Sports Night

by Alan Rapp on October 16, 2007

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Sports Night – The Complete Series
  • tv.com: link

sports-night-dvdIf you blinked at the end of the last millennium you probably missed Sports Night.  The brainchild of Aaron Sorkin hit the ABC airwaves in the fall of 1998.  Although critically acclaimed, it won many awards including three Emmys, the show never really hit it big (especially compared to The West Wing). 

As his second show became a huge success, this first foray into television slowly faded into syndication.  The tagline for the show was:  It’s a show about a show about sports, that isn’t about sports at all.  I would be hard pressed to sum it up better.  An extremely well written high paced workplace comedy that is filled with kinetic energy, big laughs, snappy dialogue and one hell of a great cast.  I only wish it could have run for more than two seasons.

Continental Corp owns the Continental Sports Channel, or CSC, a third place network which airs a third place sports highlight show known as Sports Night

The cast and crew are a well educated and well schooled witty bunch of fools.  The show has two wise cracking anchors Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause), two assistant producers Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina) and Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd) whose tumultuous relationship runs from love to hate and back again, the sometimes insane executive producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman), and Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillaume) the managing editor and father figure to this group of misfits.  Guillaume would actually have a stroke during the first season, and rather than write him out of the show or change the chemistry Sorkin decided to change the storyline and write it into the show, which produces some great drama. 

There are also several recurring characters that appear to spice up this stew.  Dana’s nemesis, the producer of West Coast Update, Sally Sasser (Brenda Strong) who has a thing for Casey and maybe someone else as well.  Sam Donovan (William H. Macy) shows up for half a dozen episodes in the second season as a ratings consultant that freaks everyone out and drives Dana crazy.  There’s also Bobbi Bernstein (Lisa Edelstein) a substitute anchor who is convinced, despite Dan’s refusals, that years ago Dan slept with her in Spain and never called.

I could seriously do a review for each episode, but because of space I’ll just list a few.  In terms of drama it’s hard to beat these.  The Apology in which Dan talks about his brother Sam and his views on legalization of drugs, which ends in a gripping on air apology.  The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee Tech where the story of a young African American college football player who refuses to play under the Confederate Flag, is a hot button issue because the owner of the network is an alumni for the college.  This episode gives Guillaume one of his best performances of the series.  The Hungry and the Hunted has an interesting view of hunting and its role in sports as Jeremy is sent out on his first field assignment.  And of course Eli’s Coming where disaster in many humorous and depressing ways hits the show ending in the Three Dog Night song, trust me it works perfectly.

For just hilarious funny there are several great shows.  The Cut Man Cometh where the show’s big time boxing coverage meets with one or to small problems, including a color man in Vegas who gave himself the nickname Cut Man when he allegedly worked as a corner man for Rocky Marciano.  The episode Small Town gives us the disastrous double date of Dana and Gordon and Casey and Lisa as well as the first appearance of the fabulous Bobbi Bernstein (Lisa Edelstein).  Dan finally gets a love interest in Rebecca and Dana and the Deep Blue Sea where he becomes infatuated and obsessed with a woman (Teri Polo) who doesn’t think much of sports and is really just not interested, despite his more than seventeen attempts to woo her.

Other episodes that stand out are Dear Louise which is structured around Jeremy writing about his new job and friends to his sister and Dan struggles with writer’s block.  Cliff Gardner is my favorite of Macy’s run on the show and deals with the network’s concern over dipping rating and their unfavorable view of how the show is run.  Macy gives a great speech about Cliff Gardner and Filo Farnsworth, that is both educational and really, really good television.  The last three shows, Bells and a Siren, La Forza Del Destino, and Quo Vadimus are very good and are an example of art imitating life as the future of the show becomes far less than certain as CSC is rumored to be sold, new and old relationships are examined, and a few old faces return.

I would be remiss without giving an example of the superb writing of the show.  The show has a very strong resemblance to Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, and the writing and rhythm of the show have that same fast paced madcap screwball feel.

CASEY: (joking) I made sweet love to Ava Gardner in Paris.

JEREMY: That ruins Ava Gardner for me.

NATALIE: I love Ava Gardner.

JEREMY: Casey slept with her in France.

NATALIE: Was that while she was doing Green Acres?

JEREMY: That’s Eva Gabor.

NATALIE: I thought they were twins.

JEREMY: That’s Zsa Zsa Gabor.

NATALIE: Which one did you sleep with in France?

CASEY: Natalie—

JEREMY: Let me.  Ava Gardner is dead.  Eva Gabor was on Green Acres.  Zsa Zsa Gabor is her sister.  Casey never slept with anybody in France.

The set includes all 45 episodes on six discs in a really nice package for $59.99.  The episodes can be watched one by one, and also are cued to play all, which is especially nice as each episode runs about twenty two minutes and has no opening music and credit sequence you have to fast forward through.  Extras however are another story.  This set has none.  Nada.  Nothing.  This is extremely disappointing for such a great show.  There are no commentaries, no interviews, no documentaries, not even outtakes or promos.  Although the show is worth the price, I would have liked something to add to the package to make it more complete.

As a fan of great writing I absolutely adore this show from beginning to end.  Yes, I pouted over the absence of any special features for a time, but in the end I can sit back and watch forty-five of the funniest and moving half hours of television.  Not too shabby.  There are DVD sets that you watch and put on your shelf, and there are those that you are constantly pulling out to re-watch.  This is one of the latter.  I don’t think it’s any surprise that almost all of those involved in the show have continued on to work on other good projects, Peter Krause to Six Feet Under, Felicity Huffman to Desperate Housewives, Josh Charles, Sabrina Lloyd and Teri Polo all to movies, and Joshua Malina and Sorkin himself to The West Wing.  But here you can catch them all on CSC’s flagship program, Sports Night.

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