Gimme a Break!

Gimme a Break!

Gimme a Break! is an American sitcom which aired on NBC from October 29, 1981 until May 12, 1987. It starred Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a police chief and his three daughters, whose mother had died.

Premise

The sitcom took place in the fictional Los Angeles suburb of Glenlawn, California. Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper (Nell Carter) agrees to be a housekeeper for the Kanisky household as a special favor to her late friend, Margaret Kanisky, who was the wife of police chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet). Nell also served as a confidante to the chief's three daughters, 17-year-old Katie (Kari Michaelsen), 15-year-old Julie (Lauri Hendler), and 13-year-old Samantha (Lara Jill Miller).

Supporting characters

Officer Ralph Simpson (Howard Morton) was a dopey police officer who worked with Carl. During the second season, Carl's parents, Grandpa Stanley (John Hoyt) and Grandma Mildred (Jane Dulo), were occasionally seen, as was his brother, Ed (Pete Schrum), an overweight mortician who loved to play practical jokes. Grandma, however, died after that season, and Grandpa moved in with Carl and his family. Ed got married and was written out of the series.

During the 1982-1983 season, the family also contended with a man who would often annoy the Kanisky household, who was only known by his surname of "Swackhammer" (played by actor Jack Fletcher). The aforementioned Swackhammer (but was incorrectly called jackhammer) was at first the assistant manager of the local phone company in Glenlawn, who angered Nell and called her by the wrong surname, not to mention turned off phone service to the Kanisky household, and having Nell arrested and thrown in jail. However, the phone company snafu was eventually fixed up, and the arrogant Swackhammer was demoted. Other episodes had him as a neighbor, who always complained about noise, and he was often referred to as "that jerk, Swackhammer!"; however after five episodes, Swackhammer disappeared with no explanation whatsoever.

The third season saw occasional appearances of Adelaide "Addy" Wilson (Telma Hopkins), Nell's childhood friend who worked as a teacher. Although they were friends, Nell and Addy would be somewhat competitive at times too. Meanwhile, Joey Donovan (Joey Lawrence) was a six-year-old orphan who joined the Kanisky household that year. Addy became a regular cast member one year later. In the fourth season, Julie married Jonathan Maxwell (Jonathan Silverman), a pizza-delivery man, who moved into the household.

Over the series run, a number of celebrities have appeared on the show, including singer Whitney Houston, Andy Gibb, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Ray Parker, Jr.. In some of these episodes, the guest would eventually perform a song with Nell.

Later developments

Nell Carter had a stormy relationship with Gimme A Break!'s original show runners Coleman Mitchell and Geoffrey Neigher, which involved personality conflicts and creative differences. The uneasy interaction heightened as the show's success grew heavily in the early seasons, so much that Mitchell and Neigher were dismissed from the show at the behest of Carter just prior to the start of the 1983-84 season. Mort Lachman, the show's co-creator, was retained as co-producer (he would serve in this role for all six seasons). NBC then hired the veteran team of Rod Parker and Hal Cooper to take over as executive producers, following their stint at the recently cancelled Love, Sidney. Carter found that she saw eye to eye more often with Parker and Cooper on all levels, so due to the stability the latter team would stay with the program for the rest of its run.

During the summer 1984 hiatus, Dolph Sweet underwent stomach surgery, which was revealed shortly after to be the first extensive treatment for cancer. Over the course of the 1984-1985 season, Sweet's health went into serious decline as the cancer further ravaged his body. Producers found it increasingly harder to keep him on-screen much, due to his condition and gaunt appearance, but Sweet insisted to continue working as much as possible in order to help with the coping of his illness. Both co-stars and viewers watched him triumph to the very end; Sweet died on May 8, 1985, after taping had completed on season four. To open the next season, the crew wrote out the character of Carl Kanisky and built the season premiere ("Joey's Train") around the family's coming to terms with the loss and their indecisions over facing the one place that evoked the most memories of Carl - his empty bedroom.

As the fifth season saw the death of the chief, Nell became the head of the household. Officer Simpson, who remained a friend of the family after the death of his superior, stuck around for another season. Julie and Jonathan, who were now living in the Chief's old room, found out they were expecting a baby; their daughter, whom they named after Nell, was born before season's end. In an attempt to reverse a drop in ratings, the producers of Gimme a Break! made several changes after the fifth year. Katie moved to San Francisco; Julie, Jonathan, and baby Nell moved to San José; and Samantha attended college in New Jersey. However, she was still seen occasionally in the sixth season, visiting from school. Addy got a job in New York City, so Nell, Grandpa and Joey came to New York to join her. There, they discovered Joey's irresponsible father, Tim (guest star Patrick Collins), who showed him his brother, Matthew (played by Matthew Lawrence, Joey's real-life brother), and left them with Nell and Grandpa. Marty (Paul Sand) was their landlord who also owned a Mexican restaurant under the name "Esteban." Nell's Mama Maybelle (Rosetta LeNoire), became a regular in season six after previous guest appearances. She had moved in with her son (Nell's brother), who was working as a TV weatherman in New York. One of Nell and Addy's New York neighbors was a young lady named Maggie O'Brien, played by Rosie O'Donnell.

As a promotional gimmick, one episode of this series was performed and broadcast live. The episode aired on March 2, 1985.

The show was produced by Alan Landsburg Productions, whose successor-in-interest, Reeves Entertainment Group, took over production in 1985. The American syndication rights are held by NBC Universal Television Distribution. Fremantle Media owns the international rights, as they own Thames Television, which acquired Alan Landsburg Productions and Reeves Entertainment Group product. The creators of the show were Mort Lachman and Sy Rosen.

DVD Releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a 3-disc DVD of the complete first season of Gimme a Break! on February 14, 2006, available in the United States only. Due to poor sales, it is unknown if Universal will release all of the remaining seasons.

On May 30, 2006, Visual Entertainment released a Canada exclusive DVD of the first season. VEI subsequently released the second season on January 16, 2007, once again exclusive to Canada. VEI has confirmed that they will be releasing Season 3 in early 2009.

U.S. releases

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season One 19 February 14, 2006

Canada-only releases

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 19 May 30, 2006
The Complete Second Season 22 January 16, 2007
The Complete Third Season 22 early 2009

External links

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