I credit a lot of my interest in sports to a little show called Sports Night, which had nothing to do with sports.
Before Aaron Sorkin was lecturing us from Ararat on his wildly successful show The West Wing, he had a half-hour comedy/drama set behind the scenes at a cable network’s evening sports show. Peter “Six Feet Under” Krause and Josh “Dead Poets’ Society and Nothing Really Good Since” Charles played the head writers and broadcasters, Casey McCall and Dan Rydell (as American a pair of names as you could hope to read on TV). Felicity Huffman played the show’s director, and Robert “Benson” Guillaume its executive producer.
Sports Night gave me a better look at the haphazard chaos that goes into putting together the glossy melange of CGI transitions that is a cable sports show. Each episode of the fictitious TV show has a certain number of segments. Their currency is minutes, and the writers and producers have to fill those minutes with video segments and commentary.
Actual sports content appears pretty rarely in the show. In typical Sorkin fashion, the focus is more on controversial players than interesting games. There’s the football player who roughs up women (“Mary Pat Shelby”), the college players from a Tennessee school who refuse to play under a Confederate flag (“The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee”), or a baseball player who disses his new team’s hometown on the air (“Shane”). It’s heavy on the preachy melodrama, which you wouldn’t think a show about sports would merit.
But the good thing about an Aaron Sorkin show is that, occasionally, the dialogue has some snap to it.
Dan Rydell: [on the air] We’ll bring you the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat, and because we’ve got soccer highlights, the sheer pointlessness of a zero-zero tie. You’re watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around.
Casey McCall: How am I conversationally anal-retentive?
Dana Whitaker: Let me answer that question in four parts with the fourth part first and the third part last.
Casey McCall: [on the air] So don’t adjust that dial; and, while we’re gone, if any talking animals ask you to buy some tacos or beer – for God’s sake, do what they tell you. You’ve been watching Sports Night on CSC. Have a good night.
Dan Rydell: I’m not distracted.
Dave: In three, two…
Dan Rydell: [on the air] The Sophomore sensation credits her agility and quick first step to her father who used to take her to a neighborhood park all covered with cheese. We’ll be bringing you part two of that story tomorrow night. Casey.
Casey McCall: The San Diego Padres…
[back in the Control Room]
Jeremy Goodwin: Did he just say cheese?
Dan Rydell: I tried to find you.
Rebecca: No, you didn’t. And every time I tried to find you, someone would say you had just left the place that someone else had just said you had been right before.
Dan Rydell: That was a truly spectacular sentence.
Sam Donovan: You shouldn’t think that just because I’m looking at you while you’re talking to me, that I’m necessarily listening to or caring about what you’re saying. It’s just something I do to be polite.
Dana Whitaker: Of course he had a better body than you, Casey. He was a professional male stripper.
Casey McCall: You know, let me tell you something. When we’re asked, men know how to answer that question.
Dana Whitaker: Natalie, I’m about to make this man the most famous seventh-place archer in the history of sports. I think the very least he can do is die in a timely manner, and be gay.
Casey McCall: What did he throw, Cut Man?
Chuck ‘The Cut Man’ Kimmel: It was a right hook… with a bit of a jab.
Casey McCall: A jabbing right hook?
Chuck ‘The Cut Man’ Kimmel: That’s right, Casey.
Casey McCall: And he did it with his left hand?
Chuck ‘The Cut Man’ Kimmel: This fighter’s got remarkable skills. He’s not to be trifled with, Casey.