Monday Jan. 4, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Night Court
On this Day:
In 1984, “Night Court” an American television sitcom starring Harry Anderson, John Larroquette, Richard Moll and a host of others premieres on NBC TV.
Night Court aired on NBC from January 4, 1984, to May 31, 1992. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan municipal court presided over by a young, unorthodox judge, Harold “Harry” T. Stone (portrayed by Harry Anderson). The series was created by comedy writer Reinhold Weege, who had previously worked on Barney Miller in the 1970s and early 1980s.
[Ed: For a young lawyer and sometimes federal prosecutor working his way thru the legal system, Night Court was simply a hoot].
The judge: Harry Anderson, as Judge Harold “Harry” T. Stone, is a young, baby-faced, good-humored jurist and amateur magician whose parents were former mental patients. He was very young for a new judge, being only 34 when he took the bench. He got his assignment because the outgoing mayor made a huge number of appointments on his last day, and Harry was the only person on the judges’ list who answered the call and accepted the nomination. He loved old movies, was vocal in his disdain for modern music (especially Barry Manilow), and idolized actress Jean Harlow and crooner Mel Tormé, both of whose photographs adorned Stone’s chambers.
The public defenders: Gail Strickland as public defender Sheila Gardner (pilot episode only); Paula Kelly as Liz Williams (season 1); Ellen Foley as Billie Young (season 2) is a public defender and potential romantic interest for Stone during season 2; Markie Post as Christine Sullivan (seasons 3–9): Her first appearance on the show was an early second-season episode (“Daddy for the Defense”, originally aired October 4, 1984); she did not become a regular until the third season. (Post was starring on The Fall Guy at the time.) The character was honest to a fault and somewhat naïve. She was the primary romantic interest for Stone and a regular target for Dan Fielding’s lechery throughout the series’ run. A huge fan of the British Royal family, she had various Princess Diana memorabilia collections such as a set of porcelain thimbles.
The prosecutor: John Larroquette, as Reinhold Daniel Fielding Elmore, using the name Daniel R. “Dan” Fielding, (although in the season-2 episode “Harry on Trial”, he is referred to as Daniel K. Fielding), is a sex-obsessed narcissistic prosecutor, who would do almost anything to get a woman to sleep with him. It was hinted that he frequented dominatrices. He was the source of many witty and sometimes cruel remarks regarding almost every other character, although he occasionally showed compassion. When his homeless lackey Phil died, the ever-greedy Dan was excited to discover that Phil was in fact wealthy and expected to be the beneficiary of his millions, only to learn that Phil’s will put Dan in charge of the Phil Foundation, tasked to give away Phil’s entire fortune to worthy causes.
Dan revealed near the end of the third-season episode number 22 “Hurricane (Part 2)” that his real first name was Reinhold (an obvious joke about the show’s writer and producer of the same name), and that he began using the name Dan out of embarrassment when he started school. The other characters did not discover Dan’s true name until the fifth-season episode “Dan, The Walking Time Bomb”. It was earlier discovered, in the second-season episode “Dan’s Parents”, from Dan’s parents Daddy-Bob (John McIntire) and Mucette (Jeanette Nolan), that he began using his middle name Fielding as a last name when he went to college because he thought it sounded better for a lawyer and because he was embarrassed of his impoverished childhood. During the eighth season, he was revealed to have a successful younger sister named Donna, whose morals and life goals were similar to his own.
The bailiff: Richard Moll, as Nostradamus “Bull” Shannon, is a seemingly dim-witted hulk of a figure, who was actually patient, gentle, and childlike. He was fiercely protective of Harry. Bull was known for his catchphrase, “Ooo-kay”, and clapping a hand loudly to his forehead when he realized he had made a mistake. Moll had been filming a sci-fi movie (Metalstorm) and had shaved his head for the role. The producers loved the look and Moll kept his head shaven for the entire run of the series (per Wikipedia).
The show is usually considered a satire and subversion of the Law Procedural genre, featuring bizarre, wacky crimes, such as groups of rival ventriloquists and their dummies assaulting each other (although the show was also praised for its refusal to deal with violent and “glamorous” crime and called “The most realistic law show on the air” by Time Magazine, no less). Logic and realism were frequently abandoned for the sake of a joke: cartoon animal Wile E. Coyote once appeared in a brief gag as a defendant.
