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Series / Night Court

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A supremely zany sitcom created by Reinhold Weege (a former Barney Miller writer/producer), produced by his company, Starry Night Productions (alongside Warner Bros.), and aired on NBC from 1984–92, Night Court followed the goings-on of a night-shift Manhattan arraignment court populated by a madcap band of lawyers, judges, and bailiffs, including (by the end of the series):

  • Harold T. "Harry" Stone (Harry Anderson), the laid-back judge, Mel Tormé fanatic, and amateur magician, who only got the job as a night court judge because he was the only one who answered the call on a Sunday.
  • Reinhold "Dan" Fielding (John Larroquette), the womanizing, selfish, pigheaded, but always witty and acid-tongued assistant district attorney.
  • Christine Sullivan (Markie Post), the public defender, who despite being a beautiful and independent woman is an utterly naive, morally-upright prude.
  • Nostradamus "Bull" Shannon (Richard Moll), the huge, certifiably brilliant but ditzy bailiff.
  • Mac Robinson (Charlie Robinson), court clerk and Vietnam veteran, the accomplice to most of Judge Stone's pranks, his verbal foil and his closest friend.
  • Roz Russell (Marsha Warfield), a deadpan-snarking, tough-as-nails bailiff whose strength is the fodder for many jokes.

The show is usually considered a satire and subversion of the Law Procedural genre, featuring bizarre, wacky crimes, such as groups of rival ventriloquists and their dummies assaulting each other (although the show was also praised for its refusal to deal with violent and "glamorous" crime and called "The most realistic law show on the air" by Time Magazine, no less). Logic and realism were frequently abandoned for the sake of a joke: cartoon animal Wile E. Coyote once appeared in a brief gag as a defendant. Notwithstanding this, many legal professionals confide that Night Court is far more realistic than most straight Law Procedurals.

The show featured regular guest appearances by John Astin (of The Addams Family fame) as Buddy Ryan, Judge Stone's certifiably insane birth father. Harry Stone's idol Mel Tormé made frequent guest spots, as did Brent Spiner (later famous for his role as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Bob Wheeler, patriarch of a family of Yugoslavians who pretended to be a hick family from West Virginia and, at one point, even ran a concession stand in the courthouse.

A revival series premiered on NBC January 17, 2023. Owing to Harry Anderson's death in 2018, it's a Spin-Offspring series featuring Harry's daughter Abby (Melissa Rauch) as the new judge and John Larroquette reprising his role as Dan Fielding.

"All rise, TV Tropes Court Part 2 is now in session, the Honorable Judge Harold T. Stone presiding":

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  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • Bernie, the original proprietor of the cafeteria newsstand, is this to Selma.
    • When Flo replaced Selma, she colluded with Bull to scare Bernie off by acting like this before he had a chance to.
    • Dan has a 50/50 chance of being seen as this by any given woman. On the flip side, any woman actively pursuing Dan has a 90% chance of being one of these.
    • Dan was this to Christine for most of the series. He eased up a little towards the end though, but the leering never stopped.
    Christine: What if I had a sex change?
    Harry: He would counter with his own... then none of us would be safe.
  • Accidental Adultery: One case concerns a Vietnam veteran who went MIA and eventually came home to find his wife remarried. This proves to be a hard choice for the wife because she loves both of her husbands.
  • Actor Allusion: One of the many, many people who have taken the court hostage over the years was a woman with a grenade who couldn't distinguish television shows from reality. She was played by Marion Ross, aka Mrs. Cunningham. She lists her many friends which were fictional TV characters and it included "The Fonz".
    • Another one: Dan is being held hostage by an insane woman who acts out scenes from horror movies. When the TV announces that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is about to begin, he says, "Seen that already." John Larroquette was the narrator for the original film.
    • John Larroquette's character Dan, is a Captain in the Army Reserves, and is punished by having to serve in Alaska (see Reassigned to Antarctica below for the details). At the end of the movie Stripes, John Larroquette's character, a Captain in the Army, is punished by having to serve in Alaska.
  • Adam Westing: Mel Tormé in his later appearances, for instance, it turned out his home was literally filled with awards including a keyring of keys to the cities, and that every year he would sneak into the bailiff's Christmas choir in disguise and scat his way through carols.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Season 5's "Hit The Road, Jack" has bag lady Papaya Patty brought before Harry. Leading to this:
    Harry: And what's the people's problem with Papaya Patty, mister prosecutor?
    Dan: Papaya Patty was pinched panhandling in a public park.
    Harry: Pshaw!
    Harry: Well, mister prosecutor, should we pass along Papaya Patty's problem to public housing?
    Dan: Perfect, partner!
    Harry: Recess! [bangs gavel]
  • An Aesop: Early episodes emphasized a particular moral dilemma that the case du jour revolved around; as time wore on the show became more focused on the ensemble cast's character quirks. Although this still crept up in several later episodes. Musings on the Cold War (which at the time the show aired looked like it would never end) were common.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Exactly how many times did Dan have to learn not to be a closed-minded Jerkass?
  • Amusing Injuries: Suffered by most of the cast at one point or another.
    • Most likely to be suffered by Bull whose supposed indestructibility and his ditz tendencies combined often.
    • Dan suffered a few, usually at the hands of Bull or Roz. One particularly infamous incident involved Bull using Dan's body to "invent the human pretzel."
    • Most likely to be inflicted by Roz, or Bull in descending order.
    • In one episode Roz gets shot in the rear end by Lisette at the crossbow range. A few days later Lisette gets "the other cheek".
  • Anti-Hero Substitute: The defendant on one episode's case was an actor who played an extremely cheesy but popular Wild West hero called the Red Ranger (no, not that one), a stereotypical family friendly, Aesop-spouting fifties Chaste Hero, who was arrested for boycotting a new movie starring a much "edgier" and more historically accurate Red Ranger.
  • Appeal to Tradition: In Season Three's "The Apartment", Quon Le's large extended Vietnamese family comes to live with her and Mac, driving him to homicidal rage, until her grandfather (Keye Luke) suffers a heart attack and Mac saves his life. Said grandfather then reveals that he speaks English, and is actually wealthy enough to put the whole family up at a luxury hotel. Mac asks why then they chose to stay with him and Quon Le?
    Grandfather: Ancient tradition! It would be an insult not to. (leans in) Hey... some tradition sucks rocks, don't it?
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Dan has been unjustly accused of corruption and suspended and thus making ends meet working as a waiter. At the same time, Roz has been put on a new diet due to her diabetes and hates being unable to enjoy sweets so declares she's just going to go for it. She tells Dan that he has to fight back as she picks up a piece of cake and snaps on how you can't just give it up when the going gets tough, "you have to stick it out." Just as she's about to bite into the cake, Dan dryly asks, "You mean like you're sticking with your diet?" Roz freezes as she realizes he has a point.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety:
    • In "The Hostage" a mentally unstable defendant gets free and takes a firearm from the evidence table. Mac tells Harry that the gun isn't loaded; but then says he isn't sure about that. Any confiscated firearm would be unloaded well before it makes it to court; this shouldn't even be a question.
    • In "The Cop and the Lady" Tony casually hands his service revolver off to Christine who promptly loses it to the psycho of the week. No cop, especially one who's served long enough to be promoted to detective, would hand off his weapon to a civilian for any reason.
    • One of the many things that gets Rhoda kicked out of the bailiff training program is that she lost her service revolver.
    • Bull handles Roz's new gun and ends up shooting himself in the toe because he was carrying it improperly. Even considering it's Bull, a bailiff with over ten years of experience and training should know better.
    • In "Still Another Day In the Life" a defendant is allowed to appear in court brandishing a loaded shotgun and wearing a bandolier of spare ammunition.
  • As Himself:
    • Mel Tormé, a couple of times.
    • Then NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff once showed up to post bail for a Neilsen Family so they could get home to watch Misfits of Science.
      Roz: It's been cancelled.
      Brandon Tartikoff: ...I knew that!
    • Johnny Carson, long-time host of The Tonight Show, did a quick cameo playing off his numerous marriages to younger, blonde women as he tried to ask Christine out through a romantic note she thought was a prank.
      Bull: Excuse me, but aren't you married now?
      Johnny Carson: [confused] I - I don't know.note 
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Phil the Bum is perhaps the best example of this. Originally introduced in Season Two as one of the many background characters in the gallery of the courtroom, he became Bumbling Sidekick to Dan in Season Three and continued to make semi-regular appearances up through the middle of Season 8, where his accidental death facilitated Dan's Heel–Face Turn.
    • Art The Repairman also qualifies, having first appeared in Season One, continuing to appear up through the Grand Finale. In the time between, he had an entire episode devoted to his efforts to woo Christine, gave away the bride at Bull's wedding and eventually began dating Bull's mother.
    • Lisette Hocheiser, the ditzy stenographer that was featured in the later seasons. She appeared in nearly every episode of those seasons (although usually only had a line or two), but later was treated like one of the gang, to the point that she was the focus of some B-plots.
    • Christine Sullivan, who was originally only intended to be a one-time guest character in Season 2 while Bille Young was intended to be the permanent public defender character. After Ellen Foley left the series Markie Post became available, so Christine returned to the show in Season 3 as a series regular and remained that way for the rest of the show's run.
  • Ashes to Crashes: A man named Herb dies, and his two daughters get into a fight over his ashes, ending up in Harry's court. They eventually resolve their differences and agree to stand by whatever arrangement Harry decides upon. Herb's remains are left at court, in Harry's office, and they eventually disappear, leading to the following dialog:
    Art The Repair Man: Oh that, yeah I'm sorry, Your Honor, I had to use that herb tea to test the coffee maker.
    Harry: Art, this wasn't herb tea! This was Herb!
    Dan: [Spit Take]
  • Asian Baby Mama: Double Subversion with Quon Le, who didn't become pregnant until after she and Mac were already married. And Mac, in defiance of the standard Asian Baby Mama trope, is a Black American soldier who served in Vietnam.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Frederick Streiko in Season Nine's "My Life As A Dog Lawyer".
  • At the Opera Tonight: "A Night Court at the Opera".
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: Dan does this after everyone thinks he died when his Army plane crashed in the Arctic.
  • Back to School: Harry is forced to retake a high-school history class in "A Family Affair". This is a more justified example than most as it was revealed that he received an incomplete in the class, which would have invalidated his high school diploma and law degree and gotten him kicked off the bench unless he passed the exam.
  • Badass Boast:
    Harry: Cleaver, you may be younger. You may be faster. You may even be smarter. But you will NEVER, EVER, be crazier ...than me.
  • Badass Normal: Harry, not so much in terms of physical strength, but his ability to get in people's heads and resolve tense, violent situations peacefully.
  • Balloon Belly: In "Yet Another Day in the Life" the pipes in the courthouse burst resulting in flooding. Bull comes across a leaking overhead pipe and decides to plug two of the holes with his fingers. When a third one bursts over his head he just tilts his head back, opens his mouth and drinks from it. By the end of the episode when Art has the situation under control, Bull is extremely bloated. While Harry and Christine are horrified, Bull just casually asks if the session is over before waddling (complete with sloshing noises) to the men's room.
  • Becoming the Mask: A subtle example with the Red Ranger mentioned above, as the episode goes on it becomes clear he's been playing his character for so long he no longer differentiates between his persona and his real self; when talking about the show he refers to his character as "I" and "me", as if he really did have those adventures, and frequenly refers to himself as "Red Ranger" as if it was actually his name. He hasn't even taken off his costume in thirty years. It takes Harry point-blank telling him he's just an actor to snap him out of it.
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Mel Tormé around Harry.
  • Better as Friends: Harry and Christine start dating at the end of Season 8. Midway through season 9, they split amicably, remaining friends. Lampshaded in the same episode where they break up, where Harry invites her to a symposium, which Christine says sounds "really boring" and says no. Instead of being disappointed, Harry is actually giddy:
    Harry: Isn't it great? We can say "no" again!
  • Best Woman: Roz was this to Bull at his wedding.
