Full disclosure: I spent the better part of last Thursday night attending night court for a traffic violation. As you might have expected, the experience was an efficient, competent, and streamlined process (right). New technology has been introduced (such as a defendant attempting to use a digital receipt on his cellphone as a means of an alibi), but the court system doesn’t appear to have changed much fundamentally in the last thirty years. Why did I choose thirty years? Because 1984 featured the debut of the long-running court comedy that’s the focus of today’s article. Hit the jump for more. Hollywood! Adapt this: Night Court.
Airing on NBC after Cheers in the mid-80s, Night Court was a half-hour comedy that centered on the night-shift staff of a Manhattan court. Created by Reinhold Weege, the sitcom starred Harry Anderson as the quirky, amateur comedian/magician, Judge Harold T. “Harry” Stone. Two other series regulars included John Larroquette as nymphomaniac narcissist prosecutor Dan Fielding, and Richard Moll as the imposing bailiff, “Bull” Shannon. Charles Robinson joined in a regular role as the court’s clerk, Mac, after the first season. The show featured a number of women cast as public defenders, but Markie Post starred as Christine Sullivan for seven seasons of the show’s nine. The show’s female bailiff character – originally elderly, short women that contrasted hilariously to Moll’s Bull – was eventually solidified in the form of Roz Russell, played for the rest of the series by Marsha Warfield.
While the starring cast was obviously the core of the show, a lot of the zany humor was provided by the rotating cast of guest stars and supporting cast who played eccentric criminals that appeared in court. Night Court was originally set squarely in the real world with all of the downright strange cases that a city like New York can offer up while avoiding the violent, sexual crimes that pervade contemporary prime time legal dramas. Eventually, however, the show did move into the surreal, even putting Wile E. Coyote on trial at one point for his harassment of the Road Runner.
Legal comedies like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and Harry’s Law, have often focused on a group of misfit lawyers and their quirky relationships as the center of the show. All well and good, but Night Court’s approach was more of a blue-collar, workman’s aesthetic, showing the daily lives of the night-shift crew going through the motions night in and night out. Its bureaucratic focus was more in the vein of contemporary workplace comedies like Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine Nine.
A series reboot of Night Court would not only provide some comedic relief from the current spate of violent murder-mystery dramas, but it would also be an absolute playground for today’s community of comedy writers and actors. Sure, the character relationships are an important and integral part of the series overall, but the show’s episodic nature allows for a creative freedom in both the writing and acting departments. The original series featured plenty of cameos from popular actors and comedians while also acting as a springboard for up-and-coming talent. While the zany, often slapstick brand of humor would likely have to be tweaked for modern audiences, Night Court provides a rich source of comedy to mine. I’m amazed it hasn’t been done already.
The Final Word:
I can’t say it better than the cast of Night Court and recurring guest star, Brent Spiner, who you probably know best as Data from Star Trek fame:
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to tune in for next week’s Hollywood! Adapt This!
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