Minnesota native, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ star Joel McKinnon Miller adjusts to fame
Joel McKinnon Miller handled Fox’s cancellation of his television show pretty well. He was disappointed, he said, but how many shows get a five-year run? You don’t do these things forever — that’s the life of an actor.
“I was more practical about it,” said the actor who plays Norm Scully on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
So he hosted his son for a home-cooked meal and ignored his cellphone for a few hours. When he finally checked his messages, he found that the award-winning comedy set inside a New York City police precinct would go on: NBC had picked it up.
Miller is a Minnesota native who graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth and has family ties to the region. The actor-opera singer has been a part of the popular sitcom since the start and has emerged from a background player to half of a quirky partnership known for finding a million-and-one ways to fritter away the remaining days of their careers.
The cancellation was surreal, Miller recalled.
“The biggest thing, for a lot of us: We didn’t get to say goodbye to everybody, our crew and writers,” he said. “You become like family. That sounds like a cliche, people say it all the time, but it’s really true in this case.”
Fox announced it was dropping the show — viewership had dropped, and there wasn’t a good place for it in the lineup, execs told Entertainment Weekly — in May 2018. Bummed fans, including biggies in the biz — took to Twitter. Consider the case of Luke Skywalker:
“Oh NOOOOOOOOO,” actor Mark Hamill wrote, followed by a purging of exclamation points and sad-faced emojis. “Be forewarned @FOXTV — when networks dump shows I love, I’m known for holding grudges a long L-O-N-G time.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton,” went all caps with his plea: “Renew Brooklyn Nine Nine,” he posted in haiku-like lines. “I only watch like 4 things/ This is one of the things.”
Of note: Miranda makes a cameo on the show this season.
New network, new energy
NBC gave “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” the kind of push it hadn’t had since it premiered in 2013. They were involved in the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press tour. They designated a social media person, who posts behind-the-scenes footage. And the cast went to Comic Con in San Diego.
It was the latter that gave Miller insight into what it must feel like to be a Rolling Stone. The bus pulled up in front of the hotel, he said, and there was a sea of people. While he slipped into a dress shirt and blazer, he wondered how they were going to get off the bus.
“There was a little path between the throng of screaming ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ fans going crazy,” he said. “For a few moments, there, I thought ‘Wow. I feel like Mick Jagger.’”
Miller said he had an inkling of the show’s reach — it plays around the world in 120 countries. He recently answered a fan letter from a viewer in Russia. He likens the show to the 1970s series “Barney Miller” or, more recently, “Parks and Rec.”
“I think it’s a real kind of across-the-board crowd-pleaser with people of different ages,” Miller said. “It’s a nice escape for people, and it came at the right time.”
This season has given longtime partners Hitchcock and Scully a sexy backstory set in the 1980s, when they were young and hungry and had a certain “Miami Vice”-ness to their aesthetic.
Chelsea Peretti, a comedian who has played assistant Gina Linetti, left the show early in the season. As part of a barrage of goodbye sentiments that appeared on social media, Miller added his own — he named his very Minnesotan dinner for the actor. Gina Linetti Tater Tot Hot Dish has 1 pound of ground turkey or beef, low sodium cream of mushroom soup, and a bag of tater tots — among other things.
“Serve with ketchup or hot sauce,” he added in the recipe that he posted on Twitter.
Meanwhile, in Peretti’s final episode, Scully shows up to her going-away party with a pan of pigs in a blanket — which combines crescent rolls and mini wieners.
Miller maintains strong Minnesota ties and, at the end of 2018, Minnesota made an official claim. Miller sang the national anthem before a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium. As a kid, he had often gone autograph hunting at training camp in Mankato. He admitted to nerves beforehand, and solicited the advice of colleague Terry Crews.
“He said, ‘Joel, you’re in front of millions of people every week,’” Miller recalled. “‘Go out and make them listen to you.’ That was his advice.”