  • There are limits as to how much Harry would tolerate; certain crimes he refused to take in his usual easy-going manner. One such example came in the Season 7 episode "A Closer Look," where a felony suspect is about to be set free after the court nearly misses his 48-hour arraignment deadline; Harry sternly tells him he nearly made it, but didn't, and holds him over for trial.
  • The Big Guy: The series at one time held the Guinness World Record for the tallest sitcom cast, with all four male cast members well over six feet tall,note  but Bull is a giant among giants. He is so tall that the door frame to his apartment has a special hole cut into the top so that he can go in and out without having to stoop.
    • Subverted for laughs in "Nuts About Harry", when a group of mental patients enters, led by the 7'4" Kevin Peter Hallnote :
      Wendell: Hey! The little fella said to be quiet. (Bull gives him a Death Glare)
      • Since one of the other mental patients is played by James Cromwell (6'7"), this is probably the only thing he has ever appeared in which makes him appear of short or average height.
      • Another beanpole, Michael Richards (6'3"), whose height makes him shorter than all of the male cast members, appeared in a different episode as a man who believes himself invisible.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Zig-zagged. On the one hand, New York City is portrayed as a filthy, crime-infested dump, as it often is in fiction. But most of the criminals are either harmless Stupid Crooks or semi-sympathetic Cloudcuckoolanders, rather than genuinely evil or dangerous.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Many non-American characters would speak their native languages with no subtitles with humor being mined from the main characters' attempts to communicate. The staff's efforts to find appropriate interpreters make the subplots of several episodes.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The layout of the courtroom suffered from this in the early seasons. The same door could lead to Harry's chambers, Mac's office, another courtroom, etc. By season three, the doors which led to the usual places (the courtroom, Harry's chambers, the canteen) were pretty consistent, but the courtroom is explicitly and repeatedly said to be on the 18th floor even though the only elevator ever shown has a topmost limit of 12. Assuming the building in the opening credits is the one they work in, it doesn't look like it has even 12 floors.
  • Born in an Elevator:
    • Christine's son in the seventh season finale.
    • Harry was born in a mental institution. Explains a lot, doesn't it?
  • Born in the Wrong Century:
    • Harry is basically a relic from The '40s, despite having been born in The '50s and living in The '80s.
    • Christine's old fashioned sensibilities and prudish behavior are also out of place in the late-80's/early-90's. One of the reasons the two are a popular shipping pair.
  • Born Unlucky: The Wheelers are misfortune magnets.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Wanda borrows Bull's "O-okay" at their wedding.
  • Bottle Episode: Inverted; the show primarily centered on the courtroom and the floor it was on. Leaving there was a special occasion.
    • The two-part episode "Crossroads" is a partially straight example. The main cast is quarantined in the courtroom after being exposed to a virus and each person passes the time telling stories of what they did before working for the courthouse. But since their flashbacks are dramatized the flashback settings don't make it a complete bottle episode.
  • Bowdlerization: The season 8 episode "Bringing Down Baby" saw Roz's supervisor chew her out over her "inappropriate footwear" (purple socks). In the original airing, Roz's reply was "I can kick ass in bunny slippers!" Subsequent airings changed "ass" to "butt".
  • Brain Bleach: Everyone became sick to their stomachs when they found out that Art was planning to marry Bull's mother.
  • Breast Expansion: Done to Dan Fielding.
  • Break the Haughty: Frederick Streiko, the ambassador from the tiny European nation of Rogash, flaunts the laws of the City with abandon, invoking diplomatic immunity. Harry admits that he has no authority to fine Streiko or put him in jail, but he does have the authority to deport him back to Rogash. Streiko protests that in Rogash (population approximately 13), there is "no shopping, no good Chinese takeout, no Playboy Channel." Harry invites him to sign a pledge agreeing to abide by the City's laws, and he does so immediately.
  • Broken Aesop: Subverted, Tony and Christine's marriage ends the way you'd expect a marriage in which the couple had known one another less than six months and got married before one of them went away for six months to end. Notable because in the 80's sitcom world this was a well-executed, harsh reality check.
  • Building of Adventure: The action very rarely leaves the 18th floor of the courthouse. In fact most of the scenes take place between the courtroom, the cafeteria, Harry's chambers, or the adjoining hallways thereof.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The whole cast (of the most consistent line-up from seasons 4-9) except for Mac, who was just snarky. Everyone else? Well....
    • Harry was famous for his juvenile antics, jokes and magic tricks in the courtroom. In one episode, Christine is defending him, saying that he didn't get his law degree from a Cracker Jack box. She then pauses and looks at him to silently confirm that this isn't the case.
    • Christine is prudish, overly naive, idealistic, and often immature. Also an extreme Anglophile.
    • Dan was a Lothario with the morals of a rutting pig.
    • Bull was a genius ditz with little common sense.
    • Roz was angry, mouthy and prone to violence.
    • It's suggested that their personality quirks are what kept most of the characters on the night shift so long.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Despite frequently deserving the bad things that happened to him, Dan Fielding suffered several indignities that not even he deserved. Chief among these were him losing all his savings after his accountant dropped dead at an IRS Audit after Dan was hit with a Gypsy Curse.
    • Mel Torme, who suffered pain and humiliation at the hands of the cast in almost every appearance.
  • Camp Straight: In the early seasons, Dan's snobbish and slightly prissy behaviour and love of the finer things meant he skirted the edges of this, so much so that he was Mistaken for Gay once. This aspect of his character pretty much vanished from season 3 onwards, as he became much more over the top and his womanizing was emphasized.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Christine is a female version; it takes very little to get her drunk, and in one episode, it took nothing; it was eventually revealed to her that the drink she was consuming had no alcohol, and she was being wild and crazy all on her own.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: An old lady holds the court hostage to save an unjustly imprisoned man, not realizing the guy was just a character in a Soap Opera. Harry uses a TV news film crew to employ The Tape Knew You Would Say That (although she thinks it's The Television Talks Back) to show her the difference between reality and TV.
  • Captain Ersatz: Monte "Potty-Man" Potter for Andrew "Dice" Clay. The same year "It's Just a Joke" aired, Diceman became the first comedian to sell out Madison Square Garden.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Dan Fielding. His luck with the ladies tended to be Depending on the Writer. Generally, they went whichever route would be funnier.
  • Catchphrase: Several.
    • Bull has one - "Ooo-kay."
    • Harry's standard-issue sentence ("$50 fine and time served"). Lampshaded and parodied in Season 9. Replacement prosecutor Gilbert Gottfried suggests, just to break up the monotony, $55. Christine objects, Harry decides to split the difference at $52.50, and it prompts a tear from Bull, "the end of an era".
    • Harry says "(name), if that is your real name..." when questioning a stranger on several occasions.
    • "What's wrong with this picture?" (Harry, upon being presented with an utterly ridiculous situation)
    • "Thank you, Nani Darnell." Said by Harry after someone makes a great show of giving him an item he needs. Darnell was the wife and assistant of American magician Mark Wilson.
    • Several characters use "Say, that is good news" over the course of the show.
    • Dan's "Ciao, baby!"
    • Mac's "Oh my dear lord!"
    • And, of course, Buddy's standard conclusion to most of his stories regarding his hospital stay or past strange behavior, "But I'm feeling muuuuch better now" (delivered with a big crooked grin).
  • Celebrity Paradox: "Yet Another Day in the Life" had a case involving a fight between fans of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The latter series starred Brent Spiner, who played recurring character Bob Wheeler on Night Court.
  • Chick Magnet: Dan fancied himself something of one. Ironically, Harry and Bull were much better at attracting women with far less effort, if not particularly successful at maintaining lasting relationships.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Dan Fielding, despite his protests to the contrary. Protesting the "chivalrous" part, that is.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
    • Happened repeatedly in the show's first two seasons: Sheila (the very first public defender in the pilot), Lana (the first clerk in the pilot and most of Season One), Charlie (clerk for a few episodes at the end of Season One) Liz (the public defender in Season One) and Billie (the public defender for most of Season Two) all disappeared without any explanation and were all replaced without comment in the very next episode. Although this is a milder form than the Trope Namer, as personnel could be plausibly transferred to different courts or shifts without warning or later comment.
    • Happened with an actual brother in the pilot, where Harry made reference to a baby brother who was never seen or referenced again in the entire run of the show and whose existence would probably muck up or at least complicate emerging details about Harry's backstory.
    • But what's probably the most jarring example are a couple of occasionally seen recurring characters, the hapless hicks, Bob and June Wheeler. In their final episodes they were actually being set up to have a semi-regular presence on the show, when they bought the courthouse cafeteria. But then the actor who played Bob, Brent Spiner, got cast as Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so both Wheelers vanished without another mention. What makes their disappearance feel all the more abrupt is that their last episode was actually a Season Finale with a Cliffhanger ending where the Wheelers weren't among the ones imperiled. Come the next Season Premiere, and the cliffhanger is resolved, but with no sight or mention of the Wheelers. This is also true to a lesser extent of the Wheelers' little girl, Carol Ann. She's with them in their first 2 episodes, but not any of their remaining episodes.
    • In the seventh season, Buddy moved to a new home closer to Harry and became a semi-regular. When a new team of producers took over the following season, Buddy disappeared without explanation and never appeared on the show again.
  • Church of Happyology: While it was intended as a parody of pop psychology rather than cults, the support group Christine starts going to after her divorce has a lot of Happyology-esque traits.
  • Citizenship Marriage: Mac and Quon Le started out as this. Subverted later on as it blossomed into actual love.
  • City People Eat Sushi: Inverted in one episode, where two Sumo wrestlers from Japan are disgusted by sushi, but do seem to like American food, including McDonalds.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: One that took years to set up. Everyone thinks it's cute, if not laughable, when Mac is asked to appear in an underwear ad, until he strips down and reveals that under his sensible, unflattering clothes, he's pretty ripped.
  • Cliffhanger: Multiple episodes, including a good portion of the Season Finales.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • Bull, for most of the show's run.
    • Later, Lisette the stenographer.
    • Everybody in the show thinks Harry is one of these.
    • Buddy was DEFINITELY one of these. But he's feeling MUUUUUUUUUUCH better now.
  • Comedic Work, Serious Scene: This is a comedic look at a New York City arraignment court (which, ironically enough, was once called the most realistic court show on t.v. at the time). Harry's frequent pronouncement of "Fifty Dollars and time served" was almost his catchphrase. One case even featured Wile E. Coyote put on trial for harrassing the Road Runner (it was that kind of show). However, lest anyone think it was all laughs:
    • One early episode had Harry reveal that he'd once stolen a car and taken it for a joyride. He'd intended to take it back, but he lost control and crashed into a liquor store. His (we would later learn) adoptive father never lived long enough to see that Harry matured and became a judge, instead of a hoodlum.
    • Harry is left with no choice by existing law but to evict a mother and son from their apartment. The son is subsequently shot trying to rob a liquor store. Harry is nearly driven to quit. It's ultimately Dan who convinces Harry not to quit with a rather moving speech about how Harry is a good, impartial, and fair judge and the justice system would suffer greatly without him.
    • Hooker with a Heart of Gold Carla B thinks Harry is interested in her because he's nice to her, and waits for him in his chambers in a state of undress. When she thinks she's been made a fool of, she threatens to jump from the window. It takes a sincere and heartfelt talk from Harry to bring her back down again.
  • The Comedy Drop: When Christine faints under the mistaken belief that Bull fell from the roof, Bull carries her down to Harry's office. He tells everyone she's not as light as she looks before dumping her on Harry's sofa.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Bull, frequently. Take season 3's "Monkey Business," for example — Bull tries to save an orangutan from its owner's potentially lethal experiments, but Harry has to remind him what the consequences are.
    Harry: I gotta order you to produce that animal in the next 10 minutes. If you do not do that, then I have no choice but to find you in contempt of my court. You'll be fined fifty dollars, and you'll be put in jail until such time as you choose to comply with my order. You will lose your job, Bull! And in all likelihood, you will never again be allowed to work for the city of New York for the rest of your natural life!
    Bull: [horrified] FIFTY DOLLARS?!
