TITLE: SPORTS NIGHT - THE COMPLETE SERIES - 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Release Date: September 30, 2008 (Shout! Factory)
Number of Discs: 8
Number of Episodes: 45
Running Time: +/- 20 Hours
Running Time of Special Features: approx. 300 minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: Closed Captioned
* New interviews with the cast and crew of Sports Night
* Face-Off: Real-life SportsCenter employees compared SportsCenter and Sports Night
* Looking Back: A Conversation with Aaron Sorkin & Thomas Schlamme
* Inside the Locker Room: What Made the Show Work & How it Was Done
* Season 1 and Season 2 Gag Reels
* 8 Cast & Crew Commentaries
It’s a show about a show about sports -- that isn’t about sports at all.
Debuting on ABC in 1998, Sports Night was an innovative half-hour program about a team of smart and likeable people who put on a live sports cable newscast much like ESPN’s SportsCenter. This team is funny, disciplined, capable, and fast-thinking -- a group of consummate professionals...but in their personal lives not so much.
This show has an absolutely fantastic cast. Great acting is when you can turn off that little voice inside your head that tells you these people are actors and actually makes you believe, even if only for a split second, that what you see is a sort of second reality. And Sports Night’s extremely talented cast absolutely shines in this regard:
The main cast:
Peter Krause (Dirty Sexy Money): Casey
Josh Charles (Six Degrees): Dan
Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives): Dana
Sabrina Lloyd: Natalie
Joshua Malina (Big Shots): Jeremy
Robert Guillaume (Benson): Isaac
These principal cast members, plus the wonderful supporting cast around them give you a glimpse into the inner workings of the tensions of a working TV studio while at the same time creating some of the best comedic and dramatic moments on television before, during, or after. I REALLY love this show.
Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:
This section gets really tricky because this is two season sets in one. There are forty five episodes in this DVD set and if I take the time to tell you how much I like each and every episode, we’ll be here until the Sports Night 50th Anniversary Laser Crystal set.
Honestly, I got hooked on this series from the very get-go. The pilot is one of the most wonderful half-hours of television I’ve seen in the last ten years. From the moment the show starts you know this isn’t your traditional According to Jim sitcom -- this is a different animal ENTIRELY. The writing is different, the acting is different, and the directing is different. Each and every part of this episode tells you you’re in for something wonderful.
In the pilot, in addition to the usual rundown of characters, you see ALREADY plot points emerge that would run through the series: Casey is recently divorced, and after an athlete’s shenanigans (based on an incident involving NBA player Charles Barkley from around the same time period) he begins to worry about his son -- with the divorce leading to Casey being removed from a large part of his life, these athletes become the primary male role models in the kid’s life, and Casey certainly doesn’t want his kids looking up to negative images. Dan has to snap him out of this funk before Casey makes a career decision that could seriously hurt the fledgling sports network. At the same time, the show’s executive producer Dana is interviewing a neurotic but promising job applicant -- Jeremy.
The early episodes are slightly more traditional and even feature a laugh track, but by the second half of season one the track is toned down, before being eliminated outright in season two.
An episode noteworthy for its parallels to real-life is a show from late in the first season, episode #19 “Eli’s Coming”. The episode title is based on Dan’s mishearing the lyrics to a song -- and he’s always associated the phrase with doom on the horizon. Sure enough, things start to go progressively worse. The seemingly huge problems are made to seem miniscule; however, at the end of the episode when word reaches the studio that Isaac has suffered a stroke. This parallels the real-life stroke of actor Robert Guillaume, who had suffered a stroke early into the shooting of an earlier episode, “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” The entire story of the stroke is recounted in a bonus feature.
The show picks up in the second season -- more plot arcs and character drama, with still plenty of comedy to be found. There’s a conversation in the first quarter of the second half of the Draft Day episode from the 2nd season; it’s between Isaac and Jeremy where Jeremy desperately tries to get Isaac to fire him as Jeremy is embarrassed that his girlfriend is a porn star...excuse me, “adult film actress.” This scene has me in stitches every time I watch it.
Over the course of the second season in particular, Sports Night (the fictional show) suffers ratings woes, and near the end of the run the network (and show) get put up for sale. This leads into the finale, where a buyer for the network is found. It’s a strange-sounding holding company called “Quo Vadimus” -- and most people believe they’re about to lose their jobs. However, as they built in an ending in case the show was cancelled -- it was 50/50, it’s revealed who the buyer is after Jeremy decodes the meaning of the company name and Dana realizes the phrase is familiar.
This long-winded section only skims the barest highlights of a group of 45 wonderful episodes. You really can’t go wrong with any particular one.
Guest stars include: Brenda Strong, Felicity Huffman’s future Desperate Housewives co-star, appears in several episodes as the rather loose producer of CSC’s West Coast Update program -- Sally Sasser. The voice of Lisa Simpson -- Yeardley Smith -- appears in episode 4 “Intellectual Property” as the representative from the network who tells Dan that “Happy Birthday to You” is indeed copyrighted. The then-co-hosts of ABC’s The View, minus Barbara Walters, appear in episode #11, “The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee.” Joy Behar, Star Jones, Debbie Matenopolous, and Meredith Vieira all appear as themselves. Lisa Edelstein (House) appears now and again as Bobbi Bernstein, who as it turns out Dan DID sleep with in Spain. The second season sees William H. Macy -- Felicity Huffman’s husband -- appear as a recurring character as ratings expert Sam Donovan. John de Lancie -- Star Trek fans know him as “Q” -- appears as network suit Bert Stors.
