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Caleb once organized a petition to bring back Sports Night. Married father of two. Follow @calebmcnary and read more at calebmcnary.com

Sports Night: A Retrospective

Sports Night. It’s on instant Netflix, so go watch it real quick and then come back. If you need a little push, know that it was developed and written by Aaron Sorkin.

Back? Good. You are confused I know. It was so awesome and ended with such a cliff hanger that you are considering starting your own fan fiction season 4. It’s out there, not even joking.

Maybe you feel like you need to tell someone about the warm feelings in your heart because you are probably angry that The West Wing had such a long run, and that’s OK. These feelings are natural, and you’ll never get over them. You should know that SN and The West Wing were developed and pitched at the same time and the network picked a winner in terms of finding an audience. There’s nothing we can do about that now.

In terms of effect, Sports Night changed the course of TV history. It was years ahead of its time in every way and as a nice thank you, ABC dropped it. This was back when ABC was what NBC is now.

To help you process what you just experienced, I’ve isolated some of the elements comprising the beautiful portrait of good TV that you just watched.

Dialogue
Sports Night didn’t invent rapid fire, witty banter, but it was the first to bring it to TV. In the late 90′s the formula was established: Set up, punchline, laugh track. You can watch the series multiple times and still pick up on obscure references and fleeting moments. It didn’t wait for the viewer to keep up, and ultimately it cost them. If DVR had been around, things would be different. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Staging
Until SN came along, we were relegated to the viewpoint of the “live studio audience.” We could only look into a few repeating sets, and anything outside of that looked so fake it was cringeworthy (see external shots on Friends). SN opened up a whole new universe of TV experience. We were in their offices, the vantage point changed constantly giving the illusion that you were a part of their interactions. Have you ever heard of The Office? Sports Night did it first.

And let’s not forget the “walk and talk,” which SN invented. We were able to follow characters from one office to another, and anywhere in between. 30 Rock makes use of this often, and even paid homage to it in the episode where Liz meets Aaron Sorkin at an audition.

Subject Matter
The show about a show, and sometimes a show within a show. Sound familiar? It ventured into emotional territory not seen since M*A*S*H. Comedy and drama were not mutually exclusive. They even coined the phrase “dramedy” because of SN. Many jokes were made at the show’s expense, and I’m not going to lie, it hurts. Family Guy even went so far as to say that you had to be high to get it.

In the years since Sports Night‘s demise, a cult following as developed around this short lived show. You are now a part of that cult. Your mission is to not let the death of this gem be in vain. Tell your friends and family. People need to know what they missed, and they’ll thank you when they see the light.

What did you enjoy most about Sports Night?

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Bro, I LOVED this show and was crushed when it was pulled off the air. Another under appreciated program that I loved during my early teen years was Bosom Buddies starring Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari.

    • http://calebmcnary.com/ Caleb McNary

      I was just coming of age when Sports Night was on, and I got into it later when they released it on DVD. It is in my top 3 shows of all time.

  • http://www.haleybragg.com/ haleybragg

    I’m just getting a chance to catch up on my TV Asylum reading, which explains why I haven’t commented on this yet. And for the record, I’m really disappointed that it doesn’t have more comments of people saying, “YES!” or “Amen!”

    I love anything Aaron Sorkin does. LOVE. I hold a deep affection for Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and most recently, The West Wing. I can’t freakin’ wait for The Newsroom.

    So, anyway. YES! Amen!

  • http://calebmcnary.com/ Caleb McNary

    Thank you, Haley, better late than never. I’m excited to see The Newsroom, now that TV has finally caught up to Sorkin. Add in a little Jeff Daniels, and I’m expecting gold.