  • Cooldown Hug: In the second episode, Harry delivers one to an angry, runaway teen, played by Michael J. Fox.
  • Crapsack World: The world in which Harry Stone was never born in "Hey, Harry, F'Crying Out Loud — It's a Wonderful Life ...Sorta". Apparently Harry's friendship was the only thing keeping Dan Fielding from becoming a Card-Carrying Villain and taking over New York City from behind the scenes.
  • Crossover:
    • Night Court was introduced to a new generation from the crossover/Shout-Out in 30 Rock.
    • There's also the fan theory that con-man Harry The Hat from Cheers moved from Boston and is currently masquerading as a judge in New York City.
    • Judge Wilbur from My Two Dads showed up from time to time.
  • Curse Cut Short: During Santa Goes Downtown while dealing with a couple of shoplifting juveniles (who also refuse to give their names)
    "Mary": ....Nobody cares about us except us, which is why we are getting married.
    Harry: You.. look a little young to be getting married....
    "Eddie": You're looking a little young to be a judge!
    Harry: Touché! You little s...
    Liz: Your honor!
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: "High pitched squeal" was pretty much Lisette's default setting.
  • Dead End Job: The series went through three female bailiffs over the course of its run. This wasn't entirely intentional as the first two, Selma and Florence, were elderly women who both passed away when their actresses passed in real life. The third bailiff, Roz, made it to the end of the series, though one episode focused on her having a diabetes scare.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everybody. More than once it's been suggested that their occasionally mouthy behavior is what keeps them on the night shift.
  • Deal with the Devil: Dan sells his soul for the princely sum of $100.00. Turns out it was just a prank set up by Mac.
  • Deep South:
    • Dan was originally from there and his parents were (in Dan's mind, anyway) one step removed from Ma and Pa Kettle. Actor John Larroquette is in fact from Louisiana, so this is Truth in Television to a certain extent. When Dan's dad shows up, he confirms that Dan's descriptions of his home town and its inhabitants have been pretty accurate.
    • The Wheeler family was originally portrayed as being from West Virginia, until outcry over stereotyping revealed them to truly be from Yugoslavia. Per Rule of Funny, neither their names nor their accents changed after this revelation.
  • Death Glare: This is pretty much Roz's default facial expression. Anyone caught in it had best step carefully. Though he rarely uses it, Bull has a pretty good one, too.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Dan's lackey, Phil the Bum, has significant screen time and backstory in the episode where he is killed off.
  • Denser and Wackier: Even The Other Wiki acknowledges that the writers started making the plot secondary to the jokes as the series went on. Most people who remember the show remember it for being like this.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • This exchange from Bob & June Wheeler:
      Harry: What are you folks doing here? I thought you went home to West Virginia.
      Bob: Sir, we're not from West Virginia.
      Harry: You're not?
      June: No, sir. We perjured ourselves.
      Bob: And we lied, too.
  • Depraved Kids' Show Host: Emil Dutton, aka Mr. Froufrou, a clown and defendant in Season 1, who even Dan called a "fallen idol of children everywhere".
    Lana: Charged with gambling, disorderly conduct, inciting a riot, attempted assault, attacking an officer and resisting arrest.
    Harry: What, no lewd behaviour?
    Dutton: I was too drunk.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: In "Jail Bait", Christine winds up having a one-night-stand with a young street artist she defended. The next day, she is smiling a little more than usual, leading Dan to realize and announce loudly "You boffed the kid?!?"
  • Diet Episode: In the two-parter where Dan was facing disbarment, a subplot revolved around Roz going on a diet. Christine decides to join her as a diet buddy, but it proves to be a turbulent relationship as they both get on each other any time either one tries to cheat, or when Roz appears to be losing weight more rapidly than Christine. In the end, Christine is the one who ends up snapping, gorging herself on junk food in the cafeteria.
  • Dirty Old Man: Lampshaded in "Harry On Trial", when Judge Landis (Ray Walston) invites Billie out for a drink.
    Landis: Oh, don't worry, I'm a judge, not a dirty old man.
    [Billie gives a "why not?" shrug and walks out the door he is holding for her.]
    Landis: I lied, I'm both. (follows her out)
  • Disappeared Dad: Harry finds out this was the case when Buddy Ryan confesses to being his real father.
    • In fairness to Buddy, he was totally prepared to do the honorable thing. But Harry's mother was released from the mental institution first and married another man when it looked like Buddy might not be released. When Buddy did get out and he tracked her down again, it was agreed by all three of them that it would be best to wait until Harry Jr. was older before they told him the truth. But then Buddy and Harry's mother both relapsed and were recommitted, leaving Harry Stone Sr. to raise his son alone, dying before he could tell Harry the truth of his birth or why his mom had disappeared.
    • Later, when Buddy and Harry's mom were both out again, she sent him a letter to try and reconnect, and assumed he didn't want to know her when it wasn't answered. After she died (which was after he was appointed a judge, as she had been in the gallery to see him work), the letter finally arrives at the court ("Mac, I should have gotten this letter three Presidents ago!" "They said they were sorry.") and calls the number in it, learns she's dead, and brings Buddy into his life.
  • Disappointed in You: When Harry's past as a juvenile delinquent surfaces, he decides to tell about what had happened. Taking a car for a joyride, he crashes into a liquor store. He notes the two nights in jail and a couple of weeks in reformatory were nothing compared to his trial, where his father just sat there staring at him, and after it was all over, all he could tell his son was, "You disappointed me, Harold." It has haunted Harry ever since, especially since his father dies before he could see him turn his life around.
  • Distracted by the Sexy:
    • Christine flashes Otis in "Another Day in the Life" to swing his arm wrestling match with Harry at the end.
    • In "Undressed For Success", Mac takes an underwear modeling gig for extra money. While he's changing in Harry's office, the women walk in just as he's taken off his shirt and all stop in their tracks.
  • Do Wrong, Right: "Her Honor, Part 3"
    Dan: Are you out of your mind?! I could go to jail for impersonating a judge!
    Mac: Hey, it's on the phone, nobody's gonna know.
    Dan: Why me?
    Mac: Well... because it's sneaky and underhanded and deceitful(?)
    Dan: ...(nods) Nobody does it better.
  • Dying Declaration of Hate: played for hilarious effect in Season 5's "Fire", when a man casts his vote for Dan in the State Assembly Race (making the race a tie and calling for a runoff election), then commits suicide.
    Harry: (reading) "I can't stand living in this crummy city another day, so as a final gesture of my contempt for New York, I'm voting to put that scummy worm Dan Fielding into office..."
    Shot of Dan listening to this with a pursed-lipped, less-than-amused expression.
    Harry: "Fielding and New York deserve each other. Goodbye, and good riddance."
    Phil: ''(sniffles) What a tribute!
  • Dynamic Entry: When Christine is being sexually harassed by a judge in his chambers, Bull puts a stop to it by knocking down the man's office doors and giving him a Death Glare. The man takes the hint.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Christine appeared in one episode of Season Two before becoming a main character in Season Three and for the rest of the show's run. This was because the producers desperately wanted Markie Post to be a regular but she was already under contract to play Terri Shannon on The Fall Guy and was only available for that one episode. The character of Christine was created specifically with the intention of being brought back once Post's schedule cleared up.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Dan is originally much more straightlaced and is portrayed as a snob with a bit of a lascivious side. Midway through the first season, his sexual appetite becomes more and more prominent and his characterization becomes much more animated.
    • Bull is just a little sterner in early episodes. He also has a thin trace of hair rather than being completely bald. His quasi-mother/son relationship with Selma is also notable.
    • As discussed elsewhere, Chuck Cunningham Syndrome runs rampant within the first two seasons, but it's especially strange since even between the first and second episodes, they go from one public defender to another. For that matter, Christine's appearance in the second episode of season two in which she plays a substitute public defender before handing the reins over to a character named Billie only to return in season 3 after Billie's departure, is a little weird, though at least when Christine comes and goes, it's explained that they're using subs and her being one is important to the plot.
    • The original court clerk, Lana, seemed to originally be part of a sort of "will they/won't they" with Harry despite being engaged. In one episode, she's replaced with a perky, pretty clerk, yet there's no romantic tension with Harry or any particular dynamic with anyone. Eventually, Mac Robinson becomes Court Clerk, and since he's a dude, his relationship with Harry is a far cry from Lana's.
    • Early on, Harry was a complete buffoon who didn't take his job seriously, and his unconventional courtroom methods didn't even work. While he would never lose his goofy, fun-loving side, he would become all-business in the courtroom and his "hunches" on how to resolve various cases usually worked well. The first episode was about a group of straight-laced professionals unsure how to rein in their wacky judge. Before too long, they were the wacky ones and Harry was the one trying to rein ''them'' in.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: It was revealed in Season 8 that Phil The Bum was one. In addition to living on the streets as a homeless man, he also possessed a crippling fear of musical instruments and had a life insurance policy that paid an insanely large sum if he was killed by one. note 
  • '80s Hair: Christine until the seventh season.
  • Election Day Episode: One episode revolves around a local election which Dan was participating in. A fire forces everyone to take shelter in the morgue. After they're rescued, it's revealed that Dan initially lost the election, but this became a tie shortly afterward due to an uncounted vote. This leads to a second example.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Two examples.
    • Daniel "Dan" R. Fielding, who had his name legally changed from Reinhold Fielding Elmore.
    • "Bull" Shannon's real first name was Nostradamus. This was revealed in Season 8, although much earlier episodes seemed to imply his real first name actually was Bull.
      • This is doubly embarrassing for Bull, as his mother named him that because "she was always crazy about that hunchback!" He is quick to stop any attempts to correct her.
      • His mother also gave him his nickname; not because of his size but because of her reaction to the news she was pregnant: "Bull!"
  • Epic Fail: In "Once in Love With Harry," Dan Fielding loses an election to a dead man. This later happened in real life in the 2000 U.S. Senate election in Missouri.
  • Eskimo Land: Dan finds himself there after his Army plane crashes in the Arctic.
  • Everybody Did It: In Season Three's "Harry and Leon", a "field representative" of a "novelty entertainment" firm hits Dan in the face with a chocolate cream pie. Inverted in that everyone hired the firm to pie Dan, but none of them realized it except Dan, who arranged in advance for the firm to keep one "hit" fee, and give him the rest in exchange for not getting sued.
    Mac: You knew we all called?
    Dan: Yes, I knew! You hate me, you all hate me, everybody hates me! For the first time in my life, I'm taking advantage of being me.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Dan is an arrogant, smug, womanizing jerk, but he has very strong morals and ethics when it comes to the law, and is proud of it. At least three separate storylines centered upon someone attempting to bribe Dan and being reported to the authorities. When a private law firm offered him a more glamorous and higher paying job, Dan found out that the woman doing the hiring didn't consider him the most qualified, she just wanted to sleep with him — Dan boasted to her that he has the highest conviction rate and fewest overturns on appeals of any prosecutor in the city. And while he did sleep with her, it was only because she was attractive; he refuses the job.
    • In The Night Court Before Christmas, Dan spends a whole minute ranting at a toy company executive about what an unfeeling bastard he is for taking back the stolen toys accidentally donated to an orphanage on Christmas Eve, coolly finishing off with "And if you knew exactly who was saying this to you, you'd appreciate the full measure of that insult".
    • In Guess Who's Listening To Dinner, Dan finds out that the woman he is dating is the daughter of a notorious mob boss note . Before he can end the relationship, he is invited to dinner at her house, being told that "Dad" is anxious to talk with Dan about his future with her. Everyone expects this to be an attempt by the Mafia to bring Dan "into the family", so they'll have an "in" with the NYC District Attorney's office. The truth is that dad knows about Dan's reputation ("To put it mildly, you have the morals of a rutting pig.") and he's so desperate to avoid a society scandal he's willing to pay Dan to discreetly break up with his daughter.
    • In Giving Thanks, Dan saves Christine's life by performing the Heimlich Maneuver on her when she's choking during lunch; when she asks how she can repay him, he demands that she sleep with him. In the end, however, Dan is unable to go through with it because he knows Christine doesn't really want him, and releases her from her promise.