The packaging is simple but very effective. Four slimcases are contained inside a larger box. The first two slimcases -- the season one content -- feature blue package art. The season two content is green in color. Because blue is usually preferable to green, the outer box color is, in fact, blue. Both colors beat handily the oddball yellow color used in the first release of Sports Night on DVD. In addition, the four slimcases are far more portable and space-friendly than the three bulky cases from the 2002 release.
The artwork varies: The main box art features the six cast members standing in front of a blue and white CSC background. The slimcase artwork uses a variation of this theme. Cases 1 and 2 have the cast posed differently in front of the same blue CSC background -- with Robert Guillaume sitting down. The second pair of cases features the cast behind the CSC news desk -- in front of a green generic CSC background. Disc art features the show logo at the top of the disc. Generic sports-related photos (with image effects) appear in the center strip of each disc’s artwork. Season 1 discs are blue, season 2 discs are green. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-8, Disc 2 has 9-16, Disc 3 has 17-23, Disc 5 has Season Two episodes 1-8, Disc 6 has S2 episodes 9-15, and Disc 7 has S2 episodes 16-22. Discs 4 and 8 are entirely bonus content.
Menu Design and Navigation:
This is the point at which this DVD set really comes to life. The main menu is a central shot of the CSC news desk. The main theme and directorial audio play in the background. The menu options are visible on the menu. Selecting the episodes option takes you to the coolest episode selection menu I’ve EVER seen. If you’ve ever seen what a TV control room looks like, there are TV monitors everywhere that show different video feeds and camera angles. Each episode is a control room monitor, arranged in grids of four. Video clips from the episodes show on the monitors. The episode title appears on white labeling tape below the monitors, with the monitor numbers...being the season-relative episode numbers. With more than 4 episodes per disc, two pages are needed -- and so an animated transition causes you to pan right, revealing a 2nd monitor grid. Here’s the best part, though: On the discs where there are only 7 episodes per disc, the 8th shows a snowy CSC technical difficulties slate. GREAT visual gag that shows how much effort went into this. Another visual gag comes on the special features discs -- instead of a set and control room, the features are listed on a teleprompter.
Video and Audio Quality:
There are three problems present here, but I want to address them now as they’re the same on both DVD releases and clearly indicative of issues with the master prints -- there was nothing Shout! could do in this regard. First, the pilot in particular looks like it was filmed with different cameras or with alternate lighting, as everything appears off compared to the rest of the series. Colors are different, tones are lighter -- it feels different. Not an issue. Second is the appearance of vertical blue lines, always on one camera only, on a couple episodes. These glitches appear previously, and I’ve seen them on another show I’m familiar with (Murphy Brown) as well. It’s just one of those unfortunate effects. Third are the runtimes. A few dip below the 21 minute mark. I have to assume the episodes ran short -- I don’t have time to compare line by line in transcripts, but I’m assuming they’re all there. But you know what, for once, I couldn’t care less if a scene here or there is MIA: I’m just not concerned because what’s here is remarkably, impressively, GOOD.
Video is largely great, across the board. As a result of the stock shot on, colors appear more lively and realistic than other series this show’s age. Aside from the blue lines and pilot issues neither of which could be avoided, there is not one single solitary problem I have with the video. Audio is a very solid arrangement. The chaos of the CSC office comes along as best can be expected. Sure, I’d love to have 100 channels of audio -- but what’s here is done really REALLY well. Chapter stops are placed at the end of each act, resulting in around 4 per show. Play All functionality IS available.
The Apology: 22:00
The Hungry and the Hunted: 22:20
Intellectual Property: 21:48
Mary Pat Shelby: 22:19
The Head Coach, Dinner, and the Morning Mail: 22:25
*Dear Louise: 21:00
The Quality of Mercy at 29K: 22:23
Shoe Money Tonight: 22:24
The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee: 21:55
Small Town: 22:24
Dana and the Deep Blue Sea: 20:54
How are Things in Glocca Morra? 21:19
The Sword of Orion: 22:23
Eli’s Coming: 22:26
Ordnance Tactics: 20:53
Ten Wickets: 20:57
Napoleon’s Battle Plan: 21:36
What Kind of Day Has It Been? 22:23
Disc 4 is bonus features
Special Powers: 21:34
When Something Wicked This Way Comes: 21:33
Cliff Gardner: 21:36
Louise Revisited: 20:49
Kyle Whitaker’s Got Two Sacks: 21:34
The Reunion: 21:30
A Girl Named Pixley: 21:05
The Giants Win the Pennant, The Giants Win the Pennant! 21:35
The Cut Man Cometh: 21:41
The Sweet Smell of Air: 21:33
Dana Get Your Gun: 21:05
And the Crowd Goes Wild: 21:01
The Local Weather: 21:32
Draft Day Part 1: It Can’t Rain at Indian Wells: 21:04
Draft Day Part 2: The Fall of Ryan O’Brian: 21:41
April is the Cruelist Month: 21:26
Bells and a Siren: 21:29
La Forza Del Destino: 21:40
Quo Vadimus: 21:37
Disc 8 is bonus features.
