And the Lord said "Let there be an iconic sitcom to show that the 1980s wasn't a total wash." And the skies parted, and the ocean roiled, and lo, a light shone upon the Earth, and Night Court was born. And the Lord saw it, and it was good.
Need I say more? Yes, you say? Fine, you parasites.
Night Court was a primetime sitcom that ran for nine(!) seasons on NBC. The show proved so popular that it forced not one but two extra seasons beyond the original final season.
The story: Judge Harry Stone, a magic-loving maverick whose gained his seat at the bench through a crazy set of coincidences, becomes the new judge for the night shift of the Mahattan Criminal Court. Between his antics, the unusual staff, and the oftentimes wacky cases, it is a miracle anything gets done. The court is such a magnet for weirdness that an audit was called in for the myriad of expenses the court incurred, only to be interrupted by a gun-wielding clown.
The comedy style on Night Court could best be described as broad, almost slapstick comedy. The main characters had personality quirks which made them slightly off-kilter. Logic and realism were frequently abandoned for the sake of a joke: cartoon animal Wile E. Coyote (a Warner Bros. property, like Night Court) once appeared in a brief gag as a defendant ("I know you're hungry, but leave the poor bird alone!"), and a group of Trekkies "beamed out" after stating they answer only to Starfleet Command and not Harry's authority. A typical plot might have Judge Stone trying to stop a group of rival ventriloquists and their dummies from assaulting each other, (then NBC chairman) Brandon Tartikoff bailing out a Nielsen family so they could get home to watch
Misfits of Science
, or Harry pushing the court staff to meet a deadline of 200 cases to be adjudicated before midnight.
The show featured several defendants who appeared before the court again and again-notably the Wheelers, who initially pretended to be stereotypical hicks from West Virginia but were later revealed as Yugoslavians, and at one point even ran a concession stand in the courthouse.
Funnily enough, for a sitcom that was based on outlandish comedy, it was surprisingly realistic in its examination of courtroom mechanics, at least during the first season. According to DVD Verdict:
Series creator Reinhold Weege (also the brains behind the cop sitcom Barney Miller back in the 1970s) developed the Night Court idea after spending considerable time researching the New York criminal courts, including sitting on the bench with actual night court judges. The proceedings in Night Court may seem a bit informal and outlandish at times, but they are accurate. Time magazine once called Night Court the most realistic legal program on the air at the time. According to Weege, couples looking for a cheap date would sometimes attend New York night court sessions as entertainment, just to see precisely the sort of people that appear in Harry's courtroom.
For those of you not terribly familiar with the show, this is probably the best clip I could find that truly conveys the sense of decorum and gravitas this show produced weekly:
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