  • Evil Twin: Con-man Will Sanders, to bum Phil Sanders.

  • Face Palm: Bull might be one of the earliest regular users of the gesture in pop culture. Though he usually did it when he realized the implications of something stupid he'd done.
  • Faint in Shock: In one episode, Dan keels over in relief after learning that he's just been the victim of Mac's elaborate prank, and hasn't literally sold his soul to the devil.
  • Fake Boobs: Dan is given a literal pair — of the inflatable sort — during the prank war between Judge Stone and Judge Cleaver.
  • Femme Fatalons: The female lawyers made use of these on a couple of occasions, Billie Valentine once left visible scars in Harry's door with hers.
  • Flame War: Actually Lampshaded when Judge Stone had to deal with an argument between fans of the old series and The Next Generation - literally. The TNG fans teleported away, which impressed everyone, while a fan said, "Oh, but can they do this?" (Vulcan Salute).
  • Flanderization:
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Bull somehow ends up with an alligator he names "Muffin".
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: "Mac's Millions." Mac's grandfather dies and leaves all his money to Mac, who naturally quits his job at the courthouse. Then he loses most of his newfound wealth when he's sued over damages caused by a restaurant he bought in a previous episode.
  • Friendly Scheming: One Halloween episode has Dan casually "selling his soul" to a man claiming to be the devil, but then getting more and more frantic when the guy starts displaying encyclopedic knowledge of Dan's past misdeeds. It turns out that it's all a prank on Mac's part and Dan faints in relief.
  • Frozen Dinner of Loneliness: In the two-parter "Dan's Operation", Dan goes into the hospital to have surgery for an ulcer, and winds up slipping into a coma. After Harry upbraids Dan for his reckless lifestyle (Dan went into a coma after trying to have sex in his hospital bed), Dan reveals his inner hurt, talking about how he had a frozen dinner alone on Thanksgiving.
  • Fully Absorbed Finale: The 30 Rock episode "The One with the Cast of Night Court".
  • Fur and Loathing: During his Heel–Face Turn in Season Eight, Dan becomes something of a hyper-environmentalist. He then turns down a hot date with an old girlfriend because she's wearing a mink coat.
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Bull Shannon, in the earlier seasons, when his character was meant to look like dumb muscle but was actually quite well-read and insightful. One episode even had his intelligence being discovered by a group of research scientists who recruit him to help in their work... until he reveals that he hates doing research full time, loves being a bailiff, and goes back to his old job (but still helps them out on occasion).
    • To a lesser degree, Mac Robinson. Although it wasn't played up as much, Mac was in phenomenally good shape for a man his age and could hold his own in a fight. He was also an understated genius, being reluctant to start using a computer as part of his job but eventually being capable enough with them to write his own programs at a time when that required some know-how.
  • Genius Ditz: Bull Shannon, in the later seasons, after his Flanderization into a technically brilliant but often oblivious Cloud Cuckoo Lander. His IQ was tested at 181. Then he realized he was holding the results upside down...
  • Gentle Giant: Bull Shannon, who worked with Big Brothers and attempted to write a children's book despite being incredibly intimidating.
  • Give Me a Sign: Done frequently; just about every character has a soliloquy where they look to the sky and talk to "God" or someone deceased at least once.
  • God Guise: There was more than one occasion involving people claiming to be God. One instance involved two men both claiming to be God (and then assaulting each other with turkey rolls), followed by another case involving dueling Moses. Another one had a crazy guy attempting to run for the position of God as if it were a political office.
  • Gone Horribly Right: A con-man works out a scheme where he sent checks of a few dollars to the city as a tender offer for famous city landmarks; when the city cashed the check, it was a de facto acceptance of his offer, giving him ownership of the landmarks. His plan was to blackmail the city into paying him market value to reclaim the landmarks. Instead, the city decided to leave his claim uncontested and instead bill him for the taxes and upkeep on the properties, a ruinous sum. The man winds up begging the city to invalidate his claims.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!:
    • Christine seems almost incapable of swearing, it takes three days of mental torture taking care of a neighbor's baby to get her to the point where she'd even consider it. In a nearly verbatim example:
      Christine: Darn it all to heck!!
      Dan Fielding: You watch your language, young lady!
      • When she is furious at Harry for voting for Dan instead of his female opponent in the State Assembly race:
        Harry: Miss Sullivan, in this case I happen to think that Dan is more qualified.
        Christine: Why, because he has a pair of...?
        [sees Roz looking at her expectantly]
        Christine: ...pants?
        Roz: [pouts in disappointment] Chicken!
    • Mac has one when Harry springs his ultimate prank in his prank war with another judge.
      Mac Robinson: Un-dirty-word-believable!
  • Groin Attack:
    • In a Season One episode, a group of beauty contestants are brought in for attacking their pageant coordinator:
      Dan: Your Honor, according to witnesses, Miss Congeniality led the attack with a kick to the groin.
    • Narrowly averted in "Chrizzi's Honor": the gang is trapped in Christine's apartment with a professional hitman stalking one of the guests. Dan says the simplest solution is just to scream for help out the window:
      Det. Costas: Stay away from the windows!
      Dan: Come on, we're on the sixteenth floor! [yells out the window] HELP!
      [There is a gunshot, and a bud vase on the coffee table shatters. As everyone else ducks, Dan turns, rapidly calculates from the trajectory that the bullet passed cleanly between his legs, and leaps away from the window.]
      Dan: [high-pitched, nearly inaudible whisper] Help... help!
    • In "Hit the Road, Jack", Christine's father Jack surprises her with "guess who?" hands over her eyes; she responds by elbowing him in the sides and grabbing him in a headlock, before realizing who he is; naturally, he is very proud:
      Jack: You remembered everything I taught you, except the knee to the groin. Thank you for that.
    • Hilariously lampshaded in "Heart of Stone", when the courthouse handyman returns Harry's suit of medieval armor; whne the codpiece falls off, he says it just needs some "minor adjustment", and hits it with a hammer - hard, and repeatedly.
      Harry: Mario...! (shivers) Could you maybe do that out in the hall?
      Mario: You know, back in the old days, they used to do this while you was still wearing it. (bang) I guess that's why the age of chivalry ground to a halt, ya know?
    • In "Branded, Part I", Dan makes the mistake of laughing his head off at a picture of Roz in her younger years. She responds by pulling Dan's trousers up to his armpits, whereupon Dan apologizes in a very squeaky voice.
  • Gypsy Curse: The entire court was hit with one in Season Two. Bull fell into a deep trance and Dan lost all his savings after his accountant, who was in the middle of an IRS audit at the time, dropped dead.
  • Halloween Episode: As with Christmas, there was one almost every year. The elaborate, funny, and clever costumes were a kind of Running Gag.
  • Harmless Electrocution: In "Death of a Bailiff", Bull is hit by lightning. Although his heart stops briefly, he recovers quickly and claims he's ready to get back to work.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In the episode "The Trouble Isn't in Your Set," Dan tells a woman (played by Marion Ross) to get lost by saying "go suck on a tea bag." Sounds a bit dirtier today....
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky:
    • Dan's boss' niece (played by Teri Hatcher) is attempting to seduce Dan (who feared the boss's wrath), and shows him pictures she took of herself in a photo booth ("Think about shot #3!"). Dan yelps when he sees the picture, then turns it upside down and yelps AGAIN!
    • In another episode, Harry learns his Girl of the Week is secretly a porn star. He and Dan watch one of her movies in chambers, and both tilt their heads, then Dan stands up and leans over to tilt his head further.
  • Heartbroken Badass:
    • Harry, several times. But the worst was when his girlfriend Margaret had to go into witness protection.
    • Dan has an affair with a female political rival. They end up having to part ways, and she gives him her old girl-scout compass in case he wants to find her again. Later, Dan turns down a date with one of his airhead girlfriends with "Not tonight, I've got a heartache" and looks at the compass.
  • Heel–Face Turn: During Season 8, Dan made an honest attempt at becoming a better person after being placed in charge of a charitable organization. It was a slow transformation but by the end of the season he was as nauseatingly cheerful and pure as he used to be sarcastic and sleazy.
  • He's Back!:
    • In "Puppy Love" Dan's do-gooder ways have turned him into a simpering wimp with women, going to petting zoos and getting emotional about hand-holding and "cute" things. The woman he's dating gets frustrated that she went to the trouble of attracting the "great Dan Fielding," and got this wimp. After some name-calling and a couple of slaps Dan carries her off to the maintenance closet and has sex with her. As the pair of them exit, walking funny and putting various items of clothing back on, Dan turns to Christine and says, "I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack."
    • In another episode, Dan struggles with a long bout of impotence. He eventually manages to shake it off by ravishing an attractive female lawyer over his lunch break. Having regained his confidence he swaggers over to Christine's desk and leans over to her:
      Dan: You know those disgusting, animalistic urges I used to torment you with?
      Christine: [wearily] Yes.
      Dan: They're baaaack.
  • Holding In Laughter: When Bull is reading some of his poetry out loud, Mac gets up and shoves a donut in his mouth to keep from laughing. It doesn't work for long.
  • Hollywood Law: Several instances where the law or related legal process were misinterpreted or entirely made up and manipulated for drama or comedy purposes.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: A lot of these came through Harry's courtroom. Many of them came back so often the staff seemed to regard them as friends. One even turned out to be a highschool classmate of Christine's father. ("She was voted 'Girl Most Likely To.'")
  • Hot Witch:
    • Christine wore this costume during one of the Halloween episodes. In that same episode, Harry dated an attractive woman who turned out to be an actual witch.
    • Speaking of Christine, she was once shown to be able to make pieces of paper burst into flames with a snap of her fingers, including things she couldn't possibly have rigged beforehand. And it was never mentioned again.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl:
    • Mac and Quon Le.
    • Bull and several of his love interests qualify too.
    • Pretty much any girl the male characters hooked up with qualified as the entire male cast was uncommonly tall (at one point even holding the world record for "tallest regular cast").
  • Human Knot: Bull does this to Dan Fielding in one episode when Dan tries to stop him from leaving Harry's office.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Frequent. Surprisingly, Dan was more often to blame for this than Harry. When Dan was in a coma and a bosomy prostitute was being arraigned, Dan's flunky Phil jumped up and made an appropriate pun, sadly explaining that Dan would've wanted it that way. Another time he was gone, the others gathered around Harry's bench to talk about an overweight transvestite that had been on the docket earlier, and one of them comments they could just hear Dan calling him "Puff the Magic Drag Queen."
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Mac, though downplayed in that his boss wasn't incompetent.
  • I Broke a Nail: In an episode featuring Christine's meddling father, he buys her a big 1949 Buick on the grounds that it's safer than modern cars. She blows up at him for trying to take over her life, but they reconcile shortly afterward. The next day news comes that Christine was in a horrific car crash and her car went end over end.
    Judge Stone: Oh my god, what happened to her?
    Christine: [enters casually]: I think I broke a nail.
  • I Drank WHAT?!: Art the repair man accidentally used a man's ashes to test a newly repaired coffee maker, prompting the "This wasn't herb tea! This was Herb!" remark from Harry... and a horrified look on Dan's face from behind the mug from which he is drinking.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: In Another Day In The Life, Christine flashes a millionaire to distract him so Harry can win an arm-wrestling contest and save an orphanage.
  • I Love the Dead: In the episode, "Fire", when the staff are driven to the morgue in the courthouse's basement; then the power goes out:
    Mac: Great! Now we're trapped in the dark in a burning building surrounded by dead bodies!
    Hooker: I got a client from Jersey who'd pay big bucks for this.
  • I Owe You My Life:
    • Dan saves Christine from choking and exacts a night of passion in a hotel as a way of repayment. A Moment Killer came (much to Christine's relief) in the form of a jumper on a ledge outside their window.
    • Mac's old Vietnam war buddy who saved his life shows up in court and wants him to lose a file so that he won't go back to prison for breaking parole. He later releases Mac from the debt, not wanting to taint the most noble thing he ever did.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Harry gets into a pranking duel with a new judge, with his judge's robe on the line, and is thoroughly beaten when Judge Cleaver rigs his bench to collapse at the end of the day. Harry concedes defeat, forfeits his robe, and leaves in a sulk; then reveals to Christine that he had to lose, to lure the little twerp right into his trap. Cue a remote control, and a scream in the next room.
