Harry Anderson 1952 – 2018

Strange, with the success this spring of the re-boot of Roseanne, that headlines should turn toward news of the passing of Harry Anderson.

Anderson’s breakout series Night Court ran from 1984 to 1992. That was back in the day when NBC was considered a “Must See” network. His series started a few years before Roseanne premiered on ABC in 1988.  Anderson and Roseanne Barr were born just a few weeks apart in 1952; he died Monday at 65.

I was still in the art department of TV Guide Canada when Night Court emerged as one of NBC’s strongest assets, along with The Cosby Show, Cheers and Hill Street Blues.

There was a wide, counter top light table in the art department which illuminated dozens of slides. Pipe smoking editor Ken Larone, the one adult in an office full of twentysomethings, was trying to pick a cover subject and asked me who I would select out of several TV stars under consideration.

I pointed directly at the shot of Night Heat‘s Markie Post. “Done!” said Larone, who turned and walked back to his office.

Six or seven years ago, in Pasadena, I met Post at a Hallmark network dinner party, an annual high point of the semi-annual TCA press tours. She looked terrific.

Post was not in the first season of Night Court but quickly became a central cast member and I remember she had nothing but good things to say about Anderson. I also interviewed Night Court regulars John Larroquette (leering prosecutor Dan Fielding) and Richard Moll (towering bailiff “Bull”) much earlier on separate occasions and both had fond memories of Anderson and their time in Court.

I’m pretty sure (it was a while ago) that I was among the reporters who attended press conferences for Anderson’s follow-up  sitcom Dave’s World. Not much is memorable about that series. Anderson, by his own admission in other interviews, was never much of an actor, but he really was well cast as Night Court‘s amiable judge Harry Stone; he with the ever-ready magician’s deck of cards and love of Mel Torme.

A mid-series shot of the Night Court cast (l-r): Moll, Larroquette, Post, Anderson, Marsha Warfield and Charlie Robinson

Night Court was a weird fit on NBC’s schedule. It wasn’t a family show like Cosby; it was much more surreal than Cheers. It was zanier than Hill Street but perhaps closer to that show in casting and in quirky tone. Beyond the big hair and shoulder pads were plenty of laughs (thanks to Larroquette, mainly, as well as Selma Diamond in the early seasons). Despite the fact you could often hear creator Reinhold Weege guffawing in the studio audience, there was something rather melancholy about the series. Maybe it was the cheesy horn play in the theme song, or the community cable quality of the main titles.

Or maybe it just seems sad now that Harry Anderson is gone. Roseanne has proved that TV connections can run deep and seeing actors return as the characters we grew up with can bring comfort and joy. Hearing of their passing, on the other hand, sometimes feels like a death in the family. Condolences to his own family and his former cast mates, with many tweeting out their fondness of the man.

“He was wicked smart,” tweeted Laroquette. “He was wicked funny. He had a big laugh. He had a big heart. He delighted in legerdemain especially when he caused someone to scratch their head and proclaim; How the hell did you do that? And he could eat a hamster like no one I ever knew.”

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