Take 5: SPORTS NIGHT Top 5 Episodes - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

Take 5: SPORTS NIGHT Top 5 Episodes

January 6, 2009 by  

Take 5” is a new GMMR feature that gives Team GMMR (and YOU) a chance to look back to yesteryear and share 5 memorable episodes from some of our favorite shows of the past.  A walk down memory lane and back in time to revisit some of the best of the best of TV.

This time around, Erik is talking on one of his favorite shows – Sports Night.

Take 5: Sports Night (ABC, 1998-2000)

Much like the music we embrace during adolescence, television shows often achieve permanent status in our nostalgic rear view mirrors. Looking back on Sports Night’s time on ABC, I would imagine that my affection for the program is amplified by its place in my early years of adulthood. During my last two years of college, I had grand visions of the workplace I would enter, the fascinating people I hoped to meet, and the important lessons I would learn in my first foray into the real world. Those expectations may have been naive, but they were bolstered by the irreplaceable genius that was Sports Night.

Though we are often disappointed by the twists and turns of our daily lives, I was never let down by the quick-witted and thoughtful scripts of Aaron Sorkin or the masterful performances of a tragically underrated cast and crew. These are my favorite installments of Sports Night on CSC, so stick around…

5. And the Cut Man Cometh (Episode 2.11)
When a fledgling cable sports network decides to up the ante and broadcast a championship boxing match, what could possibly go wrong? In a word, everything, as the entire CSC foundation is shaken by an early knockout in the actual fight, a verbal war between Dana and Casey over their ill-fated romantic jousting, and Dan’s struggles to find common ground with his Dad despite the best of intentions. Despite the contentious theme, this chapter of the Sports Night saga contains a gaggle of hilarious scenes featuring Dan, Casey, and Jeremy preparing their “boxing homework” in the days leading to the fight, as well as TiVo-worthy moments from guest star Allen Garfield as Chuck “The Cut Man” Kimmel.

4. Dana and the Deep Blue Sea (Episode 1.15)
Though I could justify this pick by heaping praise on Felicity Huffman’s ability to equate snorkeling with commitment, which offered a master seminar for any aspiring actors reading this blog, I confess to including it for one scene that runs less than two minutes. Following a disastrous moment on live television, when Dan mistakenly says that a young runner’s father “used to take her to a neighborhood park all covered with cheese,” he confesses his blunder as the result of daydreaming about Rebecca, the corporate accountant on the 37th floor played by Teri Polo in a pre-“Meet The Parents” incarnation. Following weeks of unsuccessful flirting with the buttoned up woman of his dreams, Dan is able to charm Rebecca by toning down his bravado and showing something of himself. Their conversation by the elevator is a romantic classic, and required viewing for those who believe that chivalry is a dying art.