    Harry: You may be younger, you may be faster, you may even be smarter. But you will never, ever, be crazier - than me.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    • In "Dan's Escort" a wealthy older woman wants to pay Dan for sex to try and forget her late husband. She wants "one sleazy, meaningless encounter with a nondescript, morally bankrupt gigolo."
      Dan: HEY! Who are you calling nondescript?
    • Also from "A Modest Proposal"
      Christine: You are pre-judging him just because he's not a skinny, ridiculous, adolescent clown.
      Harry: I am not skinny!
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Used in "Dan the Walking Time Bomb" to convince Dan's psychotic ex-classmate not to kill him.
  • Improbably High I.Q.: Bull Shannon, who outscored everybody else in the cast at 181. Then he realized he was holding the paper upside down.
  • In Prison with the Rogues: Lampshaded in "Her Honor":
    Dan: Great, that settles it, I am going to prison!
    Bull: (earnestly) Well, look on the bright side, Dan: you'll know lots of people, 'cause you convicted most of 'em.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: A bass- and saxophone-heavy number composed by Jack Elliott.
  • Insult Backfire: Anytime anyone convinces Harry of being crazy, they're met with him affirming their assertation.
    • Anyone accusing Dan of being a depraved, immoral pervert will usually get indifference or enthusiastic agreement from him.
      • Dan did stick up for himself when he was accused of being unethical, which he wasn't. He may be a perpetually horny gigolo with the libido of a teenager, but he is an ethical and law-abiding one.
  • Invincible Classic Car: The 1949 Buick that Christine's father gave her. It does indeed protect her in a massive crash.
  • Ironic Echo Cut:
  • Irrational Hatred: Harry towards Barry Manilow, to the point that he nearly had a stroke when Christine told him that Mel Tormé recorded some music with Manilow.
  • It Has Been an Honor: In "Crossroads: Part 2", when the whole cast are quarantined in the courtroom, believing they've been exposed to a deadly biological weapon, Mac says that, no matter what happens, he wouldn't have given up his job or his friendship with the rest of them; everyone reciprocates warmly, except (of course) Dan:
    Dan: Yes, I'd give up knowing you to avoid dying in this lousy courtroom. Call me a stick-in-the-mud.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: In "Clipshow: Part 1", Bull begins this way when relating the events of "Death of a Bailiff", when he was struck by lightning.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: The episode "Hey, Harry, F'Crying Out Loud — It's a Wonderful Life ...Sorta", in which a guardian angel shows Harry what the world would have been like without him.
  • Japanese Tourist: Courtesy of one of the fly-through cases:
    Dan Fielding: Mr. Hubbell was on his way to a seminar on subway hospitality, when he was mugged outside of city hall.
    Mr. Hubble: They took everything. My wallet, my keys, my cash...
    Billie Young: And after pleading with several passer-bys for bus fare, Mr. Hubbell attempted to panhandle from a group of Japanese tourists. They turned him down.
    Harry Stone: And?
    Dan Fielding: He mugged them. Your Honor, the state wishes to submit evidence. We have affidavits from the victims, some shredded yen, and over seventy action-packed photographs of the incident.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Dan was usually rude, condescending, arrogant, and self-centered, but he was capable of truly astounding levels of sincerity and sensitivity. He also risked his life, multiple times, to save both his friends and total strangers.
    • Bernie, the concession stand operator mentioned above in Abhorrent Admirer, is also this to Selma as well. In many of his appearances with Selma, he would also often, in a very kindly and paternal way, try to persuade her to give up smoking.
  • Job's Only Volunteer: Subverted when Harry explains how he became a judge. A judge position has just opened up and had to be filled immediately. The official in charge had a list of judge candidates and started calling up people on the list. However, this happened on the weekend and almost everyone on the list could not be reached by phone. Harry was at the bottom of the list but was the first candidate who was home and able to pick up the phone, so he was offered the job. Harry than points out to everyone that he might have been at the bottom of the list and gotten the job through weird luck but he was still on the list, thus he was vetted and considered competent enough to be a judge.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Invoked, it turns out Buddy spent 1971 coming up with ten thousand ways to get Gilligan off the island.
    Mac: Uh, like making a bamboo raft?
    Buddy: [impressed] Ten thousand and one!
  • Just the Introduction to the Opposites: Everything, and everyone, is different in the Day Court. The cases are standard fare with no nuts. The crummy cafeteria is turned into a posh restaurant where reservations are required. Perhaps most worrying... Roz is a cheerful, friendly person. And Bull rides around the building selling Fruzen Schnitzel from his bicycle cart.

  • Lamaze Class: Two instances.
    • The Season 3 finale, "Hurricane", focused upon the cast having to deliver several babies after a Lamaze class becomes trapped in the courthouse during the titular hurricane.
    • Season 7 episode "My Three Dads" centers upon Dan, Bull and Harry all trying to help Christine at hers.
  • Large Ham: There are some colorful personalities on this show. It'd border on World of Ham if there weren't people like Roz and Mac to level things out.
    • Basically, just give Dan a bowl of scenery and stand back. For someone who prefers a dry wit, he sure is thin-skinned... and gets extremely animated when things don't go his way (and because it's Dan, that's most of the time).
    • Harry himself — a consummate jokester who makes big, goofy faces to go with all his gags.
    • Bull might not be on Harry and Dan's level, but he's an utterly guileless Cloud Cuckoolander with his heart always on his sleeve, so he tends to be a bit hammy at times.
    • And speaking of hearts on sleeves, that also describes Billie Young, the public defender from season 2 (before Christine was a regular). Very animated, very passionate, extremely hammy.
    • A lot of the cases Harry has to judge involve some really strange, and really loud, characters. Many of them enter the court arguing at the top of their lungs.
  • Laugh Track: Actually a Studio Audience, where the same person (sometimes identified as creator Reinhold Weege's father) is often heard laughing uproariously.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the episode "Her Honor, Part 2," Harry has lost his job. Christine is trying to convince him not to give up hope and says, "There has got to be a way we can get your job back" Harry responds, "Like what? Like it turns out I'm on Dallas and I've been dreaming all this?"
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: They all spend years working in a shabby night court. One wonders why Dan and Christine, both highly competent lawyers, can't get promoted. Averted at the end of the series when Christine wins election to Congress.
    • Dan does try several times to get elected to higher office, but never succeeds. In one election, he loses to an opponent who was known to have died before the election took place.
    • Season 6 has a Story Arc about Dan running for state assembly. The election ends in an exact tie (forcing a run-off election) due to a suicidal man who voted for Dan then killed himself, leaving a note explaining that the world was so screwed up it deserved "a man like Fielding." His opponent in the run-off turns out to be a gorgeous woman, and the two of them spend the night of the run-off in a hotel together. Dan's description of the run-off results: "Honey, you're kicking my head in."
    • Dan is also shown trying to get a promotion sometimes, usually hampered by his being a sleazebag.
  • Locked in a Freezer: There was never a literal freezer, but various episodes did center upon the cast being trapped due to various hazards, including...
    • ... a fire, which forced the cast to take refuge in the courthouse morgue.
    • ...a hurricane.
    • ...the release of a deadly virus.
    • ...stuck elevators. At least twice.
    • ...snowed in. Twice. Once with no food and once with no working heat.
    • Harry also once locked himself in a safe.
    • Christine and Tony got trapped in a boiler room, though that could be considered Sauna of Death.
  • Long-Runner Cast Turnover: Only three regulars made it all the way through the show's nine-year run: Harry Anderson as Judge Harry Stone, Richard Moll as Bull the bailiff, and John Larroquette as prosecutor Dan Fielding. Three different actresses filled the role of the second bailiff (as different characters). Karen Austin, who played the court clerk and was Judge Stone's original love interest, left before the first season was over and was eventually replaced by Charles Robinson as Mac. Four different actresses played public defenders—Gail Strickland in the pilot, Paula Kelly for the rest of Season 1, Ellen Foley for Season 2, and Markie Post for Seasons 3-9.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Buddy eventually reveals that he's Harry's biological father.
  • Magical Realism: Multiple examples.
    • Toon Physics kick in frequently, particularly when Roz is inflicting pain on Dan or Bull.
    • Wile E. Coyote himself - in toon form - was brought in for his repeated harassment of The Roadrunner.
    • Bull experiences an Alien Abduction in the final episode.
    • Even in the early, more serious seasons, Santa Claus was depicted as a real person.
    • In Season 2, a fortune teller with real magic powers cursed Dan and Bull and conjured up Mel Torme's home phone number for Harry.
    • A trio of costumed Star Trek convention-goers claim that Harry has no authority over them, as they were Federation members... just before beaming out of the courtroom.
    • Two psychic defendants get in a telekinetic fistfight. Later, one of them telekinetically bangs Harry's gavel as he's accusing them all of being frauds.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Quon Le and Mac faced difficulties winning the approval of both Mac's rich grandfather and Quon Le's father.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Dan very much wants to be one, he just never had the money.
  • Mattress-Tag Gag: At the start of "Russkie Business" Yakov shows up claiming to be a criminal and produces the mattress and pillow tags he's removed as proof.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In "Santa Goes Downtown", one of the defendants in Harry's court is a man who claims to be Santa Claus. Two other defendants are a pair of teenage runaways, Eddie and Mary, and "Santa" tells Harry that he might be able to persuade them to return home if he appears to know things about them that he wouldn't ordinarily know. So he looks at the missing persons file on Harry's desk, and surprises Mary by knowing her full name and her parents' names, and Eddie by knowing his name and address. Then a doctor from a mental hospital shows up and identifies "Santa" as John Stevens, a patient who goes missing every Christmas, sometimes for weeks. After Harry is able to persuade Eddie and Mary that their families miss them in spite of the deception, they ask Stevens how he knew so much about them, and Harry admits he looked at the missing persons file on them, and opens the folder... only to discover the file is for Ben Kurosawa and Nancy Tanaka. Whether or not Stevens really is Santa is left ambiguous, although Harry does see a reindeer in the hallway later in the evening...
  • Missed the Call: How Harry got his judgeship in the first place. The outgoing mayor was trying to stack the bench on his last day in office, a Sunday. He had a long list of candidates of which Harry was the bottom of the list. Being a Sunday afternoon, the majority of the people on the list weren't home to take the mayor's calls. (This was well before cell phones were common, obviously.) His Honor got to the bottom of the list and... Harry was home. Which is how a young, goofy guy like Harry got to be a judge.
    Harry: I may have been at the bottom of the list, but I was on that list.
  • Missing Mom: Harry. He thought he had been abandoned by his mother for years until Buddy Ryan came to him and revealed that Harry's mother had been in and out of mental institutions for years. She had avoided contact after being released for fear that public knowledge that his mother was a mental patient might hurt Harry's career. She attempted contact by mail once, but the letter was lost in the mail for three Presidents.
  • Mistaken for Flirting: Harry Stone is nice to everyone. Hooker with a Heart of Gold Carla B. isn't used to being treated nice by people unless they want her "professional" services. So she mistakes Harry's friendliness for flirting with her. When she learns this isn't the case, she's devastated, but Harry still treats her kindly and lets her down easy.
  • Mondegreen Gag: "Death of a Bailiff", Bull gives away all his possessions after a near-death experience in which he thinks God said to him "Give to the poor, and thou shalt have riches in heaven." It was actually Art whom Bull was feeding cable to, who said over a walkie-talkie, "Give me some more; I'll shout when it reaches eleven."
  • Mooning: A rare female version. Billie does this out the window of Harry's chambers in "The Computer Kid". Why? To convince a stodgy, stick-in-the-mud family to get out and live a little. The episode ends with quite a few people in the building across from Harry's office mooning back. The others look stunned, but Billie looks pleased as punch at this development.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Phil, to Dan. Not at first, but Dan took Phil's death very hard and it was clear that he cared about Phil a lot more than he would ever dare let on.
