Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting October 29, 1981, on NBC, the half-hour sitcom Gimme a Break was originally set in the suburban community of Glen Lawn, CA. Nell Carter starred as Nell Harper, a feisty, pleasantly plump black housekeeper who ruled the roost in the home of corpulent white police chief Carl Kanisky (Dolph Sweet). Recently widowed, the cantankerous chief had three growing daughters: Katie (Kari Michaelsen), Julie (Lauri Hendler), and Samantha (Lara Jill Miller), aka "Sam," who came to look upon the outspoken but warmhearted Nell as a surrogate mom. The same could be said of Joey Donovan (Joey Lawrence), a six-year old orphan who joined the household during the series' third season. And although Nell and The Chief were frequently at each other's throats, it was crystal clear that there was a strong and affectionate bond between them. In the early episodes, Howard Morton was seen as The Chief's doltish subordinate Officer Ralph Simpson, while Alvernette Jimenez showed up as Nell's goofy friend Angie. By and by, John Hoyt joined the cast as Carl's crusty Polish-born dad, "Grandpa" Stanley Kanisky, who moved in with the family after the death of his wife; several episodes also featured Pete Schrum as Carl's brother Ed, a mortician. And after Angie left the show, her place as best-friend-severest-critic of Nell was taken over by the heroine's childhood pal Dr. Addy Wilson, played by Telma Hopkins. Following the death of actor Dolph Sweet in 1985, it was established that Carl Kanisky had also passed away, leaving Nell to take care of the family by herself. By this time, middle daughter Julie had impulsively married archeologist Jonathan Maxwell (Jonathan Silverman), and the couple eventually had a baby which they named after Nell. At the beginning of the series' sixth and final season, the Kanisky girls had moved out of the house, whereupon Nell, Addy, Joey, and Grandpa relocated to New York City, where Joey was reunited with his younger brother Matthew (played by Joey Lawrence's real-life kid brother Matthew Lawrence). The cast of regulars now included Rosetta Le Noire as Nell's mother Maybelle Harper, Paul Sand as Nell's wacky landlord Marty, and Rosie O'Donnell as street-smart neighbor kid Maggie O'Brien. Gimme a Break closed out its NBC run on May 12, 1987.