Friday, April 14, 2017

Musings On the Opening of Night Court

Growing up I watched a ton of TV. To a certain extent that statement is still true but as a kid, the glowing cyclops might as well have been an extra parent. More important than just the amount of time I spent combing the airwaves was the sheer breadth of content I consumed. Most kids would merely be satisfied to simply ingest the programming of Nickelodeon, Fox Kids, and Cartoon Network, all of which were part of my diet yet I also made the time for adult dramas, classic comedies, horror, and frankly far too many shows that weren't intended for me in any way. At least I don't imagine there were many eight-year-olds who religiously viewed Roc. All shows were welcome...except for Touched by an Angel, I know a shit sandwich when I see it.
Obviously the massive amount of TV helped (or hindered) in shaping my world view. Everything from race, religion, history, was largely pieced together thanks to Mr. Ed and Captain Kirk. I even gained a few life skills while I burned my retinas out. No shit; I learned how to slow dance thanks to every sitcom episode where some nervous kid has to learn how to dance.
Still; it's the more specific influences from TV shows that I find interesting. It's one thing to gain a love for trashy cinema thanks to Monstervision and USA's Up All Night. It's another thing entirely to shape ones opinion of a location from ten seconds of footage, which is exactly what happened to me in regards to New York City and the opening of Night Court.

For those of you who've never had the pleasure, Night Court was a nine season comedy on NBC that focused on the antics a Manhattan municipal courts night shift. There was a cast of goofball employees and a rotation of strange cases to judge along with the occasional bit of drama. It all still holds up quite well to this day, but I'm not here to sell you on the show. No; I'm here to talk about the opening credits. Primarily a choice few seconds of them. See, while most of the opening was made up of the usual character footage, the first chunk of footage was all about NYC. These shots always enthralled me yet also strangely convinced me that the big apple was a place I never needed to see in person.

What better way to kick off than the classic skyline shot? For decades this was the angle to showcase New York, that is until two rather notable elements went down. Back in the 80's however, few shots better summed-up the character of the city. The bridge, the towers, pollution both light and environmental. Shots like this are what made me such a sucker for cityscape photos. I can't help but wonder about every little point of light in those buildings. Somebody's in there. What where they doing at that precise moment in time? Yeah, I get a little meta about photography.

Next we hit the streets with what is possibly my favorite shot of the whole thing. This group of people socializing, and being that it's the 80's they're naturally smoking. Everything looks sort of run-down and cold yet they seem to be having a good enough time. 90's sitcoms like Friends often made the mistake of romanticizing New York far too much. What's on display here is so much better. These people obviously aren't rolling in cash or sipping lattes. They're just having a good time with some smokes.

Then we have the subway. Being someone who was raised and still lives in prairie country, subways have always fascinated me. It's one thing to even have public transit but these are so much more than the buses you might find around here. Whole interconnected mazes that comprise their own mini-world beneath ours. Doesn't help that I'm a sucker for lighting so the fluorescent tubes draw me in.

Another classic portrayal of the roughness of NYC was this guy. Just this brief glimpse of one man introduced so much detail and mystery. Guy's got a bag, possibly full of his earthly possessions. He's properly equipped for the shitastically cold weather, and let's not forget the bagged bottle. The basic assumption is that he's plowing through a fifth of whiskey, vodka, or whatever. I've always had this odd feeling that he's chugging cough syrup. Also gotta point out the tacky sign for chicken and sausages. Standard issue crap street food.

There's plenty to unpack with this shot of the street vendor. Never could tell what the bald guy was buying but seeing as there's a selection of candy, road maps, and skin mags on display, he was probably in for a solid night.

Having firmly established the spirit of the city, the editors finally kick in that one shot that brings in the theme of law and order. Two beat cops, lazily strolling down the sidewalk. What makes this part so special is that there's nothing special about it at all. It's just a perfect example of bored guys doing their job. You'll notice the short one is actually checking his reflection in the metal siding.

Later seasons added some more footage in between actor credits. Most of this isn't anywhere near as dear to me as those opening seconds but here's my favorite of the bunch. Once again it's a newsstand, and yes it has that lighting I love so much. These were another fascination of mine due entirely to my location. The only time I'd ever see something like a newsstand was at an airport or hospital. The idea of just strolling past these tiny stores on the sidewalk further cemented my notion that big cities may as well be other planets.

These tiny bits of footage convinced me early on in life that large cities while infinitely fascinating, simply weren't for me. The sheer honesty of the photography showed a place that was eccentric and sometimes fun while at the same time rough, messy, and sometimes downright ugly. My experiences in places like San Francisco or Chicago have only further cemented that outlook for me. I'm not a country guy by any measure mind you. I still need streetlights, neighbors, and a place to buy late night beef jerky. Simply put I'm a middle of the road type. Places like New York City will always intrigue me yet if I ever feel the need to visit all I have to do is turn on some Night Court.

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