    • In one episode it was shown that Harry was this to Dan. It was the episode where it's shown what would happen if Harry was never born. Dan goes full-blown Card-Carrying Villain and takes over New York.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Dan Fielding. Lech, pervert, he-slut—but also a man who cares about his friends and the law. And also surprisingly health-conscious. He always carries latex gloves and condoms in his briefcase, and once has a key prosecution witness who wanted to be all over him but was rebuked thusly:
    Dan: Don't touch me without a note from your doctor!
  • My Eyes Are Up Here: Markie Post was quite busty, and several gags revolve around Christine's bust size; usually around her disgusted reactions to lecherous admiration of her breasts.
  • My Own Private "I Do": Two examples.
    • Christine and Tony were married in an improvised ceremony in an Italian restaurant the night before Tony was due to go overseas for a DEA operation.
    • Bull - sick of how all of his friends and family were at each other's throats regarding plans for his wedding - improvised a more quiet, personal ceremony on the roof of the courthouse.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The defendant in "Death Threat" who claims to be God is brought in over an altercation he started at a deli. Some strong words were exchanged, which Dan liberally paraphrases for the court.
    Dan: Blumbert was unimpressed, and told him to leave. And then he told Blumbert to "be fruitful, and multiply." But not in those words.
  • Niceness Denial:
    • "Dan's Boss": Dan learns that his new boss is a midget named Vincent Daniels. Dan spends the majority of the episode denigrating and insulting Vincent, until he ends up rather predictably fired. Harry gives Dan a What the Hell, Hero? lecture, which Vincent overhears. He relates the story of his Disappeared Dad, and Dan has a Jerkass Realization and sincerely apologizes. Vincent rehires him, leading to this moment:
      Dan: You're taking me back?
      Vincent: Yes. Because I think you're being sincere. Also, I've seen your conviction record. You're good.
      (Dan looks gratified)
      Vincent: But most of all I'm taking you back because it will give me the opportunity to make your life a LIVING HELL! You think you're a tough customer? Well, move over, Buster! Because I'm the toughest, I'm the meanest, I'm the nastiest little man God ever put on this earth! I'm going to make you run, I'm going to make you jump, I am going to make you slither on the ground like a snake!
      Dan: GOD BLESS YOU! (Dan hugs him, then leaves)
    • "Dan's Operation Pts. 1 & 2": Two particularly heartbreaking moments from the two parter. In the first half, Harry is trying to give Dan some sound, heartfelt advice, and Dan, in no mood, snaps at him, saying, "Has it ever occurred to you that the only reason I listen to you is that it is my job! I have to!" After Dan goes into a coma and then comes out of it, he and Harry have another heart to heart where Dan expands on that, saying that of the many, many women he's slept with, none of them have ever said to him "I love you", and he says that it's because in order to be loved, on must be able to give, and he cannot give. Harry, however, gives Dan a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech.
    • "Earthquake". Dan is trapped in an elevator with Roz and two sumo wrestlers (It Makes Sense in Context), after an earthquake immobilizes it between floors. Dan is panicking due to claustrophobia, until Roz slaps him. But when they're freed, Roz tells everyone that Dan was a real cool customer who handled himself well. When Dan asks her about it, later, she gives us this gem:
      Roz: I don't want anyone to know I was nice to you.
      Dan: Why?
      Roz: Because then everybody would want to be my friend. Then they'd want to hang around all the time, and sooner or later two of them would get into an argument. And I'd try to cool them off, but I'm not much good at that, so I'd just gun 'em all down, and end up frying in the electric chair.
      Dan: (nods, then smiles) Better to be safe than sorry.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The female defendant in "Auntie Maim" was clearly based on Zsa Zsa Gabor.
    • Another episode had a character who was clearly based on Andrew "Dice" Clay, right down to repurposing a nursery rhyme as an off-color joke.
    • "Amour or Less" featured two feuding twin sister advice columnists Anna and Vanna Landers, obviously patterned after Esther and Pauline Friedman, AKA Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren.
  • Noodle Implements:
    • What the hell was Harry building with all of those things he had delivered in "Her Honor Pt. 3"? Not everything he ordered wound up on those glasses.
    • Most of the things Dan keeps in his briefcase.
    • Buddy once went looking for dice and a salami for a party game.
  • Noir Episode: "Hey, Harry, F'Crying Out Loud — It's a Wonderful Life ...Sorta", where most of the episode is shot in the style of a 1940s Warner Bros. gangster flick.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Buddy's life is a string of these (but he's feeling much better now!).
    • Bull has also had his share of these.
    • Dan's sex life qualifies too.
  • Not in Front of the Kid:
    • A guy dressed as Santa Claus is brought up before Judge Stone for something involving a prostitute, and there's a kid present, so Stone has people do this.
    • In a later episode when a couple are brought in for performing a live sex act while a group of schoolchildren are visiting the courthouse-
      Dan: Right, sir. The defendants are charged with... "playing doctor".
      Harry: Very good.
      Dan: Apparently it was an exploratory surgery...
      Harry: (gavel) Dan!
      Christine: Sir perhaps the children should be excused.
      Harry: Mr Prosecutor, does this get much worse before it gets any better?
      Dan: Well sir I was about to introduce the stage props into evidence...
      Schoolteacher: Oh please, God no! If you have any shred of decency you'll stop right there!
      Dan: (pause) As I was saying, exhibit A....
  • Not Me This Time: When Florence was being forced into retirement after reaching the mandatory age, Bull drove out to Albany and somehow managed to acquire Florence's original birth certificate in hopes that they could possibly change it somehow. When it looks like Florence is going to retire anyway, the birth certificate randomly goes up in flames, destroying the evidence of her age. All eyes went to Harry, expecting this to be one of his magic tricks, but he was just as surprised as everyone else, not that anyone believed him. Turns out Christine was the one responsible.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Harry's favorite M.O.; Dan has used it a time or two as well.
    • A busty new hire (Jennifer Richards) in the DA's office pretended to be a Brainless Beauty to discourage Dan from trying to get her in bed.
  • Odd Friendship:
  • Later as Christine has responsibilities as a mother, Roz and Lisette become this. They even take an interest in one another's hobbies.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: In one episode an important Japanese man dies in the court and his body ends up lost and riding around on an electric wheelchair around the courthouse.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Dan, after insulting the little person who turns out to be his new boss, Vincent Daniels:
    Vincent: Excuse me, I'm afraid I'm a little lost. I was wondering if you could direct me. [holds out card with office number on it to Dan]
    Dan: Certainly; first left, take the corridor and then follow the yellow brick road. *bursts out laughing* I crack myself up.
    Vincent: Who are you?
    Dan: Dan Fielding. [sarcastic baby-talk voice] Can you say that? [starts laughing again]
    Vincent: I'm Vincent Daniels, your new boss. [pause as Vincent gets shit-eating grin on his face while Dan's jaw hits the floor] Can you say that?
    • After Dan was mistakenly forced to abstain from sex for two weeks, upon finding out - "I haven't had sex in two weeks!" and starts looking around at everyone in the cafeteria. Roz, typically the least likely to be intimidated shouts "Run for your lives girls!" and they all rush out. Dan's still looking around, prompting Harry to shout "Better safe than sorry, guys!" and then they also run out.
  • Old Friend, New Gender: A season two episode had Dan learning an old friend of his from high school had now become a woman. He had trouble dealing with it at first.
  • Only Sane Man: Mac. Even his spotlight episodes tended to be far less weird than the others. This was slightly averted in the last few seasons when he became an aspiring filmmaker who specialized in pretentious schlock.
  • Orphaned Punchline: A Running Gag had characters saying "so the nun says, $20, same as in town!" This is actually the punchline to a Real Life dirty joke, which the writers couldn't tell in full on the show.
  • Overly Long Airplane Banner Gag: "Constitution" actually does it without an airplane. Bull puts up a "Welcome Home Roz" banner that runs the entire length to the courtroom: eighteen floors. Plus six feet.

  • Paranormal Episode: In an episode, Harry used his magic hobby to convince another character that he was exorcising some evil spirits, at one point using a book gimmicked to shoot flames when you open it. After it's all over, Art (the janitor) comes in saying "sorry I'm late" and gives Harry the prop burning book. So... what was up with that other book?
    • The show liked gags like this, designed to yank the audience's collective chain. Other episodes had Bull somehow bring Harry's stuffed armadillo to life, and Bull turn into a child.
  • Persona Non Grata: In "My Life as a Dog Lawyer", an arrogant European diplomat invokes Diplomatic Impunity and Harry admits he has no power to fine or imprison him, but he can send him home; given the choice between staying in The Big Apple and returning to his flyspeck of a country (where the only pastime, industry or national political activity seems to be "listening to the Swiss"), he immediately promises to be a good boy from then on.
  • Pie in the Face:
    • The entire cast pays to have this done to Dan in "Harry and Leon" (Season 3, Episode 14); in that same episode, Bull pays to have it done to Harry.
    • Also, in "Top Judge" (Season 5, Episode 20), the rival prankster judge Jimmy Cleaver (played by former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger [from 1982-1985]) hits Harry with this prank (pie coming from a briefcase with a clown hand throwing it), causing Harry to accept Cleaver's prank/joke war challenge.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: On the episode "Prince of a Guy," a woman who has been arrested for swimming nude in Central Park claims to be a princess from a tropical island. While standing in Harry's office, he asks her to just relax. She obliges by removing her bikini top with her back to the camera, forcing Harry to say, "I've never actually said this to anyone before, but could you put your top back on?" It becomes even funnier since Roz was in the room with the two of them. When Harry said relax and the princess disrobed, Roz says, "I'm your witness sir. You did absolutely nothing to provoke this." After Harry continues to stare for a couple of seconds, Roz quips, "Of course, you are doing nothing to stop it, either."
  • Police Code for Everything: The Wheelers are brought in on a 509b violation.
    Harry: I don't believe I'm familiar with that one.
    Dan: Well Sir, it's not used in Manhattan very much. It involves the illegal detonation of poultry.
  • The Pollyanna: Christine is infamous in the court for being a cheerful goody-two-shoes. When her personal life runs into turmoil, she becomes a Stepford Smiler.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: In "New Year's Leave," an Inspector Girard shows up to take an escaped convict back to prison. As soon as Mac hears the name, he's instantly prompted to ask if the Inspector is looking for a one-armed man. Not only does Girard not get the joke, he claims he's never watched TV. Seconds later, Harry enters and makes the exact same joke upon hearing Girard's name.
  • Post-Script Season: Season 8 is over. Dan quits his job and loses the Phil Foundation fortune. More importantly, Harry and Christine have professed their love to one another. OK, that's the end. What's that? We've been renewed? Oh, crap!
  • The Prankster:
    • Harry took professional pride in it.
    • Cleaver, to the point where he challenged Harry. And lost, big time.
  • Prenup Blowup: When Harry is about to get married, Dan brings him what looks like a condom. When Harry turns it down, Dan expertly unfolds what then turns out to be a multiple pages long document, saying it's really a pre-nup, to Harry's even greater dismay.
    Harry: Those things really take away the romantism and spontaneity out of a wedding.
    Dan: you're still confusing it with a condom.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: During one of the "Day in the Life" episodes, Harry adjudicates a dispute between three young black men and three rapping Hasidic Jews.
    Well thank you judge, we love to rhyme
    to jive, to rap, to get down, l'chaim!
    So thanks to the shiksa for getting us off
    And to everybody else, mazel tov!
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Dan sucked up to anyone with any kind of authority, whether it be political, legal or even religious.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Original court clerk Lana (Karen Austin) and public defenders Liz (Paula Kelly) and Billie (Ellen Foley) had all come and gone by the end of the second season; their departures were unexplained.
    • Harry's girlfriend Margaret (Mary Cadorette) and Christine's husband Tony (Ray Abruzzo) had their departures explained; Margaret had to go into witness protection, while Christine and Tony divorced when they were unable to make their marriage work around their professional obligations. The fact that they had very little in common other than mutual sexual attraction didn't help either.
