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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Covid court backlog, solved: 'Night Court' returns

I've been reading about how courts are struggling to overcome coronavirus backlogs in their caseload.  To me, the answer is obvious.  I saw it on TV.

Anderson, 1987
(Alan Light CC BY 2.0)
Created by writer Reinhold Weege after his Barney Miller wrapped up, Night Court (wiki) ran for 193 episodes over nine seasons on NBC, from 1984 to 1992, a hit by any measure.  Harry Anderson, who passed away in 2018, managed the underbelly of New York criminal process as Judge Harry T. Stone.

Night Court launched many ships.  If already 10 years into his acting career, John Larroquette became a household name as deadpan prosecutor Dan Fielding.  Selma Diamond is unforgettable as gruff bailiff Selma Hacker, even though she appeared only in the first two seasons, passing away in 1985 at age 64.  (Read more about her at the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.)  A parade of guest stars passed through Judge Stone's Manhattan courtroom, including some who went on to greater notoriety, such as Michael Richards, Seinfeld's Kramer, and Brent Spiner, Star Trek's Data.

"Night court" is a real thing, here and there, in the United States, not just in Manhattan.  Like in the TV show, night courts specialize in preliminary criminal proceedings, namely arraignment.  The courts don't run through the night, but after hours, Manhattan's wrapping up around 1 a.m.  Many jurisdictions have found night courts efficient to handle arraignments on drug charges or to settle minor matters, such as outstanding misdemeanor warrants, for people whose life challenges will be compounded if they're forced to get to court during the usual workday hours.  How many times have I complained that the retail counter of the post office should be open at night, when people have time to wait in line?  Though for obvious reasons, night court doesn't work as well for American jury trials. 

Rauch, 2013
(Dominick D CC BY-SA 2.0)
Night Court should be one of those sitcoms that doesn't stand the test of time.  Its humor seems to me pretty specific to the cultural moment of the 1980s.  Nevertheless, Night Court stuck around over the years in cable reruns, and, lately, with retro content pouring into streaming services and being discovered by new audiences, the show has earned its own little niche as a cult classic.  The real Manhattan night court has been a real thing since 1907, according to the New York Post, but in recent years, in part thanks to a listing in the Lonely Planet, the Manhattan night court has become a tourist attraction, appealing to visitors from around the world.

Whether real night court might help unjam our covid court backlog, I don't really know.  But TV Night Court might be getting a new lease on life.  According to a Deadline exclusive in December 2020, Melissa Rauch, The Big Bang Theory's Bernadette Rostenkowski, was a fan of the original in her New Jersey childhood and pitched a reboot to NBC.  Rauch is now set to executive produce the new show, which will feature "unapologetic optimist" Judge Abby Stone, daughter of the late Harry.  John Larroquette is lined up to return as an older and wiser Dan Fielding.

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