Reinhold Weege, creator of TV hit ‘Night Court,’ dies at 62
Reinhold Weege, who created the popular Emmy-winning sitcom “Night Court” about an often-anarchic, after-hours New York courtroom and its cast of memorably loony characters, has died. He was 62.
Weege, who also wrote and co-produced the television series “Barney Miller,” died Dec. 1 of natural causes at his home in La Jolla, Calif., said Bonnie Covelli, his former assistant.
“Night Court,” which aired on NBC from 1984 to 1992, starred a boyish Harry Anderson as the unorthodox, fun-loving judge Harry Stone and John Larroquette as lecherous prosecuting attorney Dan Fielding.
Beneath the carnival-like atmosphere of Stone’s courtroom, the show pushed the envelope for network television at the time, with occasionally edgy story lines and characters seemingly drawn from the streets of New York City.
Weege said the show was grounded in reality, insisting that he had seen actual courtrooms that were more bizarre.
But “Night Court” was best-known for its humor and assortment of lovable oddballs, including its jeans-wearing, Mel Torme-obsessed judge; its towering, dimwitted bailiff; and a character known as “Phil the derelict,” who became the prosecutor’s personal lackey. Pimps and prostitutes also made regular appearances, and Weege later disclosed that he had named most of them after his friends.
The series, which began as a midseason replacement, was among the most popular television shows of its era, part of a powerhouse Thursday-night lineup for NBC that included “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties” and “Cheers.” It won seven Emmys, including an unprecedented four consecutive supporting comedy actor awards for Larroquette.
“We do great jokes,” Larroquette said of “Night Court” in a 1988 Los Angeles Times interview. “The show may not be in any way intellectual and we don’t make any pretense of dealing with issues that are impossible to address or solve in the sitcom format. . . . But if you just want to forget it all for a minute and laugh at pies in the face and pants around the ankles, that’s what we do very well.”
On Friday, Larroquette paid tribute to Weege in a Twitter post: “In life there are those who impact us with such force everything changes. Reinhold Weege was that in mine. May he truly rest in peace.”
Weege received three Emmy nominations for “Night Court” and one for “Barney Miller,” the long-running ABC sitcom starring Hal Linden. Weege also wrote several television movies, as well as episodes for the short-lived 1970s series “Fish,” a “Barney Miller” spinoff that starred Abe Vigoda.
Born in Chicago on Dec. 23, 1949, Weege grew up in the Chicago area and got a taste of theater in his senior year of high school in Mount Prospect, Ill., when he played Thomas Cromwell in “A Man for All Seasons.” Future TV and film actor Bruce Boxleitner and Shelley Pierce, Weege’s high school girlfriend who became his wife, were in the same production.
Weege attended a number of colleges, including DePaul and Illinois Wesleyan, then served in the military. As a reporter and editor for a suburban newspaper, he was fired for writing about a secret meeting on a development deal, a story that angered the paper’s advertisers, he said in 1994 in The Chicago Tribune.
After that, “I sold our couch, the only asset my wife and I had, got in the car and headed toward Hollywood,” he told the Tribune. His big break came in 1976, when he was hired to write for “Barney Miller.”
He spoke of his craft in 1998 in The Hollywood Reporter. “My specialty is being funny and substantial at the same time,” he said. “I want people to watch a half-hour and give a damn about it afterward.”
Weege and his wife were divorced. His survivors include his daughters Tez and Alix and his granddaughter Zoe.