Who knew that the American justice system could be so bawdy? You can thank Night Court for that little revelation. Through nine prime time seasons, this hit sitcom turned a New York City courtroom into a den of naughty humor. It wasn’t that Night Court was just about sex; it’s just that the libidinous parts were the ones the kids stayed up to watch.
Presiding over these courtly shenanigans was Judge Harry T. Stone, a mischievous scamp with a yen for magic tricks. Harry frequently ruffled a few judicial feathers (he decided a case in the first episode by flipping a coin), but his Solomon-like ability to always do the right thing kept him in the robes and on the bench. A parade of co-stars came and went over the first few seasons-clerk Lana Wagner, public defender Liz Williams, public defender Billie Young, and more-and then there was the case of the tragic bailiff. Selma Diamond played tough old bailiff Selma Hacker in the show’s first season, but she passed away in 1985. In came bailiff Florence Kleiner, but actress Florence Halop died after the show’s second season. Roz Russell became the court’s new bailiff in the fall of 1986, staying with the court for the rest of the show’s run.
Despite the turnover, a few characters became permanent fixtures of Judge Stone’s courtroom. Bailiff Bull Shannon was the show’s oversized, loveable lug, while District Attorney Dan Fielding had nothing loveable or luggish about him (and the only thing oversized was his ego). Dan was the official courtroom sleazeball, trying to woo and bed every nice-looking female who entered the halls of justice. And slimily charming sort that he was, he often succeeded.
As the series got settled in, the rest of the regulars fell into place. Mac Robinson became the new court clerk in the fall of 1984, usually playing the straight man to the rest of Night Court’s wacky denizens. A Vietnam vet, Mac married Vietnamese woman Quon Le Duck to help her stay in the U.S., and the new Mrs. Robinson became another semi-regular. Court custodian Art made frequent appearances as well, but the last of the show’s true regulars was new public defender Christine Sullivan, who arrived as a permanent cast member in 1986. Endlessly upbeat, Christine had to deal with the constant lecherous advances of Dan, who tried everything from seduction to lifesaving (he once gave Christine the Heimlich) to get into her legal briefs.
Night Court was certainly saucy – the court saw more than its share of prostitutes, madams, tenants of a nudist apartment, porn stars, and so on – but things were always tempered by Harry’s irrepressible boyishness. The judge was on hand to help washed-up kids’ TV stars, pacify crazed clowns, learn from old-school magicians, and share his worship of Mel Tormé. The singer made frequent appearances on the show, as did John Astin (TV’s Gomez Addams) as Harry’s oddball dad, William Utay as derelict Phil Robinson (and his evil twin Will), Yakov Smirnoff as wacky Russian Yakov Korolenko, and Bumper Robinson as Leon, a young runaway that Harry tried to adopt in a memorably touching episode.
Touching moments aside, the show was usually pure farce, often bordering on the outrageous (no less than two episodes had the legal eagles forced to try over 200 cases in a night), but that kind of lunacy was what made Night Court a prime time favorite. John Larroquette won four consecutive Supporting Actor Emmys for his role as Dan, and the show spent several years in the Top 20. Court was finally adjourned in the fall of 1992, but syndicated reruns have ensured that the goings-on of Judge Stone’s courtroom will be inspiring naughty snickers for years to come.
If you remember staying up late to watch Night Court on Thursday nights, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Harry and his nocturnal cohorts.