Sports Night, 10 years(ish) later


Technically, the 10-year anniversary of the final episode of “Sports Night” came on May 16, 2010, but I’ve been re-watching the series in the last few weeks so now seems like as good a time as any to take a look back at the show and how on point it is even a decade (plus) later.

The last time I actually watched the series all the way through, it was around mid-2006 and I probably watched the series finale — Quo Vadimus — within a few weeks of Sporting News’ sale to American City Business Journals. Talk about timing.

Even before that, I really did consider it a formative show when I was in high school that got me excited about the business. I think we can all blame Josh Malina for making us think we could be stat geeks and some day land a woman like Sabrina Lloyd. (Seriously, Josh, that’s just cruel. I still carry such a torch for Lloyd.)

There are undoubtedly things that date the show, which ran from 1998-2000. Check out the technology: no flat screens, big cell phones and the actual existence of Fox Sports as a centralized competitor to ESPN. (When did their SportsCenter competitor go off the air?) But the issues they deal with, you can either find exact correlations or updated versions of those situations.

Ines Sainz was big news this season after enduring some level of harassment in a locker room. Early on in Season One of “Sports Night,” one of the show’s producers, Natalie (played by Lloyd), goes through a similar although more aggressive situation with a player. Sadly, that kind of thing isn’t something we can file under “things that date the show.”

One of the plot points late in Season Two is an interview pitch from Michael Jordan’s people, who want five minutes of interview not about sports, but about cologne. A stink is raised about journalism ethics and so on, particularly after MJ’s people request editorial approval. While no one is really in the business of granting editorial approval, the idea of a guy coming on to pitch his latest product seems like the norm now. Have you ever watched ESPNEWS in the middle of the day? That isn’t to be critical of the practice, by the way. We used to do that with FirstCuts. Talking about a game or a show or something else would get us access to a person we’d otherwise miss. (I have, on at least one occasion recently, had to flat-out turn down an interview opportunity with a big-name NBA player because the PR team wouldn’t allow any hoops-related questions. At the very least, most PR people understand there is a give-and-take.)

Relatively ahead of the curve, there was an episode where Dana (Felicity Huffman) had to deal with the embarrassment of her brother being caught with performance enhancing drugs. This was about a year after Mark McGwire was caught with andro, but years before the steroid bubble truly popped in baseball and other major sports.

An episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee, deals with the confederate flag and a football program, an issue that still hasn’t really gone away to this day.

It’s actually difficult to think of a one-to-one correlation for Sports Night, a plucky, start-up show that is eventually absorbed and kept alive. Right now, the thought of a cable network starting a show like that seems like a tall task in the face of an ESPN empire that has grown significantly in the 10 years plus since this show went off the air. Just look at the fate of The Daily Line on Versus and its small viewership and ultimate cancellation.

It’s not tough to picture what Sports Night would look like today though. I envision it more as something based around writers rather than a TV show. Perhaps it could even be a blog. The stories basically write themselves. There would most certainly be an episode devoted to the folly of athletes on Twitter.

The show did teach us one universal truth.

Dan: John Rocker is a doofus.

Casey: John Rocker is a big honkin’ doofus.

This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but if you dig Aaron Sorkin’s style and you somehow missed the show, go pick it up on the cheap.

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One Response to Sports Night, 10 years(ish) later

  1. NDEddieMac says:

    Damn I miss this show. Good read Chris. It’s funny thinking back that they were only going to have 1st round coverage of the NFL Draft when now you get 3 hrs a day devoted to it the entire month leading up, as well as wall to wall coverage of the entire thing.

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