  • Race Against the Clock: On four separate occasions, and for four different reaons, Harry and his staff must get through an absurdly huge caseload by midnight
    • Could actually be justified. Harry often spends more time than other judges would trying to get to the bottom of a problem, helping the involved parties come to a mutually agreeable solution/working through their issues, which slows down the courtroom, meaning cases can get built up to the point that they get dinged by their "managers" for having too much of a backlog, and have to work fast to clear it.
  • Real After All:
    • Santa Claus in the first season Christmas Episode "Santa Goes Downtown". Not only does he know the real names of the teenage runaways in Harry's court (played by Michael J. Fox and Olivia Barash) even though they are using fake IDs, but a certain antlered member of his crew shows up to meet him (Selma refuses to deal with the "deposit" said animal leaves behind). Oddly averted in later seasons, when Bull has to be reassured by Roz that Santa is real, after Dan says that the last words he spoke to his younger sister two decades earlier were "There is no Santa."
    • Then there was Bull's reaction after Harry used anatomically correct paper dolls, scissors and a stapler to explain how Dan's best friend as a boy had become a woman.
      Harry: Kinda reminds you of how you felt when you found out about The Easter Bunny, huh?
      Bull: What about the Easter Bunny?
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: According to Reinhold Weege, the story Harry tells about how he became judge, that is, he got his assignment because the outgoing mayor of New York City made a huge number of appointments on his last day, and Harry was the only person on the judges' list who was home and was able to receive the call and accept his nomination, was actually a very true story involving former Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty. Per Weege, Yorty was so angry that he lost his re-election bid to Tom Bradley, that he decided to hurt Bradley, whom he personally hated, by filling all of the judicial openings with unqualified or under qualified personnel.note  Lana actually points this out at the beginning of the pilot episode, in which she mentions that she doesn't know anything about "Judge Stone" because the mayor filled all the vacancies at the last minute.
  • Really Gets Around: Dan, who was rather notorious for this.
    Dan: Harry, do you know how many women I have slept with?
    Harry: Dan, it doesn't matter how many women you've slept with! <beat> A hundred?
    Dan: You ever see the signs over the golden arches that say, "over 4 billion served"? Let's just say I'm competitive.
  • "The Reason You Suck"Speech: Dan delivers a beautiful one in the climax of "Branded: Part 2":
    Dan: I would also like to thank Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Wood, for teaching me a very important lesson. You see, all my life I wanted to be rich and important, like you. Even as a kid back in Louisiana, I would wear a tie while slopping hogs, pretending they were reporters, all clamoring to ask me questions about my latest courtroom triumph. I would graciously answer each in turn, until my bucket was empty and my tie was covered with pig phlegm. All those years ago, and then suddenly, I had the chance to become one of you! To my own surprise, I said no. Because I realized that... you're not better than the people I grew up with. You're not even better than the pigs.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Harry, who combined this trope with a large dash of Benevolent Boss. Later seasons challenged this a bit, as it was established that he frequently used his authority to force the court staff to do various activities (e.g. birthday parties, forming a bowling team). His intentions were good, but it caused some minor resentment in later episodes.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • This almost literally happened to Dan, who was in the US Army Reserves. He was Reassigned To The Arctic Circle to help give physicals to polar bears, after he was caught faking an injury in order to avoid being called into active duty. Ironically, Dan only did that because he thought he was being sent into combat; his actual orders involved doing reconnaissance work with his Action Girl commanding officer in a Banana Republic, posing as a couple at some exotic resort.
    • Also happened, less literally, in Season Nine, when Dan was briefly reassigned to working in the Dog Court.
  • Red Herring: Harry thinks the fact that he and Buddy both had an allergic reaction to some au gratin potatoes is proof that Buddy's his biological father (as he had suspected for a while). Turned out that Buddy was allergic to the potato, Harry to the cheese. Later, Buddy does fess up to being Harry's dad.
  • Reluctant Retiree: Florence, in the episode "Flo's Retirement". Averted after the only existing copy of her birth certificate mysteriously burns to ashes, leaving no definitive proof of her age.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: Played for Laughs in "The Mugger":
    Mac: They said they might be able to get a hostage negotiator out here in... two hours.
    Harry: Two hours?!
    Mac: They said all their people are tied up right now.
    Harry: Tied up with what?
    Mac: Rope. They're being held hostage by a militant splinter faction of Up With People.
    Harry: [shakes head] It was only a matter of time...
  • Retcon: The Wheelers really were intended to be from West Virginia, but after a number of people from that state complained, it was later revealed that they had actually come from Yugoslavia (where presumably the show had fewer viewers).
  • Retired Badass: Mac was an Army Ranger (or possibly a Marine) in Vietnam before working as a clerk.
  • Revolving Door Casting: A whole bunch.
    • Four actresses played the public defender: Gail Strickland (pilot only), Paula Kelly (the rest of Season 1), Ellen Foley (Season 2) and Markie Post (Seasons 3-9).
    • Three female bailiffs: Selma Diamond, Florence Halop and Marsha Warfield for the last six seasons.
    • Karen Austin, who played the court clerk and was the original romantic foil for Judge Stone, departed after only ten episodes. The show eventually settled on Charles Robinson in Season 2.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: in "Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson":
    Christine: Oh, don't tell me you've never delivered a baby before!
    Dr. Adelman: (a podiatrist; sarcastically) Well, just how many people who aren't obstetricians have?
    (Christine, Harry, Mac, Dan and Bull all raise their hands.)
    Dr. Adelman: What are you, some kind of a cult?
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Several examples.
    • The Season 5 Episode "Who Was That Mashed Man?" was based on the now infamous court battle between The Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore and the owner of The Lone Ranger copyright, Lew Grade.note  Night Court used an Expy called The Red Ranger in the same situation.
    • The Season 8 Episode "It's Just a Joke" featured a character who was based on comedian Andrew "Dice" Clay and a plot that was based upon his court battles regarding his right to Free Speech.
  • Rule 34: A one-time character and one of Dan's regular squeezes was an air stewardess with a bizarre fetish for lacrosse.
  • Running Gag:
    • Any time that Mel Torme guest-starred he and Judge Stone would spend the entire episode managing to (unintentionally) avoid each other. Almost as often, Mel would be accidentally abused in some way while at the courthouse, causing him to dislike Harry, his biggest fan.
  • People saying how Dan's hair looks stupid.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Averted, Roz is incredibly deadpan, and generally alternates between stoicism and rage.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Genderflipped: Roz is a scary black woman whom even the gargantuan Bull fears.
    • Mac's not above intentionally invoking this when he has to.
    • Aversion: Bull is a Scary White Man.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Harry's grade school bully showed up as a defendant in one episode.
  • Schizo Tech: Occasionally pieces of super-technology such as teleporters, a handheld laser weapon or a sentient AI appeared, at a time when things like the internet and analogue cell phones were cutting-edge marvels.
  • Screaming Birth: The Season 3 Finale feature four simultaneous screaming births with our heroes having to handle the deliveries themselves because the courthouse is locked down. The highlight is Christine delivering triplets as the Spanish-speaking father begs God to stop giving him children.
  • Season Finale: Night Court had some of the greatest Cliffhanger ones:
    • Season 4 ended with Harry being fired, Christine being appointed a judge in his stead, and Harry planning the biggest practical joke of all time in retaliation.
    • Season 5 ended with Dan – who was in the US Army Reserves – getting called up and presumed dead after his plane crashed into the Arctic Ocean.
    • Season 8 ended with Harry and Christine having apparently confessed their love for one another and Dan having mysteriously disappeared. Apparently, this was planned to have been the Series Finale, with Christine and Harry getting married and Dan joining the priesthood. A last-minute renewal forced them to make some sudden changes to restore the Status Quo at the start of Season 9, with Christine and Harry quickly agreeing they were better off as friends and Dan quickly being cleared of the criminal charges that drove him insane at the end of Season 8.
    • Season 9 ended with Christine being elected to high office, Dan resigning his post to follow after her having realized his true love for her, and Bull being abducted by aliens. While this turned out to be the show's final episode, it was not intended to be the Series Finale, for obvious reasons. Most accounts say that the decision to cancel the series was handed down the same Friday the final episode was filmed, and that the cast was informed their belongings would be thrown out if their dressing rooms were not cleaned Monday morning.
  • Servile Snarker:
    • After Dan saved Christine's life he tried to bed her in a hotel run by a sarcastic, snobby British manager. (No, not that one.)
    • Mac plays this role for Harry very often, when he's not doing regular snark at everyone else.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Dan Fielding always comes into court with a nice suit. He talked up one particular suit as his best and most expensive yet, so of course, it was irreparably damaged by episode's end.
  • Shipper on Deck: Mac and Roz are revealed to be this for Harry and Christine in "A Modest Proposal".
  • Shirtless Scene: Mac had one, revealing that he was astonishingly buff for a man his age.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: For a little while there's a shoeshine stand that's an important place in the courthouse, with the shiner as a recurring character.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: In season 3, Harry adopted an orphan named Leon. Leon was only shown actually living with Harry for one episode, and he was Put on a Bus before the season ended.
  • Shout-Out:
    • During one of the "Day in the Life" episodes, one of the cases involved a children's author called "Dr. Wiggles", a Dr. Seuss esque children's writer. The entire case was done in Seussian verse.
    • In one of the Halloween episodes, Harry starts dating a girl who turns out to be a self-confessed witch. When she tells him, he pauses and asks "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
  • Singing Telegram: Dan goes off on an assignment with the army and the staff at the court receives a telegram. Harry pays the delivery boy some extra money to have him sing it to them. So, he sings to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" "The U.S. Army sadly states/sometime yesterday/Captain Fielding's plane went down/north of Hudson Bay."
  • Skewed Priorities: In "Night Court of the Living Dead", Dan tries his hand at talking down a suicidal jumper on the ledge outside Harry's office:
    Dan: Look, I know things seem tough, but trust me, there's no problem that's worth leaping to your death...! But if you do jump, could you bear left so you don't hit my car?
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Frederick Streiko, the ambassador from the tiny European nation of Rogash, is so outraged over being arrested for a minor traffic offense that he declares a state of war between the two countries. Harry has trouble taking this seriously, until the State Department informs him that Rogash (population approximately 13) is in possession of both a nuclear warhead and several cruise missiles (gifts from the U.S. government in gratitude for allowing them to spy on the Swiss).
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Christine suffers frequently from this; in the episode "Giving Thanks", Dan frankly tells her that, although there are boundaries he will not cross (such as coercing or guilting her into sleeping with him), she will never be entirely "safe" from his advances;
    • In "The Law Club", Dan is appalled to learn that Christine has been named the ultimate prize in a "sexual scavenger hunt" by a Manhattan lawyer's club, not only because of her looks, but because her prudish reputation makes seducing her a real challenge;
    • In "Passion Plundered", an attractive reporter comes to the courthouse to interview Harry, and has Harry and Dan falling over each other trying to seduce her, neither of them knowing she's a lesbian; even male viewers wince at Dan's jerkass reaction to finding out:
      Pamela: I don't believe this! I thought I was coming to a municipal court, not a junior high school!
      Dan: Well, what I want to know is, where do you get off looking like that... and liking girls?
  • Sociopathic Soldier: In "Nuts About Harry":
    Harry: Thanks, Mac. You've obviously had some experience with...
    Mac: Unhealthy minds? Oh, yeah. In 'Nam we had one fellow who really burned out all his circuits. Went running around the compound screaming "Kill! Kill!" Crazed as hell, boy.
    Harry: What'd they do with him?
    Mac: Made him an officer.
  • Speaks In Shoutouts: Nana Visitor plays a homicidal crazy woman with Multiple Personalities. Her personalities are taken from various movies.
  • Special Guest:
  • Spring Cleaning Fever: Christine in Season 7's "Still Another Day In The Life." She's heavily pregnant and going through her nesting phase, so she spends the whole episode obsessively sanitizing the entire courtroom. By the end, she's driving a Zamboni through it.
  • Status Quo Is God: The show did follow the standard Sitcom mold of having everything go back to normal, if not by the end of the episode, than almost always before the end of the season.
