Set in Detroit, the corporate executives of Payne Motors are at a crossroads: adapt to the changing times or be sent to the junkyard. Shaking things up is the new CEO, whose leadership, experience and savvy is only slightly offset by her complete lack of knowledge about cars. Luckily, her team has some of the best minds in the business – when they aren’t fighting or trying to outwit each other. From the corporate office to the factory floor, the crew of Payne Motors is driving home the laughs.
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Introduced to NBC's Wednesday-night schedule as a mid-season replacement on January 4, 1984, the weekly 30-minute sitcom Night Court quickly built a large and appreciative audience, enabling the series to remain on the network for nine seasons. Harry Anderson, a comedian who had established his reputation as a smooth-talking, nimble-fingered street magician and self-styled con artist, was perfectly cast as affable, irreverent Manhattan night-court judge Harry T. Stone. Although he came across as an iconoclastic jokester who held standard legal procedure in contempt (in one episode, his verdict was based on the flip of a coin), Harry was a highly successful jurist with a well-honed sense of fair play, whose handling of the oddballs that paraded in and out of his court resulted in a gratifyingly low "return" rate and quite a few reformations. Even those who'd never stood before Judge Stone in court were familiar with his lovable eccentricities, including his fondness for faded blue jeans and his adoration of singer Mel Tormé. The supporting cast included John Larroquette as Assistant DA Dan Fielding, who spent as much time trying to score with the ladies in night court as he did trying to secure convictions, and Richard Moll as bald-headed bailiff "Bull" Shannon (Richard Moll), whose bark was worse than his bite, but not by much. During the series' first season, Paula Kelly was seen as legal-aid defense lawyer Liz Williams, who was alternately appalled and fascinated by Harry's unorthodox tactics; Karen Austin also appeared as court clerk Lana Wagner, who harbored a not-so-secret crush on Harry. In subsequent seasons, Liz was replaced by Billie Young (Ellen Foley), who in turn was replaced by Christine Sullivan (Markie Post); as for Lana, her replacement was Mac Robinson (Charles Robinson). Both Christine and Mac remained for the rest of the series; not so with Selma Diamond as abrasive jail matron Selma Hacker, a character who lasted only until Diamond's death. The actress' replacement, Florence Halop as Florence Kleiner, likewise passed away after only a short time on the series; she in turn was replaced by Marsha Warfield as Roz Russell, a character who stayed in place until the series' own demise. The on-again, off-again romance between Harry Stone and Christine Sullivan was definitely "off" during seasons seven and eight, when Christine was wed to undercover cop Tony Guillano (Ray Abruzzo), a union which produced a baby. After Christine divorced Tony, her relationship with Harry heated up considerably, but before long the ardor had cooled. Eventually, Christine was elected to congress, whereupon she was pursued not by Harry but by the ever-libidinous Dan Fielding. The final episode of Night Court, which set something of a record for the number of bizarre, surrealistic incidents occurring within a single half-hour, was broadcast on July 1, 1992.
Debuting October 29, 1981, on NBC, the half-hour sitcom Gimme a Break was originally set in the suburban community of Glen Lawn, CA. Nell Carter starred as Nell Harper, a feisty, pleasantly plump black housekeeper who ruled the roost in the home of corpulent white police chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet). Recently widowed, the cantankerous chief had three growing daughters: Katie (Kari Michaelsen), Julie (Lauri Hendler), and Samantha (Lara Jill Miller), aka "Sam," who came to look upon the outspoken but warmhearted Nell as a surrogate mom. The same could be said of Joey Donovan (Joey Lawrence), a six-year old orphan who joined the household during the series' third season. And although Nell and The Chief were frequently at each other's throats, it was crystal clear that there was a strong and affectionate bond between them. In the early episodes, Howard Morton was seen as The Chief's doltish subordinate Officer Ralph Simpson, while Alvernette Jimenez showed up as Nell's goofy friend Angie. By and by, John Hoyt joined the cast as Carl's crusty Polish-born dad, "Grandpa" Stanley Kanisky, who moved in with the family after the death of his wife; several episodes also featured Pete Schrum as Carl's brother Ed, a mortician. And after Angie left the show, her place as best-friend-severest-critic of Nell was taken over by the heroine's childhood pal Dr. Addy Wilson, played by Telma Hopkins. Following the death of actor Dolph Sweet in 1985, it was established that Carl Kanisky had also passed away, leaving Nell to take care of the family by herself. By this time, middle daughter Julie had impulsively married archeologist Jonathan Maxwell (Jonathan Silverman), and the couple eventually had a baby which they named after Nell. At the beginning of the series' sixth and final season, the Kanisky girls had moved out of the house, whereupon Nell, Addy, Joey, and Grandpa relocated to New York City, where Joey was reunited with his younger brother Matthew (played by Joey Lawrence's real-life kid brother Matthew Lawrence). The cast of regulars now included Rosetta Le Noire as Nell's mother Maybelle Harper, Paul Sand as Nell's wacky landlord Marty, and Rosie O'Donnell as street-smart neighbor kid Maggie O'Brien. Gimme a Break closed out its NBC run on May 12, 1987.
