|Sports Night - The Complete Series|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 05 November 2002|
Before "The West Wing" took the TV world by storm, Aaron Sorkin created a little show for ABC about a show about sports that wasn't really a show about sports. The quirky half-hour series follows the adventures of a third-rated cable sports show anchored by Casey McCall ("Six Feet Under" star Peter Krause) and Dan Rydell ("Dead Poets Society" star Josh Charles), directed by Dana Whittaker (Felicity Huffman) and produced by Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillaume), and the show's production staff. Imagine a show about the people who make "ESPN Sportscenter" with 1930s screwball comedy intertwined with social commentary (this is, after all, a Sorkin show, which means at times the characters become mouthpieces for Sorkin's politics, but thankfully not distractedly so) and the frantic pace of putting out an hour-long live broadcast from New York every night, from 11 to midnight.
The six-disc box set contains the pilot and 44 half-hour episodes, which originally aired in 1998 to 2000 on ABC and currently run in syndication on Comedy Central.
When the series starts, sports anchor Casey has just divorced his shrewish ex-wife Lisa, and is on the verge of being fired. Head associate producer Natalie has a thing for brand new hire Jeremy, a sweet bespectacled nerd who knows everything there is to know about sports and remarkably little about women. Producer Dana is trying to get her friend of 15 years Casey to shape up so she doesn't have to tell him to ship out, at the urging of fatherly Isaac, who helms the production with warmth and charm. Co-anchor Danny is the one who knows everyone's names, serves as a buffer between Casey and pretty much the world at large, and is known as "the cool one."
Dana is secretly in love with Casey and Casey is secretly in love with Dana. While other love connections provide the series with season-long B-plots as Natalie and Jeremy fall in love, and Dan pursues, wins, and then loses CSC business analyst Rebecca (Teri Polo), it's Dana and Casey who take center stage. Dana is a neurotic perfectionist who is a brilliant producer, supremely confident when it comes to the ins and outs of her job, and completely incompetent where her personal life is concerned. Casey is slick on the air, but not always the best when it comes to day-to-day interaction with other people. The two of them dance around their mutual attraction for the first 22 episodes, finally resulting in a love connection which unfortunately fizzles in the second season, as Dana (and Sorkin) attempt a "dating plan" that proves disastrous.
However, the show is more than just screwball romantic comedy. When Guillaume suffered a stroke midway through production of the first season, it was written into the series and the show became as much about whether or not "Sports Night" could survive on the air as it did Casey and Dana's relationship. Fiction mirrored real life for the bulk of the second season, as the fictional "Sports Night" struggled with a cantankerous ratings expert (played by Huffman's real-life husband William H. Macy), as well as network pressure and the sale of the cable sports network. In the final episode, the mysterious new owner of the series tells Dana that "Anyone who can't make money off Sports Night should get out of the moneymaking business," thus ensuring the fictional series' continued existence. However, real-life ABC executives pulled the plug on the series, which had struggled in the ratings for two years. Sorkin and Schlamme went on to devote themselves to "The West Wing" full-time.
Visually, the show has never looked better. Crisp and clean, the colors are saturated and the flesh tones and blacks are perfect. There is some noticeable graininess, but overall the DVDs look better than the show did when it aired. In terms of sound, every word of Sorkin's snappy dialogue is clear and audible, never warring with Snuffy Walden's charming score for dominance. The show incorporates a lot of music into the soundtrack, which gives your system a workout at times. While not the most complex or robust mix, the sound on the discs improves over the broadcast quality and is perfectly serviceable for a boxed set of this type.
The boxed set lacks extras of any kind, and while a cast or creator commentary track over at least the pilot would have been a treat. However, as the cast have scattered to the four winds and the bulk of the production staff are busy with "The West Wing," it's understandable that they weren't available. The packaging is a bit unwieldy (six discs, packagesdin three keep cases inside a cardboard sleeve, rather than a gatefold, which is more standard for boxed sets of this type), with each disc featuring a head shot of an individual cast member. However the animated menus are simple, effective and easy to navigate. The episodes can be chosen from the animated scene selection manually, or the "play all" feature allows you to sit back and bask in the show in three-hour chunks.
This boxed set of “Sports Night” is a marvelous gift for all the people out there whose hearts skip a beat every time they hear the worlds "This is Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell, and you're watching 'Sports Night,' so stick around."