Just choosing the classification for Sports Night is tough. "Personal Favorite" or "Absolutely Fabulous" certainly fit. "Underappreciated" is also a big one. Even TV Guide gave it the title of "Best Show You're Not Watching. So what happened? Was it "Ahead of it's time?" Comedy? Drama? Dramedy, even? I loved that you never knew what you were getting. Some episodes had me laughing out loud the entire way through, others had me in tears. Isn't this the mark of a great show? It doesn't have to be one or the other. The audience really connected with the characters. We cared. How many shows nowadays can we say we truly care about these characters?
A sports show? A show about a television show? A workplace comedy? A relationship comedy? Yes - all of them, and yet none of the above. You didn't have to like sports to enjoy Sports Night. The references were certainly there, but you certainly didn't miss out by not being a jock. The TV references were there, but not so much that it lost the non-techies of us. Maybe we learned a little about ratings! We cared about the relationships, be it Casey and Dana, Natalie and Jeremy, Dan and Rebecca or others - yet those never over rode the premise. The show never became a romantic comedy or tragedy. It kept us on our toes. It kept us smart. Pop culture references were abundant, and Sorkin expected his viewers to be of reasonable intelligence to get half the jokes. Hmmm, maybe this was the problem... Smart shows followed in the same vein and did better; The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, and several others. Perhaps Sports Night helped break ground, if only among critics. They began looking out for more sharply written, well crafted dialogue.
One thing is for sure, this show bolstered many careers. Had anyone really heard of Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Joshua Malina, or even Teri Polo, Brenda Strong or the great Aaron Sorkin before Sports Night hit the screen? No offense to the other cast members, there was no one that was any less fantastic. I am persoanlly a big fan of Josh Charles and am happy to know that he is following his heart on stage. Krause and Huffman each went on to star in their own incredibly successful programs (Six Feet Under, Desperate Housewives). Malina entered the realm of The West Wing as well as landed several leading prime time roles. Ms Strong must have one of the cushiest jobs in TV now as our Housewives narrarator, and Teri Polo has been successful on both the big and small screen since. Sorkin is clearly a love him or hate him kind of writer, but no one can deny the influence that The West Wing has had on television. Some may even suggest that he left Sports Night to flounder because he was concentrating on TWW. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I am sure that SN gave some the springboard they needed to gaining credibility in Hollywood. The Special Edition 10th Anniversary DVDs come out this fall. I'll be getting mine the day they are available.
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