Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Favorite NIGHT COURT Cast Members?

It's welcome news that the second season of Night Court will finally arrive on DVD (please, let them at least get as far as bringing out the third season with the Hurricane episodes). But that's the season where there's the most fan controversy over this show's many, many casting issues.

There was no real controversy about the first season, because everybody knew that two characters just didn't work: Lana (Karen Austin) and Liz (Paula Kelly, a great performer who had nothing to do here). Austin was actually dropped before the first season was even over, and they tried out a number of people in her place, including D.D. Howard, a tall blonde who appeared on almost every NBC show of the era -- I guess Brandon Tartikoff was looking for a place to put her.

So, needing to fill two slots for season 2, the producers found one by drawing from NBC's reject pile: Charles Robinson had been a regular on Buffalo Bill, and moved very successfully to Night Court. But they needed a female lead, and their choice was Shelley Hack, aka "the only Charlie's Angel worse than Tanya Roberts." But Hack did not work out -- who'd have thought adding Shelley Hack wouldn't work out for a show? -- and showrunner/writer Reinhold Weege borrowed Markie Post from The Fall Guy for the episode. But he couldn't use Post on a regular basis, because she was still a regular on The Fall Guy. So in the next episode, the show introduced its new full-time leading lady, singer/actress Ellen Foley. Foley was on the show for the rest of the season, but when the next season began, she was dropped and replaced by Markie Post, who had gotten out of her contract with Fall Guy. Scuttlebutt at the time was that when Post became available, the producers simply fired Foley, who didn't object because she thought she could do better with a singing career; a newspaper report from the time said that Foley "is departing partly because she wants to pursue a singing career and partly because the producers didn't think she was sexy enough."

As a kid watching the reruns, I actually liked Foley better than Post, because Foley's character seemed pleasantly spunky by comparison. (Post was hotter, but I wasn't really watching the show for that.) But now when I watch the second season episodes, it seems like the writers never came up with a funny persona for her; that was the same season where Dan developed into a pervert and Bull developed into an idiot savant, but Foley's character never really got funny. When they added Markie Post they were able to make a joke out of her character's innocence and prudishness, so she was funny, while Foley really wasn't. I don't know if that can be blamed on the actor, really, but it does seem like they couldn't write for her. (And while mostly the Token Hot Chick on action shows, Post had already done well in an episode of Cheers as Diane's trampy friend.)

Then you have the dead bailiff curse. My preference among Night Court bailiffs would be: 1) Selma Diamond; 2) Marsha Warfield; 3) Florence Halop. Diamond was by far the best; Halop's character was too clearly a carbon copy of Selma, though the resemblance finally turned tragic rather than funny.

Which means my ideal Night Court cast would be: Harry, Dan, Christine, Mac, Bull, Selma. There's only one episode that actually has this "ideal" cast and it's that one episode Post guest-starred in in the second season.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I actually liked Austin and Kelly, and never quite got over the subsequent recasts. You're right about Foley not having a personality. But that was only for one season. Mac didn't have a personality for the show's entire run. Like many TV shows, they seemed to be under the impression that "Black" was enough of a personality. And then when it was "Black" marries "Asian!" Well, the non-stop hilarity!

DrBear said...

I'd disagree - Mac was, basically, the only sane one in the room.

Will said...

My favorite character was Mel Torme. Particularly the scene where Mel is holding someone (Harry?) at bay with the stuffed armadillo.

J Lee said...

The nice thing for we TV show continuity fans out here was not only did they carry Markie's Christine Sullivan character over with the same backstory from the Season 2 episode when she became a full-time cast member in Season 3, they also brought back the same actor as her father Jack (Eugene Roche) from that episode for a couple of more shows.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Albert Giesbrecht said...

I adored Foley, she had the cutest nose in Hollywood.

What's interesting about Night Court was how it too off right from the gate. I was 20 at the time, and I thought that The Golden Era of Sitcoms was at an end, but I was pleasantly surprised by Night Court. Of course towards the end of the series, it was unwatchable, but they had a good run nevertheless.

mackdaddyg said...

I remember watching the debut of Night Court. The commercial made it look like a terribly stupid show, so I watched just to see how bad it would be.

Man, was I wrong. That first season, while a bit shaky, was pretty good, and the show got a lot better once the characters were fleshed out a bit. I disagree about Mac not having a personality. He most certainly did, but it was perhaps a bit more understated than the others.

I stopped watching after a few years because the writing just wasn't as good, but Night Court definitely has some classic moments.

And here I thought it was gonna be awful. Oh well...at least I was right about We Got It Made. Now THAT was awful!!!

Anonymous said...

Eugene Roche was the father of both Markie Post's and Blair Brown's characters on "Night Court" and "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd", respectively. He was sadly underused as a character actor late in his career.

Barry said...

I really liked Karen Austin when she was on Night Court - mainly because she greatly resembled a young girl I had a huge crush on when we were in high school :) Ah the things, we remember...

Larry Levine said...

John Astin's Buddy was the unsung star of Night Court.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

John Astin's Buddy was the unsung star of Night Court.

"But I'm feeling much better now" is one of the all-time great catchphrases.

Anonymous said...

Huh. My sister used to swear that Billie and the female singer on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" were the same person, and I never believed her. I guess she was right after all. :-)

Booksteve said...

You know, if you think about it, Harry himself was the weak spot in this ensemble show. His delivery was often over the top in his "Harry the Hat" voice even when it didn't need to be.I adored the series and all of the cast members worked great but Selma Diamond was--as her name proves--a gem!