was a sitcom
that ran on NBC
for 9 seasons, from 1984
. Featuring a more raw and biting style of humor
than is typical of the network sitcom format, and wholly lacking any ‘family’ or ‘domestic’ situations, it broke new ground in a very similar way to its contemporary and partner on Thursday nights, Cheers
The premise of the show was that a courtroom was kept operational in the criminal court building in downtown Manhattan throughout the night, so misdemeanor cases could be adjudicated quickly. Most scenes took place in the courtroom, the hallway behind it, the office of the judge, or the building’s cafeteria. In the early seasons, there was considerable shuffling of the characters, but the ensemble was finalized with most of the seasons still to go. The main characters were:
Characters constant throughout:
•The Judge, Harry T. Stone, played by Harry Anderson, who was very young for a judge, and supposedly got the position because he was the only person home on a particular Sunday when the judgeship was to be filled. Judge Stone was a geek a decade before being a geek was a cultural phenomenon, obsessed as he was with magic tricks, the styles of the 1940s, and especially crooner Mel Torme.
•The Prosecuting Attorney, Dan Fielding, played by John Larroquette. Fielding was a sex addict and constantly scheming to become a judge himself. He was born on a poor farm in Louisiana and originally named Reinhold Elmer, before working his way to the big city and spending a lifetime hiding his past.
• The Male Bailiff, Nostradamus “Bull” Shannon, played by Richard Moll. A giant and stupid man with a bald head, Bull was a softie and always misunderstood. His standard line, was “Oooooooookay,” uttered when presented with something he didn’t fully understand.
Characters that changed:
• The Judge’s Secretary. Originally “Lana,” a nice down-home country girl played by Karen Austin, then “Charli”, a buxom blonde, quickly replaced by Mac Robinson, played by Charles Robinson. Mac was a good-hearted Vietnam Vet who married a small, loud woman whose village he saved. Mac served as a straight man to Harry and Dan’s antics.
•The Defense Attorney: For the first season it was “Liz,” played by Paula Kelly, then “Billie,” played by Ellen Foley for the second season, neither of which were extensively developed as characters. For most of the show’s run the defense attorney was Christine Sullivan, played by Markie Post. Christine was a grown woman with a house full of teddy bears and a personality to match. She was from suburban Buffalo, and never could escape the grasp of her over-bearing father. There was considerable sexual tension between her and Harry.
• The Female Bailiff: For the first few seasons the sarcastic counterpart to Bull was Selma Hacker, played by Selma Diamond, a wheezing older woman who must have been the inspiration for Patty/Selma from The Simpsons. Diamond passed away after the third season and the character “Florence,” a clone of Selma, was introduced, only to have the actress, Florence Halop, die within a year. She was replaced with Rozalind “Roz” Russell, played by Marsha Warfield, who was a younger and blacker version of the previous two. All of the female bailiffs were small women whom Bull towered over, yet were forceful and acidic personalities compared to Bull’s quiet innocence. There was always platonic love between them and Bull, even if the frumpy women didn’t admit it out loud.
There many other somewhat regular characters, including Art, the court building’s maintenance man, Phil, a local bum, Quan Lee Duc, Mac’s Macy’s-addicted wife, Ellen, Bull’s diminutive blind girlfriend, The Wheelers, a family of poor backwoods mountaineers who had come to the big city, and Buddy, Harry’s father who had spent most of his life in a mental institution.
Typical plot standards included the characters being stuck in the courthouse for some reason, like a natural disaster, hostage incident, or marathon session to empty the holding tank, and one of the characters getting in trouble and Harry dispensing some platitudes. Thus the show had its own frequently applied formulas, but was not itself formulaic, except for Dan Fielding being a libidinous 80s sitcom archetype.
Near the end of the series, both Dan and Christine ran for public office. Fielding tied in a race for state assembly, with the tying vote for Dan being cast be a suicidal man as his last hateful act against the world, and Christine lost in a race for the Senate. Dan eventually lost his run-off election, and the series ended with just about everyone leaving the court for other jobs.
Some info from http://www.public.iastate.edu/~dheck/nc/nightcourt.html