Casey McCall and Dan Rydell are sports anchors and best friends. On "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.
The show was finally canceled when Aaron Sorkin decided to concentrate on his other show, The West Wing (1999). Despite low ratings on ABC, it got several attractive offers to continue on cable TV. All the deals included Sorkin as a writer, but Sorkin declined. See more »
The short-lived (45 episodes) "Sports Night" is available in a six-disc DVD box set. If you're a fan of the show, you know what you're getting. Otherwise, read on...
The two biggest questions about "Sports Night" have always been "Will non-sports fans like it?" and "Will sports fans like it?" The answer to both questions is a qualified "Yes."
To answer the first query, the comparison I like to make is to "ER". "Sports Night" is about sports (and television) like "ER" is about emergency rooms. You probably liked ER if you appreciated good television drama with interesting characters, whether or not you cared for medical shows at all. Similarly, if you appreciate brilliant television writing and human drama mixed in with witty dialogue, you will enjoy "Sports Night". At least a casual knowledge of sports and/or television will aid the viewing process, but neither is necessary.
As for the latter question, the target audience for "Sports Night" is not congruent to the viewers of, say, ESPN's "Sportscenter". If you watch "Sports Night" for the sports element, you will likely be disappointed. Most of the athletes referenced are fictitious, and celebrity cameos are non-existent. The sports banter is enjoyable for a big sports nut like me, but the average sports fan probably won't care for this show, much like the average doctor or nurse I know doesn't care for "ER".
So why is this show both unique and of high quality? Let me count the ways...
The writing is the core reason for the quality of "Sports Night". Sharp and snappy dialogue largely defines the show, but the fast pace would be worthless without the intelligence of the words. The Aaron Sorkin-led writing team has created a sextet of lead characters, two anchors and four producers of varying responsibility, who are all well-educated and quick-thinking. Their mouths keep pace with their minds, as the dialogue is as fast or faster than real life, and much more intelligent. There are few pregnant pauses for laughter, as a laugh track was used early on but later wisely discarded. The words form a smart, sexy, and funny world, a world that makes one actually long for such a place. Sorkin later gained prominence with "The West Wing", which employed the same verbal style that Sorkin perfected during his time on "Sports Night." If you liked "West Wing" for its writing, you'll eat up this show as well.
Similar to their characters on the show, the actors (at least at the time) were largely unknown by the general public. This enhanced the team atmosphere of both the show itself and the show within the show. Everyone seemed to rely on everyone else in both worlds, and as with many ensemble casts, the anonymity also let the actors become their characters to viewers. Another reason the characters are appealing is that they each have evident flaws and idiosyncrasies. Many of these imperfections are understandable, recognizable, or easy to relate with, further endearing the characters to viewers.
Rarely is the editing of a television show noteworthy, but keeping up with the back-and-forth dialogue of "Sports Night" is quite a chore. The quick cutting meshes well with the writing. Additionally, the reverse camera angles are a breath of fresh air in a world flooded with three-camera sitcoms. Of course, the question arises as to whether this is a sitcom or a drama or a dramedy. But that's for another place and another time.
Unfortunately, outside of the 45 episodes, there is no bonus material on this 6-disc set. The only pleasant touch is the "Play All Episodes" option, which allows you to just that with each disc's shows. Since each program is only 22 minutes, you can enjoy a handful at a time without getting off the couch. This is also a dangerous feature, as the addictive nature of the show combined with the absence of commercials entices you to watch hours at a time.
It is strange watching a television show without commercials, but this program fades in and out of black where each break would be. That gives enough of a pause in the show for the feel of a commercial, and after the first break or two, not having to watch ads is a blessing.
The reason I so highly recommend that you buy the DVD set is that "Sports Night" is not broadcast regularly in syndication. You can find it sporadically on Comedy Central, but not at any sane hour. So get the box set because of the show's rewatchability. It doesn't quite contain the memorability (I'm inventing words everywhere) or pop culture labels of "Seinfeld", but it does have a similar ability to entertain time and time again.
Bottom Line: If you appreciate a truly well-done TV show, particularly in the writing department, get and watch the box set. You won't regret it.
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