Christmas came to Manhattan’s municipal court in an unorthodox way in January 1984. The evil twin of Alex P. Keaton appears in an early episode of Night Court and attempts to defraud Santa Claus himself.
Night Court was a mid-season surprise for NBC in 1984. While it essentially took a season to find its audience (teaming up with Cosby, Family Ties, and Cheers in the fall of 1984 also helped), Judge Harold T. Stone and associates would prove to be one of the greatest ensemble casts in television history.
NBC suffered several sitcom failures in the fall of 1983 and was now desperate to find a hit with Night Court. Executives weren’t even sure if star Harry Anderson was the answer which is the primary reason Night Court didn’t debut until January 4, 1984.
Only two episodes into the show, NBC would use a ratings ploy to help the new show. The young star of Family Ties Michael J. Fox made a guest appearance but not as his Alex P. Keaton character. Fox plays more of an evil twin to his affluent character on Family Ties in the episode “Santa Goes Downtown.”
A defendant who only identifies himself as Santa Claus attempts to persuade everyone that he is the real thing. He even tells seemingly true details about past Christmases to Judge Stone, Dan Fielding, and two runaways who are in court for shoplifting.
Eddie (Michael J. Fox) and Mary (Olivia Barash) are two teenagers estranged from their families with no trust in their parents or any adults for that matter. “Santa” makes an easy target for Eddie’s distrust of authority figures but while Santa tries to reiterate his identity, he has some heart palpitations in the court room. Recovering later in Harry’s chambers, Santa asks to see the missing persons report that just arrived in order to teach Eddie a lesson. However, it’s revealed later that maybe Santa actually IS who he says he is…
The other fun part of the episode is Santa’s offer to Judge Stone about becoming his replacement someday. This being just the 2nd episode of the series, Harry’s silly courtroom antics and unorthodox methods of bringing people together are already being justified. The Santa of Manhattan municipal court has many presents and gifts to bestow on the residents of New York in years to come.
Night Court was essentially a spin-off of Harry Anderson’s character “Harry the Hat” on Cheers. As evident, guest stars can have such an impact on a show that their reoccurrence is something the audience looks forward to (and executives for potential spin-offs.) While I anticipate Michael J. Fox’s appearance in this episode was nothing more than another NBC ratings ploy, “Santa Goes Downtown” is a hidden gem for both fans of the actor and lost Christmas episodes.