Sports Night: The Complete First Season

Sports Night was a fun, intelligent series that navigated the tricky fields of drama and comedy with style and charm.

Sports Night: The Complete First Season

Distributor: Shout Factory
Cast: Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Felicity Huffman, Robert Guillaume, Sabrina Lloyd, Joshua Malina
Release Date: 2010-03-30

As it is in sports, television is a results oriented game. Numbers -- especially very large numbers -- matter. Success is often nothing more than a measure of who tallies up the most points. Skill, creativity and overall talent do not always add up to victory and, as all sports fans are aware, the better team does not necessarily come out on top. Television is rather similar, as many wonderful shows have been deemed failures when coming up short in the numbers game.

The cruel irony of two pursuits infused with immense individual and collective passion but leveled by the cold, uncaring judgment of raw data is obvious. It would seem, therefore, that the melding of art and sports would be a natural fit for dramatic interpretation. So thought Aaron Sorkin back in 1998 when his first television series debuted on ABC. Lasting only two seasons Sports Night had all of the ingredients for victory -- a ridiculously talented team of writers, directors and actors -- but was unable to translate what looked like a sure thing on paper to success out in the field.

The hypothetical vault that houses all of the brilliant but canceled television series’ is by now so overstuffed that to sort through and view these titles could take a lifetime. While audiences can never hope to make their way through this entire library of overlooked treasures, certain programs deserve special mention. These television shows may now be long gone and relegated to a shelf somewhere but home viewing and the DVD market make it possible to preserve and expand the reach of shows that went largely unseen.

The ABC comedy/drama Sports Night is one of these overlooked gems that failed to find wider success during its initial run. The series focuses on the daily battles of the cast and crew of a late night sports highlight show. Set in the fictional New York City studios of Continental Sports Channel, this SportsCenter-like show is co-anchored by Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause). They are a charmingly acerbic on-air duo whose passion for sports is leavened by equal measures of self-effacing humor and deep intelligence. Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman) is the show’s talented and no-nonsense executive producer whose many tasks include keeping her star hosts focused and on script.

The CSC Sports Night production team is rounded out by Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd), a young associate producer and Jeremy (Joshua Malina), a researcher and fellow (associate) producer. Keeping a distant and watchful eye over all of this daily chaos is Isaac (Robert Guillaume), the show’s seasoned managing editor.

While the show involves the world of sports and television programming the main focus of Sports Night is really on these six individual characters. The professionalism, confidence and aptitude they bring to their jobs are rarely carried over into their personal lives and that dichotomy and struggle is what is explored with deft observations and sly humor.

All of the elements of Sorkin’s unique creative DNA -- rapid-fire dialogue, witty banter, romantic entanglements and the dramatic interplay of personal, corporate and social politics -- are on full display in Sports Night. The later success Sorkin found with The West Wing is evident throughout this series and one sees how Sports Night proved an invaluable laboratory for the talented cast and crew.

While the most notable cast members, Felicity Huffman and Peter Krause, hit the big time with Desperate Housewives and Six Feet Under (respectively) this is truly an ensemble piece that would not work without the strength of all those involved. Bringing life and keeping pace with Sorkin’s quick-wit and sharp intelligence is not for amateurs and the entire cast brims with energy and talent.

The most obvious and immediate barrier for unfamiliar viewers may be the show’s milieu -- the sports and entertainment news world. Whilst the setting may be less stately than the hallowed halls of The West Wing the political and human dramas of late-night sports television are just as electric and engaging as Sorkin’s most acclaimed prime-time work.

The extras included in this boxed set are fairly extensive (by today’s standards) and rather enjoyable. Among the offerings are: new interviews featuring creator Aaron Sorkin, director Thomas Schlamme and the cast and crew where they discuss the Sports Night legacy and trace the show’s trajectory from development through cancellation; a face-off between ESPN’s SportsCenter and CSC’s Sports Night where real-life counterparts at ESPN detail what the show got right and what is clearly made for television; a charming gag reel, and five episode commentaries featuring the Sports Night cast and crew.

Continuing with the industry vogue of cutting up and re-packaging already released DVD titles Sports Night: The Complete First Season comes to the marketplace in its third iteration. Shout Factory is clearly trying to scrape every last bit of material from this series by double dipping in this latest edition. It seems ridiculous to break up the wonderfully compiled Sports Night: The Complete Series 10th Anniversary Edition DVD set that was released only two years ago. An argument can be made that releasing Season One as a stand-alone set is more inviting to the casual viewer than committing to the entire two-season series. However, the move reads less as consumer consideration than it does of corporate cynicism and greed.

That said, whatever tactic works to draw more viewers to this overlooked series is welcome. Sports Night was a fun, intelligent series that navigated the tricky fields of drama and comedy with style and charm.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.