Gone But Not Forgotten: Sports Night
This one you may not have heard of. Sports Night was a dramedy set in a Sports Center-like setting. The Anchormen were played by Josh Charles and Peter Krause. The ensemble also starred Felicity Huffman, Robert Guillaume, Joshua Malina, and later, William H. Macy. It was written by Aaron Sorkin. How could it possibly go wrong?
The show was about the relationships between the on-air talent and the production crew. There was the old will-they-or-won’t-they trope between Casey McCall (Krause) and Dana Whitaker (Huffman). Casey and Dan Rydell (Charles) had been partners for a long time, and the two actors played off each other brilliantly. In typical Sorkin style, the dialogue was rapid-fire and sometimes overlapping, and incredibly smart and witty. The conferences that included some of the supporting cast generally gave everyone a chance to shine, not just the leads.
But as delightful as it was, it was a little odd. The feel of the show is more sitcom than drama, which struck a strange chord when the show dealt with major issues. And it addressed some very major issues. The pilot episode finds Casey jaded and considering leaving the business because of the moral decay he sees every day from sports stars that people look up to as role models. This was over a decade before the Ray Rice and Aaron Hernandez scandals, so the feeling is understandable when you see that so little has changed in that time. It also addressed legalizing marijuana a decade before that became a reality. There were also episodes of steroid use in sports and athletes sexually assaulting female reporters during locker room interviews. Additionally, when Guillaume suffered a stroke in the middle of season one, it was worked into his character Isaac Jaffe‘s storyline.
The really odd thing was, this show had a laugh track! I always find laugh tracks to be sort of like fishing for compliments. Your show is either funny, or it isn’t; I feel insulted when you tell me when you think I should be laughing. But strangely enough, even the laugh track didn’t seem like it knew when it should be laughing. By season two, it was mercifully abandoned.
The show won three Emmy Awards, but ABC decided to nix it, most likely because it just didn’t fit into any well-defined niche. HBO, Showtime, and USA all attempted to grab it up, but, in an unusual move, creator Sorkin decided to abandon it. What other TV show can say that? Of course, he did leave it for The West Wing, which stayed on the air for seven seasons and won multiple Golden Globes and Emmys, so it’s not like he made the worst decision. But Sports Night was one of the smarter shows on TV, and it’s always a shame to lose one of those.
Josh Charles went on to play a dearly beloved character on The Good Wife, whose demise had Twitter up in arms. Peter Krause went from this show into Six Feet Under and then Parenthood. He can currently be seen in The Catch. Felicity Huffman was in Desperate Housewives and is currently in the series American Crime. So everything turned out all right for them. But for the few of us that found the show and just plain got it, we lost. Again.