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Night Court is an Americanmarker television situation comedy that aired on NBC from January 1984 until May 1992. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattanmarker court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone (played by Harry Anderson). It was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on Barney Miller in the 1970s and early 1980s.


Night Court, according to the first season DVD, was created without comedian/magician Harry Anderson in mind, but Anderson auditioned with the claim that he was Harry Stone. Anderson had developed a following with his performances on Saturday Night Live and made several successful appearances as "Harry the Hat" on another NBC sitcom, Cheers. (For the first several years of its run, Night Court aired on NBC Thursday nights after Cheers.) In later seasons, while Anderson remained the key figure, John Larroquette became the breakout personality, winning a number of awards and many fans for his performance as the lecherous Dan Fielding.

The comedy style on Night Court changed as the series progressed. During its initial seasons, the show was often compared to Barney Miller. In addition to being created by a writer of that show, Night Court (like Barney Miller) was set in New York City, featured quirky, often dry humor, and dealt with a staff who tried to cope with a parade of eccentric, often neurotic criminals and complainants. Furthering this comparison, these criminals and complainants were routinely played by character actors who had made frequent guest appearances on Barney Miller: Stanley Brock, Philip Sterling, Alex Hentlehoff, and many others. But while the characters appearing in the courtroom (and the nature of their transgressions) were often whimsical, bizarre or humorously inept, in the early years of Night Court, the show still took place in the 'real world'. In fact, in an early review of the show, Time magazine called Night Court, with its emphasis on non-glamorous, non-violent petty crime, the most realistic law show on the air.

Gradually, however, Night Court abandoned its initial 'real world' setting, and morphed into what could best be described as broad, almost slapstick comedy. Logic and realism were frequently abandoned for the sake of a joke.

The show featured several defendants who appeared before the court again and again—notably the Wheelers, Bob and June (Bob was played by Brent Spiner later known for his role as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation), who initially pretended to be stereotypical hicks from West Virginiamarker but were later revealed as Yugoslavians, and at one point even ran a concession stand in the courthouse.


Primary cast

The following cast members appeared in the opening credits:

  • The judge:
    • Harry Anderson as Judge Harry Stone, a young, good-humored jurist and an amateur magician whose parents were former mental patients. Harry loved movies and fashions from the 1940s, and idolized crooner Mel Tormé.
  • The public defenders:
    • Gail Strickland as Sheila Gardner (pilot episode only).
    • Paula Kelly as Liz Williams (Season 1, after the pilot).
    • Ellen Foley as Billie Young (Season 2). A romantic interest for Harry Stone.
    • Markie Post as Christine Sullivan (Season 3-), who, though attractive and voluptuous, was honest to a fault and somewhat naïve. The primary romantic interest for Harry Stone and a regular target for Dan Fielding's lechery throughout the series' run.
  • The prosecutor:
    • John Larroquette as Reinhold Fielding Elmore, who used the name Daniel R. "Dan" Fielding, a sex-obsessed narcissistic prosecutor who would do almost anything to get a woman to sleep with him. He is the source of many witty and sometimes cruel remarks regarding almost every other character, although he occasionally shows a decent sized streak of compassion when the time arises. It is revealed late in the series that his real first name is Reinhold (an obvious joke about the show's writer and producer), and he goes by Dan out of embarrassment.

  • The bailiffs:
    • Richard Moll as Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon, a (seemingly) dim-witted hulk of a figure who was actually gentle and often childlike. He was known for his catchphrase, "Ohh-kay".
    • The various female bailiffs, who were acerbic and comically gruff:
  • The court clerks:
    • Karen Austin as Lana Wagner (Season 1). The original romantic interest for Harry Stone. Though Austin left the show after 10 episodes, she was seen in the opening credits of all 13 first season episodes.
    • Charles Robinson as Macintosh "Mac" Robinson (Season 2-), a veteran of the Vietnam War, who was very sweet and would do anything for anyone (with the usual exception of Dan Fielding). He always wore a cardigan, plaid shirt, and a knit tie.

Supporting players

  • Martin Garner as Bernie (Seasons 1 and 2), the operator of the concession stand in the cafeteria who had a crush on Selma and was often seen trying to persuade her to give up smoking. (When Bernie was not at the stand various extras could be seen running it, including Al Rosen, best known as "Al" on Cheers.)
  • Terry Kiser as Al Craven (Seasons 1 and 2), an obnoxious, pushy tabloid reporter who sometimes hung around the courtroom in hopes of discovering a scandalous story.
  • Rita Taggart as Carla Bouvier (Seasons 1 and 2), a prostitute who frequently appeared as a defendant, and who had a crush on Harry.
  • D.D. Howard as Charly Tracy. Clerk for the last two episodes of the first season after Karen Austin's departure from the show.
  • Denice Kumagai as Quon Le Duc Robinson (Season 2-), Mac's wife, a refugee from Vietnam who was somewhat naive about America and its customs, but was loving and very devoted to him.
  • Mike Finneran as Art Fensterman, a bumbling "fix-it man" attached to the courthouse
  • John Astin as Buddy Ryan (Season 3-), Harry's eccentric stepfather and a former patient in a psychiatric hospital. His catchphrase was the capper to stories involving his hospital stay or past strange behavior: "...but I'm feeling much better now" accompanied by a huge leering grin. He was later revealed to be Harry's biological father.
  • Mel Tormé played himself in several appearances. In the first episode, it is revealed that Harry is a fanatic admirer of Mel's; this was alluded to in many, many later episodes.
  • William Utay as Phil Sanders, Dan's homeless lackey. Utay also later played Phil's evil twin brother Will. Later in the series, Phil is killed in an accident involving a large musical instrument. (Due to his fear of musical instruments, he had a special clause in his substantial life insurance policy providing additional benefit in the event of accidental death caused by a musical instrument.) Upon his death, it was revealed that Phil was actually an extremely wealthy individual who chose to live life among the poor—in fact, the show cleverly suggested the New York Harmonic Orchestra was known as the "PHILharmonic Orchestra" because Phil was one of its greatest patrons.
  • Brent Spiner as Bob Wheeler, a down-on-his-luck type who was a frequent defendant in Harry's courtroom. Spiner later gained greater fame as Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • Yakov Smirnoff as Russian immigrant Yakov Korolenko, another frequent visitor to the courtroom.
  • Daniel R. Frishman played Dan's boss, District Attorney Vincent Daniels, in several episodes.
  • Joleen Lutz as Lisette Hocheiser (Seasons 8 and 9), a ditzy court stenographer.

