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Gimme a Break!

Gimme a Break!
Genre Sitcom
Created by Mort Lachman
Sy Rosen
Directed by John Bowab
Hal Cooper
Jim Drake
Linda Day
Dick Harwood
Jules Lichtman
Will Mackenzie
Patrick Maloney
Phil Ramuno
Tony Singletary
Oz Scott
Howard Storm
Starring Nell Carter
Dolph Sweet
Lara Jill Miller
Lauri Hendler
Kari Michaelsen
Howard Morton
John Hoyt
Joey Lawrence
Telma Hopkins
Jonathan Silverman
Rosetta LeNoire
Matthew Lawrence
Paul Sand
Rosie O'Donnell
Theme music composer Jay Graydon
Opening theme "Gimme a Break" performed by Nell Carter
Composer(s) Bob Christianson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 137 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Hal Cooper
Mort Lachman
Rod Parker
Producer(s) Arthur Julian
Coleman Mitchell
Geoffrey Neigher
Running time 24–25 minutes
Production company(s) Alan Landsburg Productions (1981–1985)
Reeves Entertainment Group (1985–1987)
Distributor MCA TV (1986–1996)
Universal Television Enterprises (1997–1998)
Universal Worldwide Television (1998–2000)
Studios USA (1998–2002)
Universal Domestic Television (2002–2004)
NBCUniversal Television Distribution (2004–present)
The Program Exchange (2006–present)
Original channel NBC
Original release October 29, 1981 (1981-10-29) – May 12, 1987 (1987-05-12)

Gimme a Break! is an American sitcom which aired on NBC for six seasons from October 29, 1981 until May 12, 1987. The series stars Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a widowed police chief (Dolph Sweet) and his three daughters.


  • Premise 1
  • Cast 2
    • Main characters 2.1
    • Recurring characters 2.2
  • Episodes 3
  • Production information 4
  • Syndication 5
  • DVD releases 6
    • United States 6.1
    • Canada 6.2
    • UK 6.3
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The sitcom takes place in Glenlawn, a fictional California suburb. Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper (Nell Carter) agrees to be a housekeeper for the Kanisky household as a special favor to her late friend, Margaret Huffman Kanisky (played in flashback by Sharon Spelman), who was the wife of police chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet). Nell also served as a parent to the Chief's three daughters, Katie (Kari Michaelsen), Julie (Lauri Hendler), and Samantha (Lara Jill Miller). A foster son, Joey (Joey Lawrence), was added in Season 3.

Over the six-year run, a number of celebrities appeared on the show, including singers 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. During the third season, Pat Sajak guest-starred as himself when Nell and her friend Addy (Telma Hopkins) were contestants on Wheel of Fortune. Other notable guest stars included Milton Berle, Danny Glover, Rue McClanahan, Tony Randall, Helen Hunt, Don Rickles, Gwen Verdon, Dennis Haysbert, Ernie Hudson, Gary Collins, and Elizabeth Berkley.

The episode "Cat Story" was performed and broadcast live on March 2, 1985, as a promotional gimmick, which the cast performed without major incident. An earlier episode (from the 1984–85 season), "Baby of the Family," ranked No. 38 on TV Land's list of "The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments"; it depicted Joey dressing and performing in blackface at Nell's church benefit, a plan hatched by Samantha for revenge after Nell forbade her to go on an unchaperoned camping trip.[1]

The location of Glenlawn is never fully clarified, but Season 3 episode "Flashback" placed the town an hour away from Fresno, in the direction of Bakersfield. In yet another episode, Chief Kanisky boasts to the town mayor that his new police car will make it to Sacramento in just 23 minutes, putting the city of Glenlawn somewhere closer to the capital city than Fresno.