    • Most of the cast's romantic relationships were short-lived and didn't last long. Even Christine's marriage ended part-way through the following season and Harry's longest-lasting relationship was only half a season. The most notable exception was Mac and Quon Le, whose marriage lasted the entire run of the show.
    • Numerous episodes depicted cast members quitting or being forced from their position in the Night Court only to wind up back in their old job by the episode's end.
    • During Season 8, Dan's lackey Phil died, Dan inherited his hidden fortune and used it for altruism, reforming into a truly virtuous and noble man, and at the end of the season Phil's brother Will stole the money and Dan vanished. After the first two episodes of Season 9, Dan was back at the court and back to his old self, Will reformed and took Phil's place, and Phil's money was given to someone else to manage for the causes Dan had planned it for and nothing else was said of it.
    • Despite Mac being set up to inherit his family's money very early on, when it finally happens, Mac ends up being sued for an incident involving the restaurant he bought causing a fire, leaving him broke. Ironically, he's quite happy with this chain of events, as he ended up only being broke; he was deeply in debt before becoming rich. He was initially much worse off after the fire, until Quon Lee talked the building owner into settling for the damages... which happened to be all the money they had. This was a change from her previous ways, as she was the one who actually accumulated all that debt, mostly because she just didn't have the background to understand about credit cards when she first showed up.
  • Stopped Dead in Their Tracks: "The Wheels of Justice pt. 2", after Harry was forced to evict a family and the son was shot trying to hold up a liquor store, Harry quits. The reason it's only a brief pause for him? They track him down to a pool hall where he's hustling pool, and after the others leave, Dan tears into him, in one of his greatest Jerk with a Heart of Gold moments. He tells Harry he'd just broken him in and now he was going to have to deal with a new guy. When that doesn't sway Harry, he says he'll give Harry's respects to the downtrodden. Harry accuses Dan of not playing fair, and tries to walk off. Dan stops him dead in his tracks by going into Sincerity Mode and telling him he was just and fair, and that he admired him for it.
    Dan Fielding: I'll give your respects to the downtrodden and oppressed, I'm sure they'll understand.
    Harry: You're not playing fair, Dan.
    Dan Fielding: You were good Harry! Very good! (Harry stops) You were impartial. You were fair. Patient. Compassionate. Understanding. And I admired you. (Harry turns to look at Dan, astonished) That's really hitting below the belt, isn't it?
  • Straw Character:
    • Dan is a Republican, not uncommon in the Reagan era. It's mostly used for one liners and to create conflict with Harry, who is a Democrat.
    • Christine was a stereotypical "bleeding heart", often displaying inordinate amounts of compassion and trust towards her clients. During her brief stint as a judge she is visibly distraught at having to bound over a convenience store robber for trial, and she once let a group of transients stay in her apartment, who subsequently robbed her blind.
    • One episode featured a lamaze class which included an aggressively independent Straw Feminist single mother (Dan pretends to spot several well-known male chauvinists in a successful bid to use her anger to get through the last stages of childbirth) and a stereotypical "limousine liberal" yuppie couple (who ask Harry and Mac to marry them seconds before their child is born, doubling back on their previous indifference toward marriage).
    • The show also regularly featured straw conservative Rabid Cops, and several members of the Secret Service, who were depicted as trigger-happy paranoiacs.
  • Stress Vomit: Christine is so stressed out over whether she should accept a marriage proposal that she throws up in Dan's briefcase - we don't see it, but Bull figures out how to use his instant camera right then and captures it.
  • Subverted Catchphrase: Bull in one early episode:
    Bull: All rise, Criminal Court Part 2 is now in session, the Honorable Judge Harold T. Stone—running things.
    Harry: [looks at Bull] Running things?
    Bull: I'm on a variety kick.
  • Surreal Humor: The entire show is a parade of one inexplicable, credulity defining premise after another.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Bailiff Selma Hacker was replaced by Florence Kleiner in Season 3. Bull even lampshades their similarities by describing Selma to Florence as short, angry, and having a funny voice.
    • Averted in Season 4 on with Roz, part of the reason being that since Florence Halop only lasted a year as Selma Diamond's replacement before having her own health problems, they decided to retool the replacement to be markedly younger.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Andy, the boy Bull was assigned as part of a Big Brothers program, turned out to be a girl named Stella (portrayed by Pamela Adlon, natch). Stella disguised herself as a boy purely to be able to experience what it was like to have a father, since all of the men in the Big Brothers program wanted to be paired with boys instead of girls.
  • Take That!: Several examples.
    • In "Dan's Parents":
      Harry: Dan, they can't be that bad.
      Dan: My God, Harry, they're Democrats!
      Harry: ...I stand corrected.
    • In The Mugger:
      Mac: They said all their other people are tied up at the moment.
      Harry: Tied up with what?
      Mac: Rope. They're being held hostage by a militant splinter faction of Up With People.
      Harry: (sighs) It was only a matter of time.
    • "The Constitution (Part Two)" leveled a few at Ronald Reagan, who was the United States President at the time.
    • One episode featured a jab at then Vice President Dan Quayle's youth and foolishness, as a boy in a suit was mistaken for Vice President Quayle by his own Secret Service detail.
    • Another episode has a defendant who can't be more than 10 who is a practicing surgeon and called Loogie.
    • A couple is put before Judge Stone accused burning books in public — 1,200 copies of the same book. Judge Stone goes on an angry tirade expressing his disgust toward anyone who would perform such an act. After Mac reads that the book is titled The Genius of Barry Manilow, Harry gives the couple a hefty penalty of one dollar.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Harry uses this on a delusional, gun-toting woman (played by Marion Ross) who was holding the courtroom hostage.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: In season 3's "Wheels of Justice" 2-parter, Harry briefly quits his job after being unable to stop a family from being evicted from their apartment, and said family's son chastising him, and the law in general, for failing them. It takes a passionate appeal from Dan that is equal parts "Reason You Suck" and "You Are Better Than You Think You Are" to get Harry to take up the gavel again.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "Harry and the Madam", "The Last Temptation of Mac"
  • Theatre Phantom: In the episodes "A Guy Named Phantom (Part 1)" and "A Guy Named Phantom (Part 2)", Harry and Christine are both confused over their feelings for each other, but before they can work them out, the deranged Dan (referring to himself as "The Phantom," wearing a mask and cape, and living in hiding) kidnaps Christine at a courthouse costume party.
  • Toon Physics: Used in several places on the show, more often in later seasons, especially around Bull and his supposed indestructibility.
    • In one episode, Bull sits directly next to a briefcase of TNT going off, but only has his uniform ripped up a little.
    • Another time Bull uppercuts Dan a good fifteen feet into the air and into a perfectly Dan-shaped hole in the wall.
    • Bull once glued his fingers to his head trying to fix something of Roz's he had broken. She pulled his fingers free, resulting in comedically stretched fingers.
    • When Harry receives a piece of shocking news, his 40+-year-old picture of Mel Torme changes to a wide-eyed-jaw-dropped expression of shock.
    • Roz once folded Dan neatly in half and stuffed him into a trash can.
    • Bull gets stuck in an elevator that descends 18 stories to the ground floor and is compressed to half his normal height as he walks out of it.
    • Dovetailed with Balloon Belly the time Bull attempted to stop the drip from a leaky pipe. Having used both fingers to plug the holes, he simply opened his mouth below a third drip. Later, Harry and Christine are horrified upon seeing his distended physique. Bull blithely walks away, sloshing as he goes, headed for a restroom.

  • Ugly Slavic Women: This trope became a running gag for Yakov Smirnoff's character. In his first appearance on the show, Smirnoff's character (also named Yakov) is an immigrant from Soviet Russia who speaks almost no English, and Harry is forced by circumstance to befriend him despite the language barrier (It Makes Sense in Context). At one point, Harry gets to see the inside of Yakov's wallet and see photos of his loved ones. Harry is initially confused as to why Yakov has a photo of Soviet Premier Breshnev in his wallet, until Yakov explains that's his wife, Sonia. Since then, each time Yakov made an appearance, reference is made to how painfully ugly Sonia is, until the episode where finally we get to meet Sonia... and she's absolutely gorgeous. Naturally, Yakov thinks she's a KGB impostor, even as she claims her new appearance is due to Magic Plastic Surgery, required due to an accident.
    • Played With as Sonia weeps and begs her husband to still love her, even after she has been horribly "disfigured" by her surgery, prompting Flo to wonder if they've been dropped into some alternate universe.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Harry and Christine's interaction was heavily laced with this.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Yakov's wife Sonya is coming from the Soviet Union he mentions being "excited", which is technically accurate, though he really means he's "horny". When Sonya is delayed entering the country, Christine tells him not to get excited and he says, "Enough with that dirty talk."
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • Wile E. Coyote being arraigned.
    • The reaction of the original Trekkies when the TNG fans beam away.
    • Most of Bull's Amusing Injuries when the cast sees them. Especially when the explanation was that he had angered Roz in some way.
      • One notable inversion, after Bull drinks water from a busted pipe to mitigate flood damage, Harry and Christine are shocked at how bloated he's become. Bull, being Bull, just goes about his business as usual.
      Bull: (As he waddles his swollen body to the men's room) See you Monday.
  • Virgin-Shaming: In "Giving Thanks", Dan's "romantic assignation" with Christine is interrupted by a jumper outside their hotel room:
    Christine: Mr. Phelps, why are you doing this?
    Phelps: Because I'm 38 years old...
    Dan: (pouring himself a glass of champagne) Well, so am I!
    Phelps: ...and I'm a virgin.
    Dan: (lifts his glass) Happy landings.
    • The others' reactions as they enter are scarcely more helpful:
    Mac: (entering) Hello! What's going on?
    Roz: The man on the ledge has never had sex.
    Mac: Oh, my dear Lord!
    Harry: Cyril, if you didn't go around telling people, nobody would know.
    Bull: (entering) Evening! (sees Phelps) What's with the virgin in the window?
  • Visual Pun: Dan's reaction to Judge Cleaver's "presto mammario!"
    Dan: I've been booby trapped!
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Most of the cast with each other, although the best example would be Harry and Dan. Although Dan's respect for Harry as his superior is begrudging as best, and Harry doesn't always approve of Dan's less-then-moral tendencies. However the two have had some zany moments together, and when the situation requires it, they have each other's backs.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: The cast's reaction to Season 8's Do-Gooder Dan.
  • Weirdness Magnet: The courtroom.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The man who takes an original copy of The US Constitution hostage in Constitution (Part 2) His motivation? He just wanted thirty seconds to speak about how important the document was in the midst of a tacky television special celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Christine's Buick Roadmaster.
  • Wife Husbandry: Averted, as Mac and Quon Le first met when she was a child in Vietnam and he was in his twenties, but he didn't fall in love with her until she was an adult.
  • Written-In Absence: Harry Anderson does not appear in the Season 9 episode "Guess Who's Listening to Dinner?" It's explained that Judge Stone had to take time off after contracting food poisoning.
  • Yodel Land: In "My Life As A Dog Lawyer", the antagonist is an arrogant diplomat from the fictional European nation of Rogash, which despite its tiny population is eagerly courted by the United States because it is ideally poised for spying on Switzerland. When Harry threatens to deport the diplomat home, the man protests that "listening to the Swiss" is his country's only pastime, industry or national activity. Harry says he can stay in New York if he signs a pledge promising to respect the City's laws and waive his diplomatic immunity if he ever steps out of line:
    Streiko: And if I don't sign?
    Harry: Then you're gonna be listening to an awful lot of yodeling.
    [Streiko grabs the pen.]
  • You're Insane!: Said frequently to Harry, usually with the same response:
    • In "Billie and the Cat:
      Billie: (muttering) They told me you were nuts.
      Harry: Beg pardon?
    • In "Caught Red Handed":
      Arthur Thursby: You're insane!
      Harry: They called me mad at the university!
    • In "Pen Pal":
      Detective Griffin: ...You're crazy.
      Harry: (smiles) That's what they tell me.



John Laroquette deserves an Emmy for this scene.

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