Creator Talks About 'Sports Night'
by Frazier Moore
© The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) Aaron Sorkin is gracious as all get-out when he talks about the team responsible for "Sports Night."
"There's been a sense that I'm kind of a one-man band," he says, "and nothing could be further from the truth."
But even allowing for gifted cast members like Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause and Robert Guillaume, and for the peppy yet sleek staging masterminded by executive producer Thomas Schlamme... just notice the full-screen credit that appears right after the "Sports Night" title card: "Created by Aaron Sorkin."
In a season of freshman delights otherwise limited to cartoons and HBO's "The Sopranos," "Sports Night" has been a notable treat. A sort of workplace wingding set at a sports-cable network, it brims with style, heart and smarts. The writing, most often Sorkin's, deftly weds hurly-burly and tenderness.
Consider a couple of contrasting moments from the season finale, which ABC airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT.
When her fiance breaks their engagement, Dana Whitaker (played by Huffman) blows up. "This is a cheap excuse to get out of marrying me," she storms, "which you never wanted to do in the third place. And the only reason you proposed in the second place was out of guilt for having slept with Sally in the first place!"
Then, a bit later, Casey McCall (Krause) has a man-to-man talk with his little boy, who's lousy at baseball and fears embarrassing Dad.
"In your lifetime you'll never embarrass me," Casey declares. "It's not gonna happen. You play baseball if you want to play baseball -- and the only thing you have to do to make me and your mom happy is come home at the end of the day."
All in all, it's a fitting windup to the maiden season of "Sports Night." (The episode even features the poignant return of Guillaume, absent for several weeks after suffering a stroke.) And, happily, the show will be back in the fall. "It's been a great year," Sorkin sums up.
But what about the ratings? "Nothing to write home about," he concedes.
"At first, I had a cavalier attitude: `Hey, if we do 13 episodes then get pulled off the air, that's fine. It's 13 terrific episodes!' And I still can't get over the fact that millions of people tune in. But I have a fiduciary responsibility for the show's success, and besides, I'm as competitive as anybody."
So why isn't his "Sports Night" the hit it seems cut out to be?
"I think there might be a perception -- and I want to nip this in the bud -- that `Sports Night' is good for you somehow, like eating your vegetables," says Sorkin, smiling yet earnest. "I can't tell you how NOT it is.
"We're really just telling you stories, and I think that new viewers will find that it's not a great effort to watch -- that, in fact, it's quite a bit of fun."
After all, this series comes from the unabashedly mainstream guy who wrote the Broadway and film versions of "A Few Good Men" and the screenplay for "The American President."
Indeed, "Sports Night" seems very much a reflection of Sorkin, who in person reveals himself to be: revved-up, chockablock with ideas and observations, cheerfully self-deprecating, warm, and at odds with a boyish forelock that keeps flopping in his eyes.
"I think only in television could I be considered unconventional," he marvels. "In the theater and in movies I think I hug the middle of the road pretty tightly."
But if "Sports Night" is unconventional, and it is, one reason may be that Sorkin simply didn't know the conventions of half-hour comedy -- conventions that, after a half-century, have begun to grate.
"I'm as new to television as can be," he said last fall, "and I don't know what I'm doing."
What's more, he doesn't choose to. "I'm thinking that not knowing what I'm doing might be an asset," he says now.
It may prove an asset once again. On this day a couple of weeks ago, Sorkin has stolen a few minutes from editing the pilot for a series NBC might air next fall. "The West Wing" is a comedic probe into the workings of the White House and would star Rob Lowe and Martin Sheen.
By May 17, when NBC unveils its 1999-2000 lineup, Sorkin will learn if "The West Wing" is a go. And if it is, he ventures no game plan for how he means to write scripts for not one, but two weekly series.
"I'm in denial," he says brightly. "I'm not abandoning one show for the other, and I'm not interested in being involved with a show in name only."
Which might be why his name is worth noticing. And why a show is worth noticing when his name is on it.
Frazier Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org