After finishing The West Wing, my Sorkin education was continued with another of his shows, Sports Night. While The West Wing dealt largely with the politics of the White House, Sports Night gives you the inner workings of a late night sports news broadcast. You’re shown the behind the scenes work that goes on from Noon to Midnight and the employees of the network-owned hour long show who make it all happen at 11:00pm.
Sports Night was Sorkin’s show before The West Wing, so yes, we did go a bit out of order. Sorkin was actually still writing the second season of Sports Night when The West Wing premiered, working on them concurrently until Sports Night ended after it’s 45th episode closing out it’s second season. Unlike, The West Wing with it’s hour long episodes, Sports Night episodes are a half hour long. Sports Night is more comedic and often has a laugh track, like most TV sitcoms, but the show was definitely not pure comedy. Just like The West Wing, this show presented the humorous yet intelligent and nuanced writing of Aaron Sorkin.
You quickly grow attached to the characters, affected by their lives both in and out of the Sports Night office. And even though a lot of the show focuses on what happens while preparing to bring you the sports news of the day, you tend to pick up some things here and there as well. As someone who isn’t really into sports, unless it’s soccer, I was surprised at how much I was interested in what the characters loved about sports. Their passion for sports is equal to the passion for politics of the Bartlet administration, and clearly Sorkin’s own passion for these topics.
The similarities between the two Sorkin shows do not end there, Sports Night’s pilot episode was titled “Pilot”, which Sorkin repeated for The West Wing’s first episode as well. Beyond that, both shows won Emmys as well. Now, I don’t want to spend all my time comparing the two shows. I would rather talk more about Sports Night and the characters.
The main characters start with the anchors of the show, Dan and Casey. Dan Rydell was played by Josh Charles and Casey McCall was played by Peter Krause. They are best friends who came up together in popularity hosting a small time show in Texas, and then moved to New York City to continue their partnership as sports anchors for CSC’s Sports Night with their producer, Dana Whitaker portrayed by Felicity Huffman and the rest of their staff; Jeremy Goodwin played by Joshua Malina, Natalie Hurley played by Sabrina Lloyd, Kim played by Kayla Blake, Elliott played by Greg Baker, Chris played by Timothy Davis-Reed, Dave played by Jeff Mooring, Will played by Ron Ostrow, and their boss Isaac Jaffe played by the talented Robert Guillaume.
There are many other characters that round out the cast along with some fun guest appearances, but I absolutely loved the main cast. Of the two anchors, Casey was my favorite, but Dan had some great story lines. My favorite character overall was Jeremy Goodwin (portrayed by Joshua Malina), you can certainly see similarities between Jeremy and Will Bailey from The West Wing. You have a lovable, nerdy, Jewish guy who loves sports in Jeremy Goodwin that reminds me a lot of my boyfriend. It could also be the fact that I had already seen Joshua Malina in The West Wing, despite him getting the Will Bailey role after Sports Night had ended. But even though I watched them out of order, I still felt that Jeremy was a younger less politically motivated version of Will Bailey, plus Jeremy had some great comedic scenes and I do love a guy who can make me laugh.
While the plot points of Sports Night did not necessarily have the same gravitas as plot points dealing with a White House staff, you still had serious topics covered, some involving sports and some involving the lives of the characters themselves. One such example is the episode “Mary Pat Shelby”, episode 5 of Season 1. In this episode, a football player with major PR issues is set to come on the show to be interviewed, and Natalie is sent to do a pre-interview. During the pre-interview, the football player exposes himself to Natalie and attempts to cajole her into something more but she is able to get away, but not without a serious bruise on her wrist from where he grabbed her. Natalie tries to hide the sexual harassment from her co-workers, but news leaks about a woman who had been alone in the locker room with the player. Throughout the episode, Natalie struggles with the decision to publicly file charges against the player, which could cause backlash from his fans and possibly affect her career. She does end up filing charges, with the support of her friends, and has the courage to tell the football player that she is to his face. In today’s era of the Me Too Movement bringing visibility to the way sexual harassment and assault is handled and discussed, it’s impressive that a show from 1998 would already comment on the difficulties women can face when it comes to sexual harassment.
There is also an episode in Season 2 that deals with steroid abuse in football. It’s actually a couple of episodes, as the story started in episode 30, “Kyle Whitaker’s Got Two Sacks”. Dana is thrilled over her brother Kyle’s successful football career and tells the entire office about Kyle Whitaker getting two sacks in a recent game. Meanwhile, news breaks about a possible steroid abuse scandal and the Sports Night team tries to get their hands on the list of names so they can be the first to report the story. The list arrives and to everyone’s shock, it includes Kyle Whitaker. The story continues in the next episode, episode 31 “The Reunion”, when Kyle comes to visit Dana at Sports Night. Dana is visibly upset and angry with her brother, but after some good advice, she realizes that there are enough people mad at him and she needs to me the supportive older sister. They have a great conversation. It was great to see the sports scandal have a personal connection with one of the main characters and handled so beautifully.
Those are just two examples of the great episodes dealing with a variety of topics in these two seasons, from divorce and betrayal, to depression and mental health, and the complexities of workplace romances and different relationship dynamics in general. All of that and more, with a decent variety of sports thrown in, so that even someone like me who isn’t into sports beyond just watching them, was still able to find the sports related content entertaining, enjoyable, and easy to follow.
So if you’re a sports fan, who is also interested in the human aspect of sports reporting, then you should definitely check out this show. Even if you are not a sports fan, you can watch this show for the excellent writing, well executed humor, and thought provoking topics. And maybe come away with a bit more sports knowledge as a bonus, I sure did.