Main characters

  • Nell Carter as Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper. Nell was a singer from Tuscaloosa County, Alabama who ran away from home when she was 18. She met and became friends with Margaret Kanisky and promised to look after her family after she had died from cancer. In keeping her promise, Nell took on the role of housekeeper and mother to the kids and remained in the series for the entire 6-year run. She later became a foster mother to Joey Donovan in Season 3. Nell moved to Greenwich Village in New York City in Season 6 with Joey and Addy and worked as an assistant editor for a publishing company.
  • Dolph Sweet as Police Chief Carl "Chief" Kanisky (Seasons 1–4). Police Chief Carl Kanisky, known as "The Chief" was a widower with three daughters. After Dolph Sweet's death on May 8, 1985, it was explained in the first episode of Season 5 that the Chief had died, and the show continued with Nell taking over as head of the household.
  • Kari Michaelsen as Kathleen "Katie" Kanisky (Seasons 1–5). The Chief's eldest daughter, portrayed as a typical "blonde" and being promiscuous. She decided not to go to college and opened a boutique called Katie's Korner. After her boutique went out of business, she got a job in San Francisco and left the series after Season 5. Her last appearance was the first episode of Season 6.
  • Lauri Hendler as Julie Kanisky Maxwell (Seasons 1–5). The Chief's middle daughter, portrayed as being very intelligent. She married Jonathan Maxwell at the end of Season 4 and became pregnant in Season 5. In the Season 6 premiere, after Nell Maxwell had been born, the new 3-member Maxwell family moved to San Jose and was therefore written out of the series.
  • Lara Jill Miller as Samantha "Sam" Kanisky (Seasons 1–5, recurring in season 6). The Chief's youngest daughter, portrayed as a typical tomboy in her preteen years but developed into a boy-crazy teenager. She moved to Warren County, New Jersey to go to Littlefield College and had a recurring role in Season 6.
  • Joey Lawrence as Joey Donovan (Seasons 3–6), who eventually became Nell and the Chief's foster son; before that he had been working as a con artist to raise money to join his uncle in Chicago. Later Joey became a key cast member. His father Tim Donovan appeared on the show in New Orleans and in New York City. Joey met his little brother and moved in with Tim at the beginning of season 6 but soon afterwards was reunited with Nell and lived with her and Addy in New York City.
  • Howard Morton as Officer Ralph Waldo Simpson (Seasons 3–5, previously recurring). A dopey but lovable police officer who was a subordinate of the Chief's.
  • John Hoyt as Stanley "Grandpa" Kanisky (Seasons 2–6, previously recurring). The Chief's crusty but lovable Polish immigrant father. After his wife died, Grandpa Kanisky came to live with his son and granddaughters in Season 3. In Season 6 he moved to New York City, into the same building as Nell.
  • Telma Hopkins as Dr. Adelaide "Addy" Wilson (Seasons 4–6, previously recurring). Nell's childhood friend, Ph.D. and a Phi Beta Kappa, Addy was chief educational curriculum supervisor for postgraduate students who are studying for Doctorates in history, English and economic geography under the California university system and later moved to New York City; Nell eventually joined her there. Although Nell and Addy were friends, they were also constantly clashing.
  • Jonathan Silverman as Jonathan Maxwell (Season 5, previously recurring). Julie's husband, pizza-delivery man and archeology student. Jonathan went to Mexico on a dig for 3 months. After season 5, Jonathan, Julie, and their new baby left for San Jose.
  • Rosetta LeNoire as Maybelle "Mama Maybelle" Harper (Season 6, previously recurring). In 1982 and 1983 the character's name was Emma and was played by Hilda Haynes and was soft-spoken; LeNoire's character was stern, bitter and critical of Nell.
  • Paul Sand as Marty (Season 6). The landlord of the building Nell, Addy, Joey, and Matthew lived in and owner of the adjacent restaurant La Gaspacho. While at the restaurant, he went by the name of Esteban.
  • Rosie O'Donnell as Maggie O'Brien (Season 6). Nell's dental hygienist neighbor in New York City.
  • Matthew Lawrence as Matthew Donovan (Season 6). Joey's little brother.

