Sports Night: The Complete Series — 10th Anniversary Edition (DVD Review)28 Sep, 2008 By: John Latchem
$69.99 eight-DVD set
Stars Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Robert Guillaume, Sabrina Lloyd, Josh Malina.
Writer Aaron Sorkin’s witty look behind the scenes of a sports news show modeled on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has attracted a sizable fan base over the years, and this 10th anniversary boxed set is a tremendous improvement over Disney’s perfunctory bare-bones DVD set from 2002. The retrospective extras really go a long way to highlight some of the strengths of the series, while examining some of the reasons it didn’t last as long as it could have.
Certainly network interference didn’t help. ABC’s decision to impose a laugh track is the source of endless discussion throughout the commentaries and featurettes on the DVD, and is almost universally lambasted by the show’s cast and crew. Producers gradually reduced the presence of the distracting canned laughter and eliminated it entirely in the show’s second (and final) year.
The lingering question for Sorkin is whether the show was as good as it could have been. After finding some success with film scripts (most notably A Few Good Men and The American President), Sorkin in 1998 turned to television, and took a while to feel out the medium (he’d find better success a year later with “The West Wing”).
Sorkin’s scripts usually find themselves populated with smart characters who are experts at their jobs and aren’t afraid to speak their minds with pithy dialogue. “Sports Night” is no different.
However, the show would often focus too much on the characters’ romantic lives, an issue that sunk Sorkin’s third show, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” This isn’t so much of a problem when the characters are interesting, as they are here (and were not on “Studio 60”), but it pushes the sports-related material to the background. As the focus is on a workplace family and the interpersonal relationships of the characters, the writing of the sports material is almost too generic.
One of the DVD’s more interesting featurettes offers a comparison behind the scenes at “SportsCenter,” in which some of the good folks at ESPN discuss the similarities between their real show and the fictional “Sports Night.”