A Manhattan court is presided over by a young, unorthodox judge.
193 episodes of 30 minutes duration. 1984 - 1992 (Only 13 shown in the UK)
Created and produced by Reinhold Weege who had previously written and produced for the classic police comedy Barney Miller, Night Court began as a midseason replacement in January 1984 and remained on air until 1992 and was in session no fewer than 193 times.
This offbeat series was set in a New York City courtroom and featured 33-year-old Harry T. Stone (Harry Anderson) as the youngest judge ever in the court along with his equally wacky staff, and the defendants who appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court Part Two. His love of magic tricks, bad jokes and the singer Mel Torme does not endear him--at first--to the court's staff who included the rather dense but tall bailiff Nostrodamus "Bull" Shannon (Richard Moll); raspy voiced fellow bailiff Selma Hacker (former comedy writer Selma Diamond) who spits out one-liners; and able but oversexed prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Larroquette). Also in the cast during the first half-season: court clerk Lana Wagner (Karen Austin) and defence attorney Liz Williams (Paula Kelly).
NBC executives were very hesitant about hiring Anderson, a real-life magician who occasionally did his tricks on Saturday Night Live and appeared on several episodes of Cheers as a con man, but Weege fought for him and the network finally caved in. Anderson's inexperience in series television showed at the beginning and the writers began to tailor Judge Stone to Anderson's real personality until eventually he gained more confidence and ability. Stone became (relatively speaking) the sane voice in an insane universe, allowing the supporting cast and guest criminals to show off their lunacy. "Night Court" did well enough to win renewal, but not without changes. Austin was replaced as court clerk by Mac Robinson (Charlie Robinson, an actor and former member of the singing group Archie Bell & The Drells, who had a US hit in 1968 with Tighten Up and a UK top twenty entry Soul City Walk in 1976). Also, Kelly was let go as defence attorney; Ellen Foley (best known for dueting with rock singer Meat Loaf on the classic 1977 Paradise By The Dashboard Lights) stepped in as new lawyer Billie Young.
Aided by a move to NBC's powerful Thursday night line-up, Night Court began to rise in the ratings. In season three, Foley was let go and was replaced with Markie Post, who played attorney Christine Sullivan. (Post was Weege's first choice as public defender, but she was tied to the action-adventure series The Fall Guy when the show began.) Also during season three, Selma Diamond died from lung cancer and comic Florence Halop was hired to play elderly bailiff Florence Kleiner. Unfortunately, Halop died during the fourth season. This time the producers hired the younger and strapping Marsha Warfield, who played bailiff Roz Russel.
The early years of Night Court were probably the best, as the show successfully walked the tightrope between lunacy and reality. Larroquette's outrageous portrayal of Dan Fielding proved to be the scene-stealer; he would eventually win four Emmy awards as Best Supporting Actor in a comedy. The producers used Harry Stone's fondness for Mel Torme as the singer himself appeared several times during the shows run. In an unusual bit of casting, the show's February 5th 1987 episode featured Brandon Tartikoff, then head of NBC's entertainment division. He played himself, posting bail for a family named Nielsen--since they have the same name as the US company that measures television ratings! Unfortunately, Nielsen would not be so kind to Night Court. In 1987, NBC moved the show from its comfortable Thursday perch to a tougher Wednesday night timeslot. About the same time, creator and producer Weege left the series; he claimed he was burned out doing so much work. Without Weege's guidance Night Court's balance tilted toward slapstick comedy that didn't help the plots or the cast. As a result, the ratings began to fall. NBC was expected to cancel the show in 1991 (in fact, a series finale was planned that would have had Harry and Christine get married after years of flirting and physical attraction. And Dan would have become--of all things--a priest!) But at the last minute, the network renewed Night Court for a ninth season.
The ninth year proved to be the last; by this time the series was a shadow of its former self. The final episode (which aired May 13 1992) had Harry and Roz staying on the court; Christine was elected to Congress; Dan resigned as DA to pursue Christine; Mac retired to go to film school; and Bull (not surprisingly) being abducted by aliens from Jupiter! Most of the cast went on to do work on various television series and other projects; Harry Anderson himself retired from acting several years ago to run a magic store and a theatre in New Orleans. When it was clicking on all cylinders, Night Court was a fast-paced and very funny show. Its biggest flaw (like too many US sitcoms) is that it probably stayed on the air longer than it should have.
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