The Original Public Defender on Night Court

Before Christine, Billie, and Liz, it was Sheila Gardiner

Of all the ladies who played the public defender on the 1984-1992 TV sitcom Night Court, the best-know was probably Markie Post as Christine Sullivan. She filled the role from the third season until the series’ end. Before Miss Sullivan, there was Billie Young, played by Ellen Foley, who was the female voice behind Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (on the album, not the music video. That was Karla DeVito in the video lip-syncing to Ellen’s part, but that’s a whole other article), and before Billie, there was Liz Williams, played by Paula Kelly, who was the PD for all of the first season after the pilot.

The public defender in the pilot episode, entitled “All You Need is Love,” was Sheila Gardiner, played by veteran actress (even at that time) Gail Strickland. Miss Strickland wasn’t really memorable in that one and only episode she appeared in and her character wasn’t very well-developed. The female character who was more focused on during the first season was court clerk Lana Wagner, played by Karen Austin, who was let go from the series after the first 10 episodes. As far as how not remaining on Night Court affected Gail Strickland’s subsequent career, it was hardly a derailment (as a look at her IMDb page will confirm), but had she remained and due to the hit the show became, it may have attached the words “best known as” to her name in later years.


About the author

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Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Chris flirted with the music business there and in Nashville before joining the U.S. Army and serving in South Korea. He remained in Asia for several years afterwards, teaching English, traveling, and covering the regional entertainment scenes. Currently in a mindset between Seoul and San Francisco, besides Idol Features, you can also catch his writings in the print edition of the monthly magazine, Effective.

1 Comment

  1. I was a big fan of the show when it was on TV, but never saw the pilot so didn’t know she was the first defense attorney. I do remember Lana Wagner and always wondered what happened to her after she left the show. Her and Harry looked like they had good chemistry together.

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