The show featured regular guest appearances by John Astin, of The Addams Family fame, as Buddy Ryan, Judge Stone’s certifiably insane birth father. Harry Stone’s idol Mel Tormé made frequent guest spots, as did Brent Spiner (later famous for his role as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Bob Wheeler, patriarch of a family of Yugoslavians who pretended to be a hick family from West Virginia and, at one point, even ran a concession stand in the courthouse (per allthetropes.org)
First, a Story:
At night court, a man was brought in and set before the judge.
The judge said, “State your name, occupation, and the charge.”
The defendant said, “I’m Sparks, I’m an electrician, charged with battery.”
The judge winced and said, “Bailiff!” Put this man in a dry cell!”
Second, a Song:
Every episode of Night Court opens and closes with a jazz-influenced, bass-heavy theme tune composed by Jack Elliott, featuring Ernie Watts on saxophone while featuring video footage of prominent New York City landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York County Courthouse.
Night Court’s theme was used in the season-5 Family Guy episode “Bill & Peter’s Bogus Journey”, featuring animations of former US President Bill Clinton playing saxophone along with Secret Service musicians playing backup.
Night Court’s theme was sampled for the remix to Cam’Ron’s 1998 single “Horse & Carriage”. It was produced by Darrell “Digga” Branch and featured Big Pun, Charli Baltimore, Wyclef Jean, and Silkk the Shocker.
Following the end credits theme music, a distinctive laugh can be heard dubbed over the vanity logo displaying producer Reinhold Weege’s “Starry Night Productions”. This same laugh can be heard coming from the studio audience throughout numerous seasons of Night Court. At first it was thought to be the canned laugh of voice actor Mel Blanc or even star Harry Anderson; but in fact, it was the laugh of Chuck Weege, Reinhold’s father, who attended nearly all of the tapings in person.
Jack Elliott was born Irwin Elliott Zucker in Hartford, Connecticut. He was of Romanian Jewish descent. Elliott graduated from the Hartt School of Music and worked as a jazz pianist in New York and Paris in the 1950s. He continued his post-graduate studies in composition with Arnold Franchetti, Isadore Freed, Bohuslav Martinů, and Lukas Foss, but it was Judy Garland who brought Elliott to California to become an arranger for her television show.
Elliott continued his run in television as music director for Andy Williams’ long-running series and later produced and conducted the NBC television special Live From Studio 8H: 100 Years of America’s Popular Music. He also wrote themes for television shows Night Court, and co-wrote the themes to Barney Miller and Charlie’s Angels with Allyn Ferguson. He is listed in New Grove’s Dictionary of American Music and was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music.
Elliott was co-founder and music director of the American Jazz Philharmonic (formerly the New American Orchestra) and creator of the Henry Mancini Institute. The original name of the Orchestra was “The Big O” and was the largest jazz orchestra of its kind featuring over 92 musicians. Elliott blended the classical European style orchestra with modern American jazz style. His professional repertoire was diverse, highlighted by stints as music director for the Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Kennedy Center Honors and the 1984 Summer Olympics. In addition, he holds the distinction of serving as music director of the Grammy Awards for 30 consecutive years.
He had an accomplished career in film, scoring numerous hit movies, including Sibling Rivalry, The Jerk, Oh God!, and Where’s Poppa?. He also produced the Blade Runner soundtrack album with the New American Orchestra, and composed the song “It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House” in 1950, made famous by Dinah Shore (per Wikipedia).
Here is Night Court Season 3 Opening and Closing Credits and Theme Song. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
Today is a two-fer:
“Somebody saw me on ‘Cheers’ and thought that I was an actor playing a part as opposed to a guy just doing what he knew. And they gave me ‘Night Court.’ And by the time they realized I wasn’t an actor, I had already signed a five-year contract.” – Harry Anderson
“If 50 percent of your career is not filled with failure, you’re not really successful.” – John Larroquette
The best news is left for last. Night court is coming back!
Night Court ran for nine seasons from 1984-92, and in the process earned a total of 11 Emmy nominations and four wins — all for John Larroquette as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy series. Larroquette will be returning as narcissistic prosecutor Dan Fielding, but he’ll be sparring with a new judge.
Harry Anderson, who played Judge Harry Stone, unfortunately died in 2018 at the age of 65. Stepping into his robes will be Judge Abbey Stone, the original’s fictional daughter, described as an “unapologetic optimist.” She’ll be presiding over a Manhattan arraignment court that — get this — holds session at night. How wacky is that? (per https://consequenceofsound.net/2020/12/night-court-sequel-series/).
Link to an excerpt of one of the episodes starring Brent Spiner as Bob Wheeler, patriarch of a family of Yugoslavians: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE6brM24yIA&t=18s
Have a great day!
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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