A Chronology You Won’t Get Anywhere Else, If You’re Lucky

After I posted last week about 30 Rock‘s Night Court semi-reunion, I was asked by a couple of people whether Kenneth was right when he said that that show was supposed to end with Harry and Christine getting married, but didn’t because there wasn’t a tenth season (due to the shark-jumping performance of Jenna as were-lawyer Sparky Monroe). I should be embarrassed to be able to answer this, but I’m not. So for all of us who still think it’s awesome that Reinhold Weege and Linwood Boomer had their names on a show at the same time, here’s a chronology of one of the most complete and total creative collapses ever undergone by a good, Emmy-winning show.

(For those who aren’t into this chronology, I’ll use this as an excuse for a question: what is, in your opinion, the worst decline a show has ever undergone — what show went from truly great to truly terrible? I might nominate The Simpsons, one of the greatest shows of all time in its prime, and — based on a viewing of the season 11 DVDs — a genuinely awful show in the mid-point of Mike Scully era. I’m serious. Step By Step had better scripts at that point.)

Chronology of the Decline and Fall of Kenneth The Page’s Favourite Show, Written By Someone Who Watched Nearly Every Episode in the Late ’80s and Early ’90s And Won’t Apologize For It

1989 (after the 6th season): Reinhold Weege, creator and showrunner (formerly a writer-producer on Barney Miller who imported guest stars and even entire Barney Miller plots to the new show), abruptly quits the show due to a dispute with NBC and Warner Brothers television over their failure to pick up another show that he created. Leaving the show with Weege are two other Barney Miller veterans: Tom Reeder, who wrote three or four Night Courts a year, and Jeff Melman, who produced and directed most episodes of Night Court up to that point.

1989-90 (7th season): New showrunners of Night Court are Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, who were producers and head writers in the sixth season. They try to do the same things they had done in the earlier seasons, but for reasons I’ve never fully understood, the scripts get really bad really fast, making the post-Weege Night Court a byword for the dangers of doing a show without its creator/showrunner (are you listening, Mad Men)? All the characters become bad parodies of themselves, the slapstick is no longer funny, and Markie Post’s new love interest Ray Abruzzo establishes himself as one of the worst semi-regular additions of the era (though Ray Abruzzo himself is just fine by me).

1990-91 (8th season): Murphy and Strawther depart, and NBC goes looking for new showrunners who can save the show from its newfound reputation for sucking. They approach Stu Kreisman and Chris Cluess, two SCTV writers who had worked on Night Court briefly in the second season, but quit because they disapproved of Weege’s over-emphasis on broad humour. Kreisman and Cluess declare that they will make Night Court more sophisticated and less “silly,” eliminating most of the slapstick, making all the characters less wacky, and adding a few boring new characters. The show becomes more respectable than it was in the previous season but still isn’t very good. Told that this will be the final season of the show, Kreisman and Cluess plan a finale where, yes, Harry and Christine will get married. Except that NBC at the last minute decides to renew the show for a 9th season, so the planned finale is scrapped, leading to…

1991-92 (9th season): I don’t even remember what happened in most of this season because I gave up watching once it got into a story arc about Dan haunting the building as “The Phantom of the Courthouse.” However, I did tune in for the finale. Anyway, unlike in the previous season, where a big finale was planned only to be abandoned when the show was unexpectedly renewed, this particular season couldn’t have a big finale because nobody knew if it would be renewed or not; NBC was considering picking it up and Warner Brothers was considering doing more episodes for first-run syndication. The two-part “finale” that finally aired was not a finale at all, but an episode with a few cosmetic alterations that would make it look like a finale. Hence the infamous final scene where aliens show up to take Bull to their planet, and that was actually only the second most-hated scene among fans. (‘Shippers all over America threw stuff at their TV sets when it was Dan and not Harry who decided to follow his true love Christine.) And so ended three of the worst seasons ever logged by a formerly good show.

And no, Jenna Maroney never showed up as Sparky Monroe, the Were-Lawyer, but it would have been better than that damn Ray Abruzzo character.