Ten years ago, ABC premiered a new half hour series the likes of which had never been seen before. With its single-camera walk-and-talks and three camera set pieces, it was a hybrid both in terms of style and content, being both dramatic and comedic in equal measure. Sports Night, which chronicled the behind the scenes goings on of running an ESPN/Sports center type of show, introduced the television audience to the unique perspective of creator Aaron Sorkin and his quintessential director, Thomas “Tommy” Schlamme.
With an ensemble cast of first-rate actors [Robert Guillaume, Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Sabrina Lloyd and Joshua Malina as the main characters and recurring players including Greg Baker, Kayla Blake, Timothy Davis-Reed, Suzanne Kellogg, Jeff Mooring and Ron Ostrow] who could shift from drama to comedy [and vice-versa] in the middle of a line – hell! In the middle of a word!; dialogue-heavy scripts that could be as much as sixty-to-seventy pages for a thirty-minute show, and that unique shooting style, Sports Night became a cult hit even while it was airing – and it influenced an entire wave of single-camera shows. It’s safe to say that The Office and Arrested Development would probably not have been sold if Sports Night hadn’t laid the groundwork.
The show was groundbreaking in content as well as style. Some of the best episodes carried controversy lightly on their shoulders – The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee dealt with race and the Confederate flag; Jeremy Goodwin dated an “adult film actress” over a four-episode arc; The Head Coach, Dinner and the Morning Mail dealt with date rape by a sports star; co-anchor Dan begins therapy, and so much more – not for the sake of controversy, but always in service of telling a compelling story.
In a momentary burst of controversy, I’m going on record as saying that Sports Night is the only series I’ve ever seen that produced no bad eps. None. Zero. Nada. Bupkiss. Zilch. It is a series that I can watch over and over and enjoy as much as I did the first time I saw it. Most eps of Sports Night are such works of beauty that I even mist over – made melancholy by the way the series died early, while far lesser programs flourished [I’m looking at you, According to Jim!] . For me, Aaron Sorkin will always the creator of Sports Night and those other two shows.
The six-disc Shout!Factory box set does it justice.
Features include: two excellent commentaries by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme for the series premiere, Pilot, and the series finale, Quo Vadimus; a terrific commentary by editor Jane Ashikaga for Small Town; two decent commentaries for The Six southern Gentlemen of Tennessee by Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Sabrina Lloyd and Robert Berlinger, and Eli’s Coming by Peter Krause and Robert Berlinger; three so-so-to-awful commentaries by various cast members for Sally, Kafelnikov and The Local Weather; Season One Bonus Disc: The Show – new interviews with cast and crew; Face-Off – ESPN’s Sports Center vs. Sports Night – the pros talk about what the show got right and… not so much; Season One Gag Reel; Season Two Bonus Disc: Looking Back – an intimate conversation with Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme; Inside the Locker room – a look at the technical innovations of Sports Night, and the Season Two Gag Reel.
Grade: Sports Night: The Complete Series – A+
Grade: Features: A+
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Final Grade: A+