Recurring characters

  • Alvernette Jimenez as Angie MacDowell. Nell's tall, skinny, and dim-witted friend, the typical airhead. Angie's character was eventually written out of the show, but appeared in several episodes between seasons 1 and 4.
  • Jane Dulo as Mildred Kanisky (née Wuchetzky). Stanley Kanisky's wife, Carl's mother. Also played by Elvia Allman in "Katie the Cheat" and Elizabeth Kerr in "Grandma Fools Around". Jane Dulo played the role in season 2. Her character died, leaving Stanley a widower in season 3.
  • Pete Schrum as Ed Kanisky, Carl's brother, an overweight mortician who loved to play practical jokes. Ed was recurring in seasons 1 and 2, then got married and was written out of the series.
  • Patrick Collins as Tim Donovan. Joey and Matthew's father was a merchant seaman. Joey reunited with Tim in New Orleans in season 4 (when Tim was played by Fred McCarren). Joey went to live with Tim and Matthew in the beginning of season 6 when Tim decided to get a job in New York City. After realizing he couldn't handle a 9-to-5 job, Tim decided he wanted to go back to sea and Joey returned to Nell and Addy along with Matthew.
  • Jack Fletcher as Erwin J. Swackhammer. During the 1982–83 season, the family contended with this man who would annoy the Kanisky household in various ways. Most notably when he was the manager of the telephone company and had Nell arrested and jailed. After 5 episodes, Swackhammer disappeared with no explanation.
  • Harrison Page as Hamilton Storm. A news reporter that appeared occasionally, during seasons 1 and 2.


Production information

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, the successor company to original syndication MCA Television and 20th Century Fox Television. FremantleMedia owns the international rights, as they own Thames Television, which acquired Alan Landsburg Productions and Reeves Entertainment Group product in 1990. The creators of the show were Mort Lachman and Sy Rosen.

Carter performed the lyrics in both versions of the theme song. The original version was used for the first two seasons and was replaced with an up-tempo rearrangement with new lyrics for season three onward.


The show has been in off-network syndication since 1985. Reruns have also aired nationally on WWOR EMI Service and the USA Network.[2][3][4][5] Distribution rights are jointly owned by The Program Exchange and NBCUniversal Television Distribution, successor in interest to previous syndicator MCA Television. Reruns of the series are a mainstay of many of Sinclair Broadcast Group's The CW and MyNetworkTV stations, especially in low-traffic time periods due to the low-cost barter setup of The Program Exchange.

After not being aired on cable in nearly 15 years, the show aired on TV One (which previously aired a day-long marathon on February 11, 2006, just three days before the first season was released on DVD in the United States), usually twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays (with 2 to 4 episodes airing each day). The reruns began on May 3, 2013 and continued until September 20, at which they had reran all 137 episodes.

The show returned to TV One on April 17, 2015, once again airing Friday nights (with 4 episodes each).

DVD releases

United States

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released a three-disc DVD of the complete first season of Gimme a Break! on February 14, 2006, available in the United States only. The Complete Series is now available in the US.


Visual Entertainment released the first two seasons of Gimme a Break! on DVD in Canada between 2006-07. In 2009, VEI announced that they plan on releasing the entire series in a complete series box set in 2010.[6] VEI released Gimme a Break! The Complete Series on DVD in Canada on July 20, 2010.[7] As of 2013, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print.


Simply Media TV Ltd released the first and second series in the UK, although the series has never been broadcast on British television.


  1. ^ PRNewswire, "TV Guide and TV Land Join Forces To Count Down The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments", December 1, 2005.[2] Accessed March 23, 2009.
  2. ^ The Intelligencer—September 30, 1991
  3. ^ The Intelligencer—December 31, 1993
  4. ^ TV Guide—September 20–27, 1997
  5. ^ TV Guide—September 5–11, 1998
  6. ^ Lambert, David (2009-10-02). "Gimme a Break! - A Fan Inquiry to Us on Facebook Leads to Some VERY Interesting New Information!". Retrieved 5 December 2009. 
  7. ^

External links

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