In my continuing saga of discussing my favourite television programs, I’ve gone with another “Gone To Soon” show. And it is my hands down, all time favourite television program.
Sports Night was a sitcom-ish show that aired on ABC from 99-01 and was one of the pioneers in the single-camera comedy revolution. Essentially, most comedies had been shot as if they were on a stage, never breaking that fourth wall. What Sports Night did, is they moved the camera. The audience was suddenly integrated into the show. Which was mostly unheard of for comedies. At least here in the states. But it gave birth to the new era of the sitcom. Arrested Development, Scrubs, Malcolm in the Middle, My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and The Office all later followed Aaron Sorkin’s lead into the single-camera sitcom. But it was Sports Night that planted that seed in everyone’s head to do so.
Sports Night was a show within a show. It was about a nightly sports news magazine show (coincidentally called Sports Night), similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter, and the people who produce it. There were anchors Dan Rydell and Casey McCall (Josh Charles and Peter Krause), Executive Producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman), Associate Producers Jeremy Goodwin and Natalie Hurley (Joshua Malina and Sabrina Lloyd) and Editor-in-Chief Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillame), along with various other production staffers.
And the purely content level, it was the first show that I watched in my generation that was about broadcasting. I of course watched reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and WKRP in Cincinnati (that gets it’s own post). But Sports Night was mine.
But deeper than that, it was the first of my shows that I felt really challenged me as a viewer. When I say “my shows”, I’m referring to shows in my generation, that were still in production when I started watching and paying attention to shows. Ones that I didn’t watch because my parents did. Not that there’s anything wrong with those shows. But… I digress.
Shows that I had watched up until then, like Wings, Cheers, Home Improvement, Drew Carey Show, Boy Meets World and Spin City, while good, and very enjoyable, I look back on, watch the reruns, and feel that I wasn’t challenged by them. I liked them on a sort of basic, almost superficial, level. They’re gag reliant shows. Very funny gag related, but… I feel too much emphasis on where the next joke was coming from.
But Sports Night, holy shit. Such a great, dialog centric show. For the first few episodes, you have too look past the unfortunately network mandated laugh track (which they swiftly got rid of, thankfully). The show was about the quips, the wit, the sarcasm. It’s fast paced so you have to pay attention. And the jokes are a little more cerebral. References to 19th century poetry, early 20th century musicals, philosophers, weather patterns and of course, sports figures.
But it never launches too far over your head. Sure, the average TV viewer wouldn’t “get it”, and that unfortunately led to it’s demise, but you don’t have to be well versed in trivial knowledge to at least appreciate the show.
As a long time fan, and having sat through the entire series (this one lucked out and made it to a full 2 seasons) no less than 7 times (not exaggerating that figure), I can say that now, to me, it is the show that really got me into writing. There was a Mamet-esque feel to it that you never saw on network TV, at least not then. I never thought that something like that could exist on TV.
It’s one of the finest shows ever, and no one watched it. I want to share some of my favourite clips with you. Some are longer and heavier in material, others are shorter and show the wit and fun of the dialog. But it’s important to show how the writers and actors expertly maneuvered between compelling pieces of drama and the hilarious exchanges.
As with most clips, I highly recommend you rent, borrow, or even purchase the DVD’s, and watch the full episodes, so you can see them in context.
This first clip, from the second episode. Dan made some comments in a magazine interview that he supports the decriminalization of marijuana. The network brass didn’t much appreciate it, and ask him to make a public apology. This is what he said:
This one is another Dan one. Funnier. Shows his lighter side. And yes. That is Yeardly Smith, voice of Lisa Simpson. Please ignore the unnecessary use of the laugh track, most viewers did, and they got rid of it after the first few episodes.
Another serious one. Jeremy gets to produce his first piece. Unfortunately it’s on hunting, which he is opposed to.
Funny one for Jeremy. From the pilot, he’s interviewing for the Associate Producer job. (Spoiler: He gets it.)
This is a great one, especially for the under appreciated technicians of the world.
And let’s go out on a good one.
That’s it… that’s Sports Night. I hope you enjoyed the clips as much as I liked the show.
– Brodie Mann