Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night is sheer bliss.
The series ran on ABC for two years from 1998-2000. Its ratings were abysmal, and if you loved the show, like I did, you took it personally. ("What's wrong with people?"). Sorkin, meanwhile, packed up and moved on to create The West Wing.
After a brief syndication stint on Comedy Central, Sports Night appeared on DVD a couple of years ago. That weekend, I stayed indoors, shades drawn, take-out pizza menu within reach, and watched all 45 episodes while my dog whined at the foot of the bed, stir-crazy.
Simply put, Sorkin writes music. His dialogue is rhythmic and syncopated, as if jazz musicians were trading fours. Gaps and pauses take on the quality of suspended chords, searching for resolution. Characters toss out riffs, which are then batted about, repeated, played with, transformed. Timing becomes paramount. The ensemble works in harmony. Martin Sheen, talking about The West Wing, warned that even the tiniest improvisation on Sorkin's written word was disastrous because it immediately undermined Sorkin's mathematically precise writing. Try listening to Sorkin-speak with your eyes closed — it sounds composed.
Here's the other reason I love Sports Night: God, I miss Howard Hawks. The last great Hawks movie was El Dorado in 1967, and thirty years later, his ghost unconsciously haunts Sports Night. The show is Hawksian to a fault: (1) strong and charismatic female characters; (2) people whose notions of self-image and mutual respect are completely bound up in what they do for a living; (3) the importance of professionalism ("Are you good enough?" is a question that pops up in almost every Hawks movie); (4) males who assume a facade of equanimity and understatement, unable to speak what's really in their hearts; and finally, (5) a sense of humor that emerges not through gags but by way of natural, easy, everyday back-and-forth that reveals volumes about the characters and who they are. It's all there in Sports Night, by the shovelful.
I'm an irredeemable sports idiot. To me, it's like rocket science — a world I know nothing about and never will. "It's about sports," goes the tagline for this show, "The same way that Charlie's Angels was about law enforcement."
And why am I doing this post today? Because of good news: Sorkin is returning to television next fall with a behind-the-scenes show about an SNL-like late-night comedy series. (Thanks, Mike Slagor, for the tip-off).