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'Sports Night' nostalgia recap: A girl in the boys' locker room

Season 1 | Episode 5 | “Mary Pat Shelby” | Aired Oct 20, 1998

If you thought Sports Night was brave before, you haven’t met “Mary Pat Shelby.” That’s the name of the woman that a football player assaulted. When said football player agrees to appear on the show within a show, Natalie steps out of the supporting ranks to turn an already volatile situation into the kind of awesome comeuppance you only see on TV.

All you need to know about Christian Patrick (Brad Henke, who actually played in the NFL before turning up on shows like Lost and Justified) is that he’s a Big Star, and an Even Bigger Jerk. Booking him on the show is a major ratings coup for CSC, and Dana wants Natalie to go out to the Meadowlands to do a “pre-interview” before his arrival, even though Natalie doesn’t know football nearly as well as Jeremy. That’s because Patrick is also a Convicted Felon, having thrown his ex-girlfriend, Mary Pat Shelby, down a flight of stairs after he punched her in the face.

Naturally, this topic is off-limits for his Sports Night appearance, but Dana is willing to forgive that because the show is desperate for the interview, which does not go over well with Casey. He likens the situation to prostitution, in an awkward civics lesson. Dan, meanwhile, has decided that this will be the day he takes off from moral accountability. He’s picked a bad day.

When Natalie returns from her “pre-interview,” Jeremy notices that she’s injured her wrist; she claims that she accidentally closed it in the door of the news van and hurries away. He connects the dots in the middle of the next rundown meeting, when Isaac interrupts to say that a Meadowlands employee saw Christian Patrick exposing himself to an unknown woman in the locker room and then grab her arm in the ensuing struggle.

The realization quickly spreads: The victim was Natalie, who swears that she’s fine and doesn’t want to be deterred from doing her job because the person who hurt her is about to pop in for a visit. The guys get their protectiveness on, including challenging Dana on running with the story, and rationalizing doing so by saying that it’s what Natalie would want. Her Plan B isn’t much better: She uses her best friend as a bargaining chip, saying that Natalie will deny the incident ever happened if Mary Pat Shelby is fair game in Patrick’s interview, which also ensures Sports Night‘s ratings.

As for Natalie, she believes this is for the greater good, because she doesn’t want to turn from a senior associate producer into a “cocktail-party joke.” If she doesn’t want to fight, Jeremy will—getting into Patrick’s face and telling him that if he touches Natalie again, he’ll pay someone to have him killed. Patrick thinks Natalie was impressed, and stops to sign an autograph on the way to the men’s room.

Casey finds Dana brooding in Isaac’s office, full of remorse despite the news that her show will win the evening by “a landslide.” She admits to him that she sent Natalie to the Meadowlands instead of Jeremy intentionally, because she knew Patrick didn’t like women in the locker room and thought she could provoke a better reaction. Casey knew that, and presumes that Natalie did too; he adds that everyone knows that Dana tends to do the right thing.

The right thing this time is marching out onto the studio floor and telling Patrick and his entourage (amusingly including Ray Wise, who’d go on to play Satan in Reaper) to take a hike, even if it sends Sports Night down the drain. And Natalie, who is reminded by Dan that she’s got friends “and this is what friends gear up for,” changes her mind and informs the Big Star that she’s pressing charges against him as soon as the work day’s done. These are the kinds of TV moments you applaud.

In five episodes, Sports Night has covered marijuana, office politics, and now assault and gender issues. You can just imagine someone at ABC beating their head into the table over what was supposed to be a tiny little workplace sitcom. But what makes this show stand the test of time was that it never was a workplace sitcom, nor did it ever pretend to be. As the promo tagline once said, it was about sports the same way Charlie’s Angels was about law enforcement. Sports Night used its subject to look at a variety of issues; you’d expect that from The West Wing or The Newsroom, but not necessarily from a show about sports.

Full disclosure: I was a sportswriter before I became an entertainment reporter, and I’m still one today. My other job has taken me from MLB clubhouses to the garages of IndyCar, and I’ve been very lucky not to have experienced anything like Natalie did. The athletes and other personnel I have worked with have never treated me any differently because of my gender. But there still exists a double standard—just read the comments section on any sports story involving or written by a female, and you’ll probably find at least one snide remark. Many people still believe either that women don’t belong in sports, or that we’re somehow less capable.

“Mary Pat Shelby” hit that on the head with a solid script and a great performance from Sabrina Lloyd, in the middle of 1998, just as baseball was having a massive season (and football wasn’t too shabby either). Natalie Hurley became the voice of not just one, but both sides of the argument: the one that understandably feared the risks and the one that couldn’t stay quiet. This was a story that needed to be told—told well and unflinchingly—and we were all a little bit better for it.

Sports Night is available on Hulu.

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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