Cast changes

The first few seasons of Night Court had an unusually large number of cast changes for such a long-running series. The only actors to appear consistently throughout the show's run were Harry Anderson, John Larroquette, and Richard Moll.

  • When Selma Diamond, the first female bailiff, died after two seasons, Florence Halop played a replacement character, only to die one season later. Night Court scripts addressed the deaths of both characters, which was uncharacteristic for a sitcom. There were whispers and jokes that both actresses had fallen prey to some sort of "Night Court Curse"; this is said to be one of the reasons that the show decided not to bring in a third elderly actress and instead replaced Halop with Marsha Warfield, who played Roz Russell. All three characters were written as mother-figures for Bull. Warfield's arrival marked the show's final cast change, and the ensemble remained intact for the remainder of the show's run.

  • Karen Austin only appeared as Lana Wagner for the first ten episodes, after which her character was only subsequently mentioned in the eleventh episode as "out sick" by a one-time character, and never again by regular cast members. She was kept in the titles of the remaining three episodes of the first season. Also cut from the show after the first season was Paula Kelly; the public defender role was filled by Ellen Foley for the second season, after which she in turn was replaced by Markie Post. The character of Lana had been planned to be a romantic interest for Harry Stone, but when Austin departed, that role was transferred to the new public defender characters.

Theme song

Every episode of Night Court opens with a jazz-influenced, bass-heavy theme song composed by Jack Elliott. The full theme can be heard here:


Nielsen ratings

The show was a hit for the first 6 seasons
  • 1984-1985 #20
  • 1985-1986 #11
  • 1986-1987 #7
  • 1987-1988 #7
  • 1988-1989 #21
  • 1989-1990 #29

The series finale brought in 24.6 million viewers (26% of all Americans watching television that night)

Awards and honors

During its nine season run, Night Court received a number of awards and nominations. Both Selma Diamond (in 1985) and John Larroquette (in 1988) earned Golden Globe nominations, but lost to Faye Dunaway and Rutger Hauer respectively. The show has had more success with the Emmys and the first season earned a nomination for Paula Kelly. While the second season came around, the show had more success with the fans and critics and higher recognition came from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. John Larroquette won four consecutive Emmys for best supporting actor in a comedy series from 1985 to 1988, before he withdrew his name from the ballot in 1989. Selma Diamond also earned a nomination in 1985, as a tribute for her sudden death, and the show's star Harry Anderson earned three consecutive nominations (from 1985 to 1987). The show earned three nominations for best comedy series, in 1985, 1987, and 1988. The show also received many minor awards and nominations in the areas of lighting, editing, sound mixing, and technical direction. In total, the show was nominated for thirty-one Emmys, winning seven.

DVD releases

Season releases

Warner Home Video released the complete first season of Night Court on DVD in Region 1 on February 8, 2005. Season 2 was released on February 3, 2009, 4 years after the release of the first season. Season 3 will be released on February 23, 2010.

DVD Name Release Date Ep. # Additional Info
The Complete First Season February 8, 2005 13
  • Interviews with Reinhold Weege and Harry Anderson.
  • Episode commentary on pilot.
The Complete Second Season February 3, 2009 22
The Complete Third Season February 23, 2010 22

Special releases
DVD Name Release Date Ep. #
Television Favorites February 28, 2006 6
The Television Favorites compilation DVD included the pilot episode, "All You Need Is Love"; both parts of the fourth season finale, "Her Honor"; the fifth season episodes "Death of a Bailiff" and "Who Was That Mashed Man?"; and the sixth season episode "Fire", which marked the beginning of Harry's relationship with Christine.

In popular culture

In the Comedy Central animated sitcom South Park episode "Roger Ebert Should Lay off the Fatty Foods", Eric Cartman, auditioning as a singer of the Cheesy Poofs song, dramatically sings 'I'm talking Night Court in its fifth season lame!' as a grand finale of his audition.

In Season 5, Episode 13 of Family Guy, titled "Bill and Peter's Bogus Journey," Bill Clinton breaks out his saxophone and plays the Night Court theme song. In another episode, Pete makes reference to the late actresses who played the baliffs.

In Season 3, Episode 3 of 30 Rock ("The One with the Cast of 'Night Court'", aired on November 13, 2008), a reunion of Night Court was featured. Harry Anderson, Charles Robinson and Markie Post made guest appearances as themselves. The plot involved the Night Court stars agreeing to stage a mock finale to the series in which the characters of Harry and Christine got married. In addition, the character Jenna Maroney is shown to have appeared as the "werewolf lawyer" Sparky Monroe and is blamed by the rest of the cast for causing the show to "jump the shark".

In the Strong Bad Email "car", Homestar Runner claims that spinning the little buzzer on his hat will play the theme to Night Court, although it's obvious he was humming it himself.


  1. Markie Post's first appearance on the show (as Christine) was an early second-season episode ("Daddy for the Defense", originally aired October 4, 1984). Post didn't become a regular until the third season.

External links

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