After nine years, there goes the judge

MEDIA MONITOR

May 13, 1992|By Steve McKerrow

They're breaking up that old courtroom gang of ours, as the NBC series "Night Court" ends a nine-season run with a one-hour finale tonight at 9 (WMAR, Channel 2). And true to the show's character, it is at times borderline lewd, definitely crude and completely skewed.

How many other series have ended with one major character apparently beaming off to Jupiter with aliens (who look more like "The Sunshine Boys"), while another heads off to Washington as a newly elected U.S. representative to Congress?

Another character decides to become a filmmaker, one has the chance to go on tour with singer Mel Torme, and even TV's most notorious womanizer says he's finally found the woman of his dreams.

Regular viewers will have no trouble gathering who is who.

Although never highly regarded as quality TV, provocative TV or even worthwhile TV, "Night Court" clicked with viewers as a kind of vaudeville show of the air. And John Larroquette won a string of Emmys as hyper-hormonal prosecutor Dan Fielding.

Dan is in arrested adolescent character in one of tonight's plot lines, wooing the wealthy daughter of a woman who turns out also to have feelings for him. Also as usual, Dan's behavior is put down -- but not too hard.

"Night Court" debuted in midseason in January 1984 and gained a spot on the fall schedule in the coveted 9:30 p.m. Thursday slot, after NBC's big hit "Cheers."

It ranked for several seasons in the top 10, including the 1987-'88 season when it was the fifth-ranked show of the year. In the current season, it has ranked 49th.

From the beginning, most episodes seemed a succession of blackout gags, often with a surprising level of sexual innuendo or body humor.

Stand-up comic/magician Harry Anderson, as unconventional New York municipal Judge Harry T. Stone, has played the emcee role for a changing cast of regulars, including in the first two seasons gravel-voiced comedy veteran Selma Diamond.

Yet despite its skit-like nature, tonight's finale actually plays like a formula sitcom, with a collection of offbeat characters whose jobs provide a kind of surrogate family.

Christine (Markie Post) is at the heart of the episode, as she appears to be losing her race for Congress. Harry, meanwhile, is fielding a succession of fat job offers, Matt and Roz (Charlie Robinson and Marsha Warfield) are cracking wise, and Bull (Richard Moll) is certain he is being followed by aliens.

For all their exaggerated traits -- "Night Court" has never been accused of being very reality-based -- the familiar characters actually seem to care about each other.

And it is that feeling that lies at the heart of most successful TV shows.

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