Night Court is one of my favorite TV sitcoms. I think next to The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, I’ve seen each episode repeatedly over the years and never grow tired. I think the show helped frame my sense of humor when I was younger.
The show focused on the strange characters and stranger cases that befall a New York City courthouse during the evening and night hours. It was a far different cry than the mostly family sitcoms that populated TV during the 1980s and 1990s. Even before the sexual assault reports came out, I was never a fan of The Cosby Show.
Despite the absurd characters and situations in their lives, there was some reality to the show. As I became a courts and crime reporter earlier in my life, I could see similarities with how the characters behaved on the series both during court and outside in their private lives.
Originally a mid-season replacement premiering in January of 1984, the show focused on a young lawyer, Harry Stone (Harry Anderson), who finds himself a municipal court arraignment judge after being hired by an outgoing politician. He more or less lucks into the position as he happened to be home on a Sunday afternoon when contacted.
The show also cast Karen Austin, as the stoic clerk not use to Harry’s unorthodox and down to earth methods. John Larroquette played the very conservative and later very crude prosecutor Dan Fielding. Selma Diamond was cast as the career veteran bailiff Salma Hacker quick with wit and Richard Moll as Bull Shannon who was actually quite intelligent despite his gullible persona. Paula Kelly was the public defender Liz Williams, who I’ll really think was only hired because she’s black and they needed a BIPOC on the show. It’s nothing bad against Kelly, but they basically didn’t give her character much to do which explains why she was only on the show during its first season.
Austin was gone before the first season was over. There were attempts to make her the love interest of Harry, but neither Austin and Anderson didn’t click right. The second second saw a few actresses brought one for one-off roles as public defender. One of those was Post as Christine Sullivan, a perky but naivete public defender whose father shows up to court to cheer her on but is eventually jailed for contempt for insulting Harry.
Ellen Foley was the public defender of the court, for most of the second season and it almost seemed immediately, she was used as a love interest for Harry. And even though Foley was good in her role, I think it raised questions of a judge and a public defender being romantically involved the show’s writers weren’t prepared to have to deal with on a regular basis.
So, Foley was gone after season two. Charles Robison, who had played the clerk Mac Robinson from the second season to its finale, passed away earlier this year as well. Mac, a Vietnam Army veteran who believed in order was better at contrasting the behavior of Harry.
Unfortunately, Diamond passed away from lung cancer after season two on May 13, 1985 and Florence Halop was brought in more or less as a carbon copy during season three. A common joke is that audiences can’t tell which one is which, since both her and Diamond had distinct gruffy voices and similar personalities.
Post was brought back as Christine Sullivan and the show finally had what it was missing, a more three-dimensional public defender. Christine was the small girl from the Buffalo, N.Y. area who dreams big of moving to the city. The best way to describe her is a kindergarten teacher who is also a lawyer. Her perky attitude and simple views were in contrast to Dan, who by season three had become the poster child for 1980s masculinity.
He was obsessed with greed and power, lusting after any woman who caught his eye. She had more sweet quirks as her fanaticism with the Royal Wedding of Prince Chuck and Princess Diana as well as her love for Mary Poppins, which she had similar qualities.
Rather repeat mistakes of the past, the showrunners and writers decided to give Christine her own thing. Her relationship with Harry was more of a close brother-sister friendship. And while she was the result of Dan’s sexual advances (most of which are very well outdated), she was quick to strike him down. She may have been a small-town girl from upstate New York, but she was able to hold her own.
One of the biggest arcs was her short and doomed romance/marriage with a macho NYPD detective, to which she later has a child. With the addition of Marsha Warfield as Roz Russell during season four after the death of Halop, also to lung cancer, it became apparent that Christine was more or less Mama Bear to the motley crew around her.
Eventually, Christine would achieve higher standings and run for Congress, and she won in the series finale. It seemed a fitting end to the show. Without Christine and more or less Post, the show wouldn’t be able to continue. It’s been reported the reason the series was ended was because it would’ve gone into first-run syndication for season 10.
Popularity of the show was wearing thin as the show transitioned from the 1980s to 1990s. Harry was now in his 40s and was maturing. Dan’s behavior no longer seem acceptable (or could be ignored) during the change in public views. And the show had gone off the rails a little itself as the shows seem to focus on less absurd concepts to more cartoonish plot lines.
Post didn’t have to look far for other roles. She had been on The Fall Guy from 1982 to 1985. And after Night Court, she appeared on Hearts Afire which originally conceived as Post a liberal news reporter budding relationship and eventual marriage to a conservative Senator’s aide played by John Ritter.
The show, which featured an early role for Billy Bob Thornton, went through a lot of changes in its small run as it went from focusing on the D.C. political world to a small town in the south. The show wasn’t as big a success as it was canceled in its third season.
Post later appeared in a role that she almost seemed suited for in the raunchy comedy hit There’s Something About Mary. The outrageous comedy seemed to be in the vein to the earlier season of Night Court. Post only appeared in the first part playing, Sheila, the mother of the titular character in that famous scene where Ben Stiller gets his genitalia stuck in his zipper.
Post didn’t have much of a career in feature films but her resume has many credits in TV over a career that last over 40 years. It was typical of the rest of the cast of Night Court despite many movie actors (Michael J. Fox, Dennis Haysbert, Don Cheadle and Brent Spiner) appearing on the show earlier in their careers.
Moll was asked in a brief interview about a decade ago if there ever was going to be a Night Court reunion but said he’d be going in the other direction. I guess whatever happened behind the scenes will never be known. It’s been reported the cast was given little time to clean out their dressing rooms after filming of the last episode last so that could’ve had something to do with it.
On Saturday, Aug. 7, she lost a nearly four-year battle to cancer, less than a month after Robinson died himself of cancer. Anderson passed away in 2018. But the memories they made as one of the best sitcoms ever will live on forever.