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Casey McCall and Dan Rydell are sports anchors and best friends. At "Sports Night", their nightly cable program, the two display their unique talent and skills in reporting up-to-the-minute sports news. When they step off-camera, office romances and sports-related hijinks ensue. Written by
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TV Guide voted it 'The Best Show You're Not Watching' ('If they're not watching it, how do they know?' demanded Peter Krause, accepting the award.)
Sports Night was West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin's first venture into television. Its focus was a fictitious sports show, the struggling 'Sports Night' on cable channel CFC ('A third-rate show on a fourth-rate network'), and the dramas lived out behind the scenes by the characters: Dan Rydell (Josh Charles, in one of the most marvelously complex and multi-faceted performances ever to grace the small screen) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause, now better known as Nate in Six Feet Under), the two handsome, charming, talented and hopelessly neurotic anchors; the producer, Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman), confident in her professional abilities but insecure in her personal life; associate producers Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina, now to be seen in Sorkin's other show), geek extraordinary, and his girlfriend, the forceful, opinionated Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd); and, overseeing it all with quiet dignity, veteran journalist, now managing editor, Isaac Jaffee (Robert Guillaume, known to a generation of viewers as 'Benson', whose dry delivery makes his every utterance a joy, and whose mere presence lends the show gravitas). A critical success but a ratings failure, it lasted for a scant two seasons comprising 45 half-hour episodes (less commercials and credits, more like 22 minutes apiece). That was enough to gain it a small but dedicated audience, and a fanbase whose numbers are still growing. The release of this DVD boxed set has helped to bring Sports Night, never to date aired on UK TV, to a new and appreciative audience.
Some aspects of the show, which ran from September 1998 to May 2000, haven't aged well the frequent establishing shots of the New York skyline dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre send a jolt through the system every time, whilst a passing reference to the Spice Girls seems laughably dated. But the dialogue (much of which Sorkin recycled for use in The West Wing) is as fresh and vibrant as the day it was penned, the story lines as compelling, the characters as real, human, endearing and, frequently, maddening, as ever seen on TV and a great deal more so than most. The performances throughout are assured and compelling, the timing split-second, the direction flawless; and Sorkin's trademark walk-and-talk dialogue and long tracking shots through a standing set will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with his work.
Two criticisms: season one is plagued by a laugh track, superimposed (presumably in a fit of madness) by the US network; and there are no DVD extras, only the 45 episodes. But, really, that should be enough. Wanting more is simply greedy. But, of course, I do want more. And so does everyone else who loved this show.
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