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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: The mighty sports anchors of New York

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pilot” | Aired Sep 22, 1998

Before The Newsroom, The Social Network, and The West Wing, there was Sports Night. When it premiered in the fall of 1998, no one knew that we were watching one of the new classics. How significant could a half-hour sitcom about a sports show really be?

Aaron Sorkin’s very first TV series, Sports Night populated the show-within-a-show of the same name with actors who would likewise go on to find small-screen stardom: Josh Charles (The Good Wife), Peter Krause (Parenthood), Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), Joshua Malina (Scandal), Sabrina Lloyd (Ed), and the legendary Robert Guillaume. And like Dan Rydell having his New York renaissance, it livened up TV in its charming, quirky, and whip-smart way.

As the pilot begins, things aren’t so great in the office. Sports Night has fallen on hard times, with co-anchor Casey McCall (played by Krause) going through a bitter divorce and taking out his frustrations about the moral decay of the sports world on everyone else. Casey’s apathetic performance has brass at Continental Sports Channel (CSC) breathing down the neck of Casey’s boss, Dana Whitaker (Huffman). It doesn’t help that Casey threatens the network liaison during the afternoon meeting.

Dana is doing everything she can to save her show, including hiring a new associate producer, Jeremy Goodwin (Malina), whom her right-hand woman, Natalie Hurley (Lloyd), already has a huge crush on. Jeremy knows a lot about everything except the New York Knicks. He’s the latest addition to a quirky team full of people that think Helsinki is in Switzerland, bet on Colgate football games, and enjoy bantering about the mighty Bengals of Cincinnati. Who wouldn’t want to work here? Video:

But if they can’t get their anchor back, nothing else really matters. Shortly before broadcast, Casey tells Dan that he’s considering leaving Sports Night—because he can’t stand turning things like a basketball player attacking someone in a nightclub with a bottle of cognac into “sports.” He has a valid concern, one that’s possibly even more resonant now than it was then—with the stories of Kurt Busch, Ray Rice, and even plenty of figures in the entertainment world. How many negative headlines are too many to take?

Dan is not denying the point, but he’s got a bone to pick with his best friend. He thinks Casey is pretty self-absorbed at the moment, and makes it clear how much they’ve all been doing to try to help him. Meanwhile, he’s been doing nothing but lashing out at them. The idea that he’s about to quit on them is the last straw for Dan, who might be about a moment from taking a swing at his partner.

Junior producer Kim (Kayla Blake) rushes in and breaks up their argument. “There’s something gong on you’re going to want to see,” she tells the duo, and she’s not wrong. A South African man named Ntozake Nelson, who was never expected to even walk again after being crippled during apartheid, is running in the World Pacific Games and about to set a new world record. Dan and Casey get there just in time, and it’s cheering for this historic moment that restores Casey’s faith in sports and humanity.

What happens next is one of the most heartwarming moments in TV history: As Nelson closes on the finish line, Casey rushes for a phone to call his seven-year-old son, Charlie, and tells him to watch what’s going to happen next. “He’s just running faster than any man’s ever run before,” he says, his voice cracking.

With something to be excited about again, Casey joins Dan at the anchor desk and tells Dana that no one could produce the show but her. And it’s clear from their renewed banter (“It’s not that my teases are superior to yours; it’s just that yours are vastly inferior to mine”) that no one could anchor Sports Night but Dan Rydell and Casey McCall.

Most pilot episodes aren’t that great by necessity; it’s not easy to fit a complete and fully developed story into a script that also has to provide everything viewers need to know about a new series. But the Sports Night pilot is as close to perfect as one can get. Moving as briskly as all those other Sorkin shows, it seamlessly introduces a half-dozen characters and shows us why we should love them—even Casey, as cranky as he is. It’s as if we’re being hired right along with Jeremy.

It also has a story that’s both intellectually and emotionally moving. The bad behavior of public figures, how it gets publicized and what effect that has, is something that you don’t have to know sports to grasp. But to have a certain redemption by finding one of the many positive stories that are also out there is as inspiring as the negative is worrying. It’s impossible to watch the World Pacific Games scene without feeling your heart swell for Ntozake Nelson—which is exactly what Casey discovers, too.

Past all that, Sports Night is just something you want to be a part of. Whether it’s considering riding the Staten Island Ferry all night long, not wanting to rhyme “yesterday” and “speedway,” or learning where Helsinki is, it makes you laugh. It makes you smile. It has a certain kind of magic.

Not bad for a tiny little sports show, huh?

Sports Night is available on Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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