When it comes to television, the name Aaron Sorkin has been synonymous with THE WEST WING. The four seasons he spent as the lead writer and executive producer of the political drama has been credited with reinventing the expectations of network television. But before President Josiah Bartlet ever walked into the Mural Room declaring, “I am the Lord your God,” Sorkin had already created an amazing series on another network.
SPORTS NIGHT was a half-hour comedy about the crew of a SportsCenter-type TV show starring Peter Krause and Josh Charles as Casey McCall and Dan Rydell, the hosts of Sports Night. The series also starred Felicity Huffman in her first TV role, Robert Guillaume, TV’s Benson, and Sabrina Lloyd, fresh off her run on the cult sci-fi show SLIDERS. Also an important part of the cast was Joshua Malina, who would go on to a role on THE WEST WING after Rob Lowe left midway through the fourth season.
It’s an eclectic cast, but the ensemble works so well together, brilliantly delivering the words in Sorkin’s scripts.
The first episode of SPORTS NIGHT debuted on Sept. 22, 1998 on ABC and it’s clear from the first episode that it wasn’t the typical comedy for the network. Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, who was also instrumental in the success of THE WEST WING, crafted a smart and funny show about a sports network highlight show that had almost nothing to do with sports.
The show lasted two seasons, and pretty much lost its way in the second half of its existence when Sorkin’s focus turned to his much more successful NBC hour-long drama. But in a lot of ways, SPORTS NIGHT was Sorkin’s starter show, that helped him figure out what worked and what didn’t. So many of the jokes and situations he used here were either improved upon or perfected on THE WEST WING.
But even as a “starter” show, SPORTS NIGHT was one of the best TV comedies of the 1990s, even if it only managed to last two seasons. Any fans of Sorkin’s should make a point of taking in the series’ 45 episodes.