Photos: NBC, Peacock ; Illustration: Dillen Phelps
Everyone wants Dan Fielding. Seriously — in a recent episode of NBC’s Night Court, the public defender played once again by John Larroquette had to fend off advances from a defendant, a woman who was literally certifiable, and every woman in the courthouse named Carol. “I dress like this to please myself,” Fielding told one admirer, “not to be ogled and debased by deviants like you.” That line, in addition to advancing the plot and getting a chuckle, set Dan Fielding apart from his sitcom brethren: Dan Fielding, always sharply-dressed in a suit, really cares about clothes.
It’s not rare for men in TV comedies to be well-dressed. Characters from Sam Malone (Cheers) and George Costanza (Seinfeld) to Earn Marks (Atlanta) and Carmy Berzatto (The Bear) have inspired generations of men to put together “fire fits,” or whatever it is they’re called now that I’ve made the term thoroughly uncool. However, it is rare for those characters to actually care enough about their clothes to comment on it — and I don’t mean in a comically braggadocious way like Parks & Recreation’s Tom Haverford. Style is central to who Dan Fielding is, and a lot of work goes into this subtle, visual storytelling. That’s because Night Court’s costume designer Molly Grundman-Gerbosi knows that the shape of a lapel and choice of pocket square says a lot about a character.
“I always felt like Dan Fielding in the ’80s was dressing for the job he wanted and not the job that he had,” Grundman-Gerbosi told Decider. “He was fashion-forward. He was the trendy, elegant suit person… He always wanted to dress like he was working at a huge law firm, but it’s just night court.”
Night Court’s return to NBC after a 30 year break actually gave Grundman-Gerbosi an intimidating challenge: how do you take a character who was one of the most avid proponents of the 1980s power suit and bring him into the 21st century? “Because [Night Court] was on for nine seasons, it’s pretty iconic,” said Grundman-Gerbosi. “John Larroquette as Dan Fielding has won all these awards. Everybody knows him from [Night Court] and he’s playing the same character.” On the flip side, Grundman-Gerbosi would be working with an actor who is “six foot four inches of elegance in general, so you can dress him so beautifully.”
Fortunately for Grundman-Gerbosi, she had a gung-ho collaborator in — who else? — John Larroquette. “He’s a wealth of knowledge for his character,” said Grundman-Gerbosi. “Obviously, he knows [Dan] better than anybody else. We really wanted to make sure everything that we put on him, his costume, felt like Dan Fielding and trying to update that.”
A lot happened in the 30 years between series, both to Dan as a character (he has loved and lost and retired) and the suit as a concept (it is both alive and dead at all times — it’s Schrödinger’s suit). Dan Fielding goes on a full character journey in the pilot, from first appearing as a process server in a cafe wearing a rugged flannel, Clarks boots, and even more rugged beard (real, BTW) to being back in a suit by episode’s end.
So, where would Dan Fielding’s suits come from? “[Larroquette] fits wonderfully in a Zegna suit,” said Grundman-Gerbosi, who initially had the actor try on some suits from the Italian luxury fashion house. However, the modern Dan Fielding would be found in a much closer location: John Larroquette’s closet.
“[Larroquette] had brought a custom-made suit from home, because he had another event [to go to later] and he showed it to me and I said, ‘Well, that suit is gorgeous,'” explained Grundman-Gerbosi. It also ticked off her main storytelling box for Dan’s return in the new Night Court pilot: after losing his wife and quitting his job, he’d return to the courtroom in whatever suit was hanging in his closet. “And I said, ‘[That suit is] perfect because it’s something you would have had in your closet.”
The suit, it turns out, came from Marios in Portland, Oregon — and you better believe that Larroquette took Grundman-Gerbosi on a field trip to the tailor to handpick fabrics for the dozen Italian suits that would form Dan Fielding’s new wardrobe. “He drove me to the store and introduced me to everybody there and we ended up making over a dozen custom-made suits for him there at the store,” said Grundman-Gerbosi of her shopping trip with Larroquette.
Thus a new uniform began to take shape for the 2023 Dan Fielding: bespoke shirts from Anto in Beverly Hills (no spread collars!); peak lapels; three-piece suits; silk suspenders instead of belts; Ralph Lauren knee socks; Ferragamo Oxford shoes; and silk ties and pocket squares from Stefano Ricci. “We didn’t want to do any darker shirts, anything too trendy,” said Grundman-Gerbosi, who also made sure that Dan’s new vibe gelled with the entire ensemble. “We wanted a timeless look for someone who’s in his seventies, and then we could use the funkier colors and warmer colors for the other characters around him. I feel like those cool colors make him look more comfortable in his own skin on camera — and with his gray beard, it was great.”
It should be noted that the costume department does this much work for every regular character on a show. They all get, essentially, a wardrobe from which the costumers pull from all season. And just like in real life, if you look closely you’ll notice that clothes are repeated, just in different combinations than before.
By Episode 4 of the new Night Court, Grundman-Gerbosi said, Dan is “getting a little more comfortable back in the night court and this is his look: the three piece suit. And it’s just stunning and it sets him apart from everybody else.” All of this work — the research, the shopping trip — leads up to that moment when, grumpy about all of the unwanted attention, a more comfortable Dan declares, “I dress like this to please myself, not to be ogled and debased by deviants like you.” That is storytelling, right there.
That’s a level of comfort that Grundman-Gerbosi strives to achieve not only with the characters on the page, but with the actors on the stage. “First and foremost, I’m into the collaboration and the character,” said Grundman-Gerbosi. “I feel like it makes the actor more comfortable when they feel listened to and there’s a collaboration… So if someone brings me a beautiful suit, like [Larroquette] did with colors that I hadn’t seen in the stores, I’m gonna say, ‘Where did you get that? And give me all your information’ — and he was so happy to do that for me.” And Larroquette also did it for Dan Fielding — and for the benefit of all the Carols in the courthouse.
Night Court airs Tuesdays on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.