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One of the BEST too-early-canceled series EVER
on July 1, 2008
I of course cannot comment on the actual box set, since there is little information provided by Amazon on disc details at time of writing (early July 2008).
However, this was one of my favorite shows when it was on in the late 90's (I cannot believe it's been 10 years already!!!). And, it is still in my top 5 of all time to this day.
Why? Well, for one thing, just look what some of the key people involved have gone on to do after making Sports Night: The West Wing (Creator/Writer/Producer Aaron Sorkin, actor Josh Malina, plus guest spots by many SportsNight regulars), Six Feet Under (Peter Krause), Desperate Housewives (Felicity Huffman). For each of these pros, 'Sports Night' was a key launchpad for the rest of their careers.
(And, of course, the already well-respected Robert Guillaume was a key member of the cast. He suffered a debilitating stroke mid-production and still gave bravura perfomances on his return.)
This show is one of the rarest of TV gems: a comedy that does not pander, that challenges you to keep up. Anyone who regularly watched the first few seasons of 'The West Wing' will recognize one of Sorkin's favorite devices, the fast-talking, no-pauses, walking-down-the-hallway conversation. This device is not to everyone's taste, but it's a great one for the right actors and writers, and a certain species of TV viewer.
And yet, the show rewards even casual viewers with witty, incisive, insightful commentary and critique of just about everything. It's just plain funny most of the time.
The tagline was "It's about sports. The way Charlie's Angels was about law enforcement". And that about sums it up. Its focus is on human relationships in that most volatile environment, the workplace.
This workplace just happens to be an even more of a pressure-cooker than most: a TV studio producing live sports news shows. Think 'ESPN SportsCenter'. Yet, it's not supposed to actually be SportsCenter, since they wisely wink to reality and refer to "Bristol" (the actual city where ESPN is headquartered) as their competition. I always thought this was a clever device, since ESPN is a sister company to ABC, the network 'Sports Night' ran on. Eveyone else (Fox, CNN, et al) has tried to beat ESPN at its own game, and lost, and 'Sports Night' keeps that feeling of being a decided underdog.
Though the stakes aren't as high for the rest of the world, the pressure of the environment to the people in it (and therefore by extension to the viewer) is much like Sorkin's 'West Wing' -- not as many dramatic world crises, but still plenty of "must react NOW!!!" raw material that Sorkin and team mine for sublime comic effect.
Yes, it's funny, very funny in fact. But what appealed to me most is that quite often Sports Night could be poignant, even at times dramatic. Again, not the faux-gavitas that most sitcoms try to attain with that corny, "a very special episode of...", ripe-for-satire phoniness. When there is deep human emotion to be felt, the show portrays it in just the right quantities. Breakups, lost career opportunities, even some of the ficitious "real world" storylines have just that much more feeling of real human emotion than do just about any other TV comedy, or even many TV dramas. Most of that reality is due to the characters being portrayed as fleshed-out human beings, at least as much as can be done in a 30-minute TV format. They aren't exactly true to life, but they aren't just cardboard cut-outs either. An excellent example is how Robert Guillaume's real-life stroke, and subsequent return to the show, was handled onscreen: brilliantly, of course.
In the end, if you are like me, you will love Sports Night mainly for the charcaters themselves. I really came to like them, a lot. I wanted to know more about them. Even the guest spots were intriguing, like Felicity Huffman's real-life husband, William H. Macy, as a show "fixer". That's why the cancellation was so painful for so many. I had to wait another five years for another TV comedy that could rival it -- 'Arrested Development', another cult fav that was killed too early. I think if a show like 'Sports Night' was pitched today, it would probably find a comfy home on cable, and live for many seasons. However, it was at least five years ahead of its time for that. And network TV is notorious for handling quality shows badly.
If you watched it while it was on, this box set is a great chance to relive its greatness. If you never had the pleasure, please take the opportunity now to explore something very special.