Debuting September 24, 1987, on NBC, the weekly, half-hour sitcom A Different World originated as a spin-off of the enormously popular The Cosby Show, which, during its first season, it followed on Thursday nights. Lisa Bonet reprised her familiar Cosby Show role as Denise Huxtable, 19-year-old daughter of Cleveland obstetrician Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby), who at the outset of A Different World was beginning her sophomore year at the largely black Hillman College, her dad's alma mater. Lisa lived in Gilbert Hall, a girl's dorm, with her two roommates and fellow students, naïve white girl Maggie Lawton (Marisa Tomei), and 26-year-old black divorcée Jaleesa Vinson (Dawnn Lewis). The girls' neighbor across the hall was spoiled, imperious Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy), while the dorm director was first Stevie Rollins (Loretta Devine) and then Lettie Bostic (Mary Alice). Representing the male population of Hillman were self-styled Lothario Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and the likeable but irresponsible Ronald Johnson (Darryl M. Bell). Halfway through season one, Sinbad joined the cast as athletic coach Walter Oakes. After Lisa Bonet became pregnant, she seriously curtailed her Different World appearances, dropping out of the show altogether in season two. At this point, Dawnn Lewis and Jasmine Guy became, for all intents and purposes, the stars of the series. Added to the cast during the second season were Charnele Brown as footloose but iron-willed pre-med student Kim Reese, Cree Summer as the fey, artistically inclined Freddie Brooks, and Glynn Turnan as super-tough calculus professor Col. Clayton "Dr. War" Taylor. Also this season, Lou Myers began making recurring appearances as Vernon Gaines, philosophical chef at local campus hangout The Pit. Starting with season three, Gilbert Hall became a coed dorm, allowing closer contact amongst the various male and female characters -- with the expected results. Walter Oakes became dorm director and resident advisor, while Dwayne Wayne gradually entered into a romance with Whitley Gilbert and Ron developed an attraction to Freddie. Upon graduating, Whitley found work at an art gallery, Kim was employed at a mortuary, and Jaleesa -- who had married Col. Taylor -- became a marketing executive and ran her own employment agency. Eventually, Whitley and Dwayne were married, Ron started his own band, and Freddie enrolled in law school. All the while, new regulars were added to the show: Jada Pinkett as streetwise freshman Lena James, Karen Malina White as the garrulous and overly aggressive Charmaine Brown, Patrick Malone as the punkish-looking but sensitive Terrell, Ajai Sanders as the hyper-judgmental Gina Devereaux, and Joe Morton as Hillman alumnus Senator Byron Douglas III, whom Whitley nearly married before finally deciding upon Wayne. Although A Different World did not shy away from the serious issues facing young African-Americans in the final decade of the 20th century, the series always maintained a positive, upbeat attitude, avoiding easy put-down and insult jokes in favor of sharp, well-defined characterizations with realistic goals and ideals. Lasting 144 episodes, the series ended on July 9, 1993.
The NBC sitcom Good Morning, Miami was co-created by Max Mutchnick (Will & Grace) and David Cohen, who drew upon their own experience while working on a local TV news-and-variety program. Mark Feuerstein starred as hotshot young TV executive Jake Silver, who dedicated himself to "rescuing" Miami television's lowest-rated morning show. Initially, Jake balks at the assignment, figuring that the show's overly unctuous station manager Frank Alfonso (Jere Burns) and terminally stupid co-anchors Gavin (Matt Letscher) and Lucia (Tessie Santiago) are beyond redemption. Even worse, the show's only real selling card is its zany "weather nun," Sister Brenda Dillman (Brooke Dillman). But spurred on by his affection for the show's hairstylist Dylan Messigner (Ashley Williams) -- not to mention his fear of his trash-mouthed grandmother Claire (Suzanne Pleshette) -- Jake agrees to make the best of a deplorable situation. Good Morning, Miami debuted September 26, 2002.