By Gail Pennington
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
'SPORTS NIGHT' SEASON FINALE IS A HOME RUN, A SLAM-DUNK, AN ACE
ABC's "Sports Night" is neither comedy nor drama.
Instead, it's an opera without music, a ballet without
tutus, a weekly poetry festival without pretensions -
and the freshest, most exciting half-hour television
series in ages.
I didn't always think so. Although I enjoyed "Sports
Night" from the start, its unique rhythms took some
getting used to. This show doesn't look or sound like
any other, except possibly ESPN's "SportsCenter,"
which inspired it.
In long tracking shots, cameras follow the "Sports
Night" characters as they dance around one another
on the set and behind the scenes of a TV sports-news
show that may be fictional but feels frantically real.
Dashing, darting or lighting somewhere for a moment,
the inhabitants of this tight-knit little world never
stop talking, talking, talking. Words bounce back and
forth in a beat so infectious it's like a song you
can't get out of your head.
Consider this exchange from tonight's season finale
(8:30 p.m. on Channel 30). Anchor Casey (Peter
Krause) is boasting to co-anchor Dan (Josh Charles)
about his son's baseball skills. Dan is in the hair
chair before the show; the camera circles them as they
Casey: "You don't think that's impressive?"
Ponder that bit of blank verse a second too long and
you'll have missed not only an actual joke (at least,
as close as "Sports Night" comes to one) but also a
detour into the control room. There, statistics expert
Jeremy (Joshua Malina) is wondering, "Whatever happened
to the ninth-inning rally?" and executive
producer Dana (the fabulous Felicity Huffman) is
agreeing, in her own way. "Yeah, and why don't we
use semicolons anymore?"
Dan: "I think that's very impressive."
Casey: "You bet your butt it's impressive."
Dan: "It is."
Casey: "He started slow, but turns out he's got some
Dan: "He does."
Hairdresser: "You're done."
Creator Aaron Sorkin was a playwright ("A Few Good
Men") and screenwriter ("The American
President') who didn't know the "rules" for writing a
TV comedy - set-up, punch line, roar from laugh
track - and didn't want to learn them. So he stuck with
what he did know, creating a little play every
week. ("The writing I'm doing pays very little
attention to the fact that this is a television show," Sorkin,
who writes almost every word of the show, told TV
A passionate core group of fans discovered "Sports
Night" right away, e-mailing their favorite quotes to
one another. Now, a Web site
(www.snquotes.virtualave.net/) [Note from TK: the writer got the URL wrong, but I made the link work correctly] preserves the show's best lines for
But obviously, "Sports Night" will never be everyone's
cup of TV tea. Like "ER" or, before it, "Hill
Street Blues," this is a show that makes demands on
viewers. Attention is crucial, and the background
chatter and constant motion can be distracting or even
disorienting. It's almost as easy to be annoyed by
the singsong dialogue as entranced by it.
All season, ratings hovered in the middle range,
hampered not just by the show's own quirks but by
competition from the season's other hot new sitcom,
NBC's "Will & Grace." Incredibly, however, ABC
believed in "Sports Night," even respected it, and
threw a party in March to announce early renewal for
next season. Tonight's season finale, then, is just
that - only a temporary goodbye.
The episode itself arrived for preview in very rough
form, but still sparkled, not just the best "Sports
Night" of the year but possibly the best episode of any
half-hour show this year. The finale, called "What
Kind of Day It Has Been," wraps up a major continuing
story, with an Emmy-caliber performance from
Huffman and an extremely moving (yet never sappy) final
scene featuring the return of Robert Guillaume,
who suffered a stroke in January.
The finale also reveals one of the great truths about
"Sports Night" - its very good heart. In this
workplace family, there's genuine love, even if the
siblings can't resist uncovering one another's every
If you're already a "Sports Night" convert, tape this
episode; you'll want to see it twice. If you haven't
discovered the show, give it a chance. You could be
Thanks to Marnee Evans for this transcription.