Sports Night – A Lost TV Gem

Sports Night would easily crack my top 10 shows of all-time. It’s a forgotten gem of the late 90s written by Aaron Sorkin1. Although I have never see The West Wing,2 I own both Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on DVD, which seems to indicate that I like Sorkin’s writing style.

Sports Night won three Emmys during it’s 45 episode run, including outstanding directing for the Pilot episode. It was nominated for directing a second time, as well as writing and guest actor. Apparently that indicates that the Emmy people liked the show, but most “average” people didn’t appreciate it. I remember watching it on and off during it’s original run3 and then remember getting the DVD when it came out and regretting not watching it.

The Cast

The cast of Sports Night is somewhat mind blowing in retrospect. Felicity Huffman was the female lead. Huffman was arguably an unknown at this time, but went on to get nominated for an Oscar4, won an Emmy and was nominated for another5.

The two male leads were Peter Krause and Josh Charles. Krause almost immediately got the lead in another show I never saw, Six Feet Under. He was nominated for three Emmys in his five seasons on the show. Shortly thereafter Krause got the lead in a show I loved, Dirty Sexy Money, that just never caught on. Now Krause is one of the leads on Parenthood. Charles had a recurring role in the first season of In Treatment before getting a supporting role in another great show The Good Wife.

The supporting cast included Josh Malina, who was on The West Wing and now has a recurring role in another favorite of mine In Plain Sight. The boss of Sports Night was played by Robert Guillaume, who was the only established TV star when she show came out. Guillaume had two Emmys to his name (and 4 more nominations) for his time on the 80s show Benson.6 Ted McGinley had just finished up his role as Jefferson on Married with Children when he had a recurring season one role as Huffman’s boyfriend. Brenda Strong had a recurring role as the rival late night producer who eventually hooks up with Krause. Strong would go on to be the narrator, and occasional on-screen star of Desperate Housewives.

Teri Polo had a recurring role as Charles’ love interest and popped up again right before the show got cancelled. Polo is best known as Ben Stiller’s wife in the Meet The [BLANK] movies. Speaking of spouses, Huffman’s real-life husband William H. Macy had a recurring role in the second season. Macy is likely most-known for his role in the movie Fargo7. Paula Marshall, of many failed TV series, and Clark Gregg from The New Adventures of Old Christine are also there, albeit briefly.

Clearly there was a wealth of talent on this show, has proven by the future success of pretty much everyone involved. It seems apparent that the show was just wrong place, wrong time.

The Stories

Sorkin did a great job of tying real-life into the show. There were references to real sports stories and personalities mixed in, but it wasn’t overdone. Sorkin got creative when he had to write Guillaume’s real-life stroke into the show. Season two featured a prominent storyline regarding the low ratings of the Sports Night show within the Sports Night show. This storyline was supposedly a parallel to what was really going on with the actual show.

Sorkin’s writing style is fairly well-known at this point, but back then it was new. There is lot’s of quick dialog and a fair number of pop culture references, and, because of the show’s topic, sports references. There really aren’t any dumb characters, everyone seems smart and witty, even the geeky producer played by Malina.

The plot near the end of the second season, where the show is potentially up for sale, is great. And the way the second season (and series) finale ends, makes you longing for more.

The Legacy

Sports Night still has fans. The original DVD box set–released in 2002–lacked any sort of features outside of the episodes themselves. Last year, they released another box set, this time with interviews and commentaries. Several websites, including I Can’t Believe It’s Not Sports Night and Sports Night on CSC have extended the series with fan fiction of future seasons.

Because of when the show originally aired I haven’t found many people my age who watched or have even seen Sports Night. I have tried to turn people on to the show and I am always willing to lend it to people who want to check it out.

The cast, the story, the premise, the writing, all make it great. The sports references are old but you don’t have to get them to appreciate the show. Since I first purchased the series on DVD back in college I am sure I have watched it from start to finish about 10 times. Every time I do I remember how much I love this show and how I wish it hadn’t died a premature death.

  1. His first TV show []
  2. Not because I think I won’t like it, just because I haven’t gotten there yet []
  3. I was only about 15 at the time so what did I know? []
  4. For Transamerica []
  5. Both for Desperate Housewives []
  6. Never even heard of it []
  7. I also appreciate his work in Boogie Nights, Mr. Holland’s Opus, A Civil Action, and The Cooler []