The runtime disparity is probably just episodes running short. In addition, apparently 30 seconds of ad time was added between seasons one and two.
Audio Commentary Tracks:
“Pilot” by Aaron Sorkin & Thomas Schlamme
“The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee”: Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Sabrina Lloyd, and director Robert Berlinger.
“Small Town”: Editor Janet Ashikaga
“Sally”: Greg Baker, Kayla Blake, Timothy Davis-Reed, and Ron Ostrow.
“Eli’s Coming”: Peter Krause & Robert Berlinger
“Kafelnikov”: Greg Baker, Kayla Blake, Josh Charles, Timothy Davis-Reed, Joshua Malina, and Ron Ostrow
“The Local Weather” Josh Charles, Joshua Malina
“Quo Vadimus”: Aaron Sorkin.
All eight commentaries are absolutely fascinating, and give you a wide array of perspectives on the production of the show -- plus the fun of folks re-watching their own work 10 years later. They run approx. 176 minutes.
The Show (33:48): A feature with brand new cast and crew interviews featuring nearly all of the key players of the show. This talks about everything from the development of the show to Robert Guillaume’s stroke.
Face off: ESPN vs. CSC (21:04). This features interviews with both Sports Night cast and crew -- and real life ESPN staff -- on the similarities and differences between the two.
Gag Reel Season 1 (11:48): This was created for the season one wrap party. It was taken from a VHS copy, meaning the quality isn’t particularly nice -- but it’s amazing the bloopers survive at all after 10 years.
Four promos from when the show debuted. As a fan of the show, naturally I love the “Benson” promo -- where Isaac/Robert is the only one who can think of the name of the Soap character who was spun off onto his own show that ran for so long. Three 20 second spots and a thirty second spot.
Looking Back with Aaron Sorkin & Thomas Schlamme (26:09): A second feature -- this time more of a reflective piece talking about the great time had by all in producing the show. This is more of a reminiscent piece.
Inside the Locker Room: The Technical Innovations of Sports Night (21:16): This show was unique in a lot of ways -- a multi-camera sitcom filming inside a four-walled studio with lots of working space...scripts that were quick and actors that were quicker. This show was the transitional series that would later allow Arrested Development, Scrubs, and The Office to flourish this decade. It also had a strong set of messages -- different from most comedies of the era.
Gag Reel, Part 2 (1:54): Less exists from season two, so the season two reel spends the first third showing cast members clowning around while the theme plays. Regular bloopers commence for a little while, and then back to the theme.
Booklet: A wonderful 32 page booklet with photos, a set diagram, episode details, comments from Aaron Sorkin, quotes, and SO SO much more. This was my handy reference guide as I watched the entire series in preparation for this review.
Running time of special features: approx. 300 minutes!
With the minor issues sat aside -- this is an absolutely wonderful DVD set. If you’re an owner of the old DVD set, the set is worth a strong consideration if you can unload the old one. If you’ve never seen Sports Night -- you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this show. It’s an incredibly strong, incredibly well-written show top to bottom. It’s hilarious in places, and dramatic in others, and is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen.
It’s a shame the series never caught on -- the criticism launched at Aaron Sorkin early on that the series wasn’t traditional enough may well have had valid legs. Viewers tend to like comfortable and familiar things (see According to Jim) and usually the first show to come down a new alley tends to be overlooked. It’s only with subsequent series can you achieve high ratings AND have a strong format. If this show were to be launched today, I have no doubt it’d be a wildly successful series -- ten years later viewers are used to shows like this. But in 1998 it was a novelty, and as such disappeared quickly. If you’re unsure if you want to spend anywhere from 40 to 60 dollars on this set, consider a few things. First, you are getting two seasons for the price of one -- 45 episodes total -- depending on the retailer that works out to around $1 to $1.25 per show -- cheaper than series on, say, iTunes to be sure. If you’re that unsure, you can probably get the individual DVDs via certain rental outlets, say, Netflix. Give the first few episodes a try, and I’m extremely confident you’ll be hooked.
When I first started writing for Sitcoms Online four years ago, this is the series that was on the top of my wants list from Day One. I didn’t actually know at that point ABC Studios/Buena Vista had released the DVD two years prior. But as luck and fate would have it, the wonderful entity known as Shout! Factory licensed the series for a re-release from ABC Studios, and four years after that first Barney Miller review, six years after the first Buena Vista release, and ten years after it’s debut, Sports Night is again on DVD, and my recommendation for this set is so strong I just don’t have the proper adjective to describe how enjoyable this show is. Just buy the thing already so that I don’t have to stretch this review to FOUR thousand words -- I’ve already written three.
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 5/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5
Final Score: 5/5
-- Reviewed by Seth Thrasher on 09/20/08
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