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Ted Flicker dies at 84; writer, director co-created ‘Barney Miller’

Ted Flicker, who co-created the hit TV series “Barney Miller” and directed the cult-favorite political film satire “The President’s Analyst,” died Saturday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 84.

The cause was coronary artery disease, said his wife, Barbara.

In the 1950s he worked with Elaine May and others in the pioneering improvisational theater company Compass Players in Chicago and went on to direct numerous episodes of 1960s and 1970s TV series, including “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Night Gallery.”

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But Flicker, by his own admission, did not play studio politics well. As detailed in the 2008 documentary “Ted Flicker: A Life in Three Acts,” he fought often with executives and didn’t choose his battles wisely, at least in terms of career advancement.

Shortly after he’d have a blowup with someone in the front office, he said, “they were on the cover of Time magazine and the new head of the studio.”

Much of his work as a writer and director was applauded by critics, however. His 1978 TV movie “The Last of the Good Guys” was about a policeman with leukemia battling to stay alive long enough to earn retirement benefits for his family. When the officer dies nine days short of his goal, members of his squad come up with a scheme to make it seem as if he is still working his beat.

Los Angeles Times TV writer Cecil Smith called it “one of those rare films that combine stark tragedy with riotous comedy that you never see on television. Rarer still, it works.”

Theodore J. Flicker was born June 6, 1930, in Freehold, N.J. After graduating from high school, he attended Bard College for two years and then studied theater at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After that, he spent two years in the Army.

In the mid-1950s he joined Compass Players and in 1960 established his own improv group, The Premise, that played several cities, including Los Angeles. His first film, “The Troublemaker,” written with Buck Henry, was about a naive farmer trying to open a coffee shop in New York.

Flicker’s best known feature film was the 1967 comedy “The President’s Analyst” which critic Roger Ebert early in his career called “one of the funniest movies of the year, ranking with ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Bedazzled’ in the sharp edge of its satire.”

The frantically paced movie, about a psychiatrist on the run from spies from around the world because he heard vital secrets during therapy sessions with the president, lampoons the Washington establishment, FBI, CIA, hippies, suburban living, psychedelic rock and an evil force that turns out to be the telephone company. Despite good reviews, the film was not a commercial success but now has a kind of cult status.

One of his TV movie ideas that didn’t get made — “My Husband the Detective,” written for comedian Alan King — led to his biggest hit. “King loved it, the network hated it,” Flicker said in a 1978 Times interview. “But a smart agent saw a sitcom in it.”

He was teamed with sitcom veteran Danny Arnold and together they created “Barney Miller” about a mismatched group of police detectives in a New York precinct. It ran from 1974 to 1982, and gave Flicker enough money to say goodbye to Hollywood.

“People would ask us, ‘Why are you leaving?’” Barbara Flicker said. “We would say, ‘We had enough.’ They could not understand. ‘Enough’ is not a word of common usage in Los Angeles.”

After moving to Santa Fe in 1986, Ted Flicker took up sculpture, which he said in the documentary was “more fun, more rewarding, than anything in the arts I’ve ever done.

“And I’ll tell you another thing that’s fun about sculpture. I never have to show it to some schmuck from the studio.”

In addition to his wife, Flicker is survived by his brothers Marvin Flicker of Beverly Hills and Robert Flicker of New York.

Twitter: @davidcolker


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