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Gimme a Break! is an Americanmarker sitcom which aired on NBC from October 29, 1981 until May 12, 1987. It starred Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a widowed police chief and his three daughters.


The sitcom took place in the fictional Los Angelesmarker suburb of Glenlawn, California. Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper (Nell Carter) agrees to be a housekeeper for the Kanisky household as a special favor to her late friend, Margaret Kanisky (played in flashback by Sharon Spelman), who was the wife of police chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet). Nell also served as a confidante to the chief's three daughters, 17-year-old Katie (Kari Michaelsen), 15-year-old Julie (Lauri Hendler), and 13-year-old Samantha (Lara Jill Miller).

Supporting characters

Officer Ralph Simpson (Howard Morton) was a dopey police officer who worked with Carl. During the second season, Carl's parents, Grandpa Stanley (John Hoyt) and Grandma Mildred (Jane Dulo), were occasionally seen, as was his brother, Ed (Pete Schrum), an overweight mortician who loved to play practical jokes. Grandma, however, died after that season, and Grandpa moved in with Carl and his family. Ed got married and was written out of the series.

During the 1982-1983 season, the family also contended with a man who would often annoy the Kanisky household, who was only known by his surname of "Swackhammer" (played by actor Jack Fletcher). The aforementioned Swackhammer (but was incorrectly called jackhammer) was at first the assistant manager of the local phone company in Glenlawn, who angered Nell and called her by the wrong surname, not to mention turned off phone service to the Kanisky household, and having Nell arrested and thrown in jail. However, the phone company snafu was eventually fixed up, and the arrogant Swackhammer was demoted. Other episodes had him as a neighbor, who always complained about noise, and he was often referred to as "that jerk, Swackhammer!"; however after five episodes, Swackhammer disappeared with no explanation whatsoever.

The third season saw the introduction of Adelaide "Addy" Wilson (Telma Hopkins), Nell's childhood friend who worked as a teacher. Although they were friends, Nell and Addy would be somewhat competitive at times too. Meanwhile, Joey Donovan (Joey Lawrence) was a six-year-old orphan who joined the Kanisky household that year. Addy became a regular cast member one year later. In the fourth season, Julie married Jonathan Maxwell (Jonathan Silverman), a pizza-delivery man, who moved into the household.

Over the series run, a number of celebrities have appeared on the show, including singer Whitney Houston, Andy Gibb, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ray Parker, Jr.. In some of these episodes, the guest would eventually perform a song with Nell. During the third season, Pat Sajak guest-starred as himself when Nell and Addy were contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

Later developments

Nell Carter had a stormy relationship with Gimme A Break!'s original show producers Coleman Mitchell and Geoffrey Neigher, which involved personality conflicts and creative differences. The uneasy interaction heightened as the show's success grew heavily in the early seasons, so much that Mitchell and Neigher were dismissed from the show at the behest of Carter just prior to the start of the 1983-84 season. Mort Lachman, the show's co-creator, was retained as co-producer (he would serve in this role for all six seasons). NBC then hired the veteran team of Rod Parker and Hal Cooper to take over as executive producers, following their stint at the recently canceled Love, Sidney. Carter found that she saw eye to eye more often with Parker and Cooper on all levels, and due to the stability the latter team would stay with the program for the rest of its run.

During the summer 1984 hiatus, Dolph Sweet underwent stomach surgery, which was revealed shortly after to be the first extensive treatment for cancer. Over the course of the 1984-1985 season, Sweet's health went into serious decline as the cancer further ravaged his body. Producers found it increasingly harder to keep him on-screen much, due to his condition and gaunt appearance, but Sweet insisted to continue working as much as possible in order to help with the coping of his illness. Sweet died on May 8, 1985, after taping had completed on season four. To open the next season, the crew wrote out the character of Carl Kanisky and built the season premiere ("Joey's Train") around the family's coming to terms with the loss and their indecision over facing the one place that evoked the most memories of Carl his empty bedroom.

As the fifth season saw the death of the chief, Nell became the head of the household. Officer Simpson, who remained a friend of the family after the death of his superior, stuck around for another season. Julie and Jonathan, who were now living in the Chief's old room, found out they were expecting a baby; their daughter, whom they named after Nell, was born before season's end.

While never a powerhouse in the ratings, Gimme a Break! usually managed to land in the Top 40 during it's first four seasons. However, due to a drop in ratings during the fifth season, the producers of Gimme a Break! made several changes as the sixth (and ultimately final) season began. Katie moved to San Francisco; Julie, Jonathan, and baby Nell moved to San José; and Samantha attended college in New Jersey. However, she was still seen occasionally in the sixth season, visiting from school. Addy got a job in New York City, so Nell, Grandpa and Joey came to New York to join her. There, they discovered Joey's irresponsible father, Tim (guest star Patrick Collins), who showed him his brother, Matthew (played by Matthew Lawrence, Joey's real-life brother), and left them with Nell and Grandpa. Marty (Paul Sand) was their landlord who also owned a Mexican restaurant under the name "Esteban." Nell's Mama Maybelle (Rosetta LeNoire) became a regular in season six after previous guest appearances. She had moved in with her son (Nell's brother), who was working as a TV weatherman in New York. One of Nell and Addy's New York neighbors was a young lady named Maggie O'Brien, played by Rosie O'Donnell. Despite these extensive changes, ratings continued to decline as NBC began to move the show around to various spots in it's schedule. Gimme a Break was canceled in the spring of 1987.

Two episodes were particularly noteworthy. The episode "Cat Story," was performed and broadcast live on March 2, 1985, as a promotional gimmick, which the cast was able to pull off without a hitch. Another episode that aired earlier in the 1984-1985 season, "Baby of the Family," ranked No. 38 on TV Land's list of the "The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments"; the latter episode depicted Joey dressing and performing in black face at Nell's church benefit, this at Sam's behest after Nell did not allow Sam to go on a unchaperoned fishing trip.

The show was produced by Alan Landsburg Productions, whose successor-in-interest, Reeves Entertainment Group, took over production in 1985. The American syndication rights are held by NBC Universal Television Distribution, the successor company to original syndication MCA Television. Fremantle Media owns the international rights, as they own Thames Television, which acquired Alan Landsburg Productions and Reeves Entertainment Group product. The creators of the show were Mort Lachman and Sy Rosen.

The show has been in off-network syndication since 1985. Reruns have also aired nationally on WWOR EMI Service (September 30, 1991 to December 31, 1993) and the USA Network (September 22, 1997 to September 11, 1998).

Distribution rights are currently owned by The Program Exchange.

Theme Song

There were 2 opening theme songs. Nell Carter sang the theme throughout the show's six-year run. The first theme, featured during the first two seasons, was slower compared to the theme song that debuted in season three and lasted until the end of the series, which was more uptempo.

DVD Releases

United States

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a 3-disc DVD of the complete first season of Gimme a Break! on February 14, 2006, available in the United Statesmarker only. Due to poor sales, it is unknown if Universal will release all of the remaining seasons.


Visual Entertainment has released the first two seasons of Gimme a Break!' on DVD in Canada. VEI has announced that they will be releasing the entire series on DVD sometime in 2010. However, a release date has not been scheduled yet.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 19 May 30, 2006
The Complete Second Season 22 January 16, 2007


  1. PRNewswire, "TV Guide and TV Land Join Forces To Count Down The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments," December 1, 2005.[1] Accessed March 23, 2009.
  2. The Intelligencer - September 30, 1991
  3. The Intelligencer - December 31, 1993
  4. TV Guide - September 20-27, 1997
  5. TV Guide - September 5-11, 1998

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