book instincts of his superiors. And if Toma was diligent in his pursuit of lawbreakers, Baretta was downright savage; one suspects that he would have blown them to bits had he possessed the appropriate hardware. Also, unlike family man Toma, Baretta was single and a loner, his one bid for domestic bliss having been destroyed when his erstwhile fiancée was killed in the very first episode. Almost as if he was doing penance for allowing himself to be happy, Baretta lived in a rundown flophouse, managed by disheveled former cop Billy Truman. Outside of Billy and his pet cockatoo Fred, Baretta had no close friends: Certainly there was no love lost between himself and his commanding officer Insp. Shiller (Dana Elcar), while Tony's favorite street informant Rooster (Michael D. Roberts) was not exactly the sort of fellow one could call a bosom companion. Baretta was unceremoniously tossed into ABC's Friday-night schedule beginning January 17, 1975, as a midseason replacement for the canceled Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Clearly, the network felt that the series was expendable, inasmuch as it was slated opposite NBC's ratings magnet Police Woman. Within a few weeks, however, Baretta developed a respectable following, most of which was engendered by press reports of star Robert Blake's tiltings with the "suits" (his word for network executives) over the series' violence quotient and overall authenticity. By the time the series had completed its inaugural 12-episode run, Baretta was a shoo-in for renewal -- and Robert Blake had earned enough clout to start calling the shots so far as program content and casting choices were concerned.