Sports Night, ABC’s critically acclaimed television dramedy that aired in the late 90’s and became a cult classic, was released as a complete series on DVD back in 2008. Now, Shout! Factory, who also released the complete series, have divided the two seasons of the beloved show into two individual box sets, making the purchase a little more affordable for fans of the show. Sports Night: The Complete First Season is available now and it’s an example of television at its finest.
Created by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing), Season One of Sports Night introduces us to the fictional sports television network of CSC, an ESPN type network that has a sports clip show called ”Sports Night,” which is clearly based on Sportscenter. Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Parenthood) and Josh Charles (The Good Wife) star as Casey McCall and Dan Rydell, the anchors of ”Sports Night,” (clearly based on Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick). The premise is a behind the scenes look at how a show like this gets put together. Additionally, we also get to see the personal lives of the characters that create the show and the family they become by working so closely together.
There are plots that carry through the entire first season, including Casey’s failed marriage and his attempt to stay connected to his son, the budding romance between Sabrina Lloyd’s Natalie and Joshua Molina’s Jeremy, the unrequited love between Casey and Dana, played by Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), and by the end of the season, the stroke of Robert Guillaume’s Isaac. That last storyline (which carried into the second season) was drawn from the real life stroke Guillaume suffered while in his dressing room. As detailed in an excellent featurette in the bonus features, Sorkin wanted to bring Guillaume back to the production once he was well enough to perform again and thus, he wrote the actor’s stroke into the show. By the end of season one, Isaac returned to the ”Sports Night” offices for an emotionally reunion. The tears and smiles you see on the actors faces are genuine.
Sports Night wasn’t the first workplace comedy in which the characters substituted for family members. But unlike so many failed sitcoms, Sports Night’s beautifully drawn characters are realistic and easy to relate to. As with all of Sorkin’s productions, this series is dialogue heavy and the tone is bittersweet. The camera flows between scenes as the characters walk from set to set, creating the verisimilitude of real life, a technique that has become a staple of television comedies, from Arrested Development to Modern Family. Despite the presence of a pesky laugh track in the early episodes (ABC was unsure how handle Sports Night), nothing about this series rings false. From the banter between Casey and Dan, to the parental chastising by Isaac, to the excitement and joy of sports and how they play a part in everyday lives, Sports Night is one of the best shows from the 1990’s.
All 23 episodes from the first season are presented in this DVD box, as well as some fine featurettes, including the aforementioned reflection on the series with current interviews with the principal cast. As a fan of the show, it’s wonderful to hear Krause and Huffman state that they wish it could have gone one for more than two seasons. So do I.