Sports Night The Complete Series
Starring: Robert Guillaume, Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Sabrina Lloyd, Joshua Malina
Series Creators: Aaron Sorkin
After many abortive attempts due to the fact that seemingly every copy in Music World's inventory had the same defect, Kim and I finally finished watching the whole series Sports Night. Ask anyone who knows, and they'll tell you that this was one of those series that was too good for television, a damning phrase directed toward my first love (TV) that is nonetheless true, especially when one is speaking of network television.
Had this whip-smart, 22 minute, "dramedy" set at a fictional sports network, depicting the lives of those who work at that network's flagship news anchor show (titled "Sports Night") aired on a network like HBO or Comedy Central, it might have had a chance. But, a network like ABC had no idea what to do with something mature and innovative like this (just as they had no idea what to do with another of my favourite cancelled TV shows Once and Again). It doesn't have an immediate audience. On paper, it seems like a comedy for sports fans. But sports is only the window dressing for a work-place comedy that dishes observational humour on subjects ranging from relationships to politics.
Further troubling to vapid network executives is the fact that while Sports Night is a comedic show that is 22 minutes in length, it is hardly a sitcom by the traditional definition of the term. Sitcoms are usually formulaic offerings that puts familiar archetypes in wacky situations to allow the hilarity to ensue. Rarely do characters grow or evolve, besides the pesky children who grow necessarily, usually alienating the core audience by doing so. Sports Night is paced more like a TV drama, a drama that happens to be 22 minutes and funny. The humour is generally of the high-brow variety, derived from the rapid-fire dialogue that is the trademark of writer and series creator Aaron Sorkin. This isn't typical sitcom humour, but ABC really wanted it to be, evidenced by the horribly distracting laugh track used in the first few episodes and later (thankfully) abandoned.
Sorkin and his writing are the true stars of the series, but his words would be lifeless were it not for the outstanding performances turned in by the stellar cast. Peter Krause (who would later go on to shine in HBO's Six Feet Under) stars as anchor Casey McCall, a character loosely-based on former ESPN anchor, and former late night talk show host, Craig Kilborn. His co-anchor is Dan Rydell, played ably by Josh Charles (of Dead Poets Society fame). He's so good that you wonder where he's been all these years. Dan is my favourite character on the show. Sorkin favourite Joshua Malina (who also appeared in Sorkin's The American President, A Few Good Men and The West Wing) plays tech-geek Jeremy Goodwin, stealing many scenes and making me wish he did more on The West Wing. Desperate Housewives star Felcity Huffman plays show producer Dana Whitaker, Sabrina Lloyd (who I guess was on Sliders) is her assistant Natalie Hurley, and Benson himself, Robert Guillaume added the star power to the series as the boss, Isaac Jaffe (Guillaume had a stroke during the series, which in turn gave a stroke to his character).
It's sad that such a funny, intelligent and entertaining show couldn't last more than two seasons, but it's ultimately for the best. Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme (who was executive producer and directed many episodes) would go on to create The West Wing, which was a better showcase of his talent and quite possibly the finest drama the medium has ever produced. Plus, had there been a third season, Buena Vista probably wouldn't have released the whole series in one set, choosing instead to release season one, then never release another season again! Sorry, I'm just bitter because that's what they did with Once and Again. I'm just happy to finally own these two seasons so I can re-live them to my heart's content.
I leave with one of the final quotes from the show, a quote I'm sure Mr. Sorkin directed at his own network's executives: "If you can't make money off of Sports Night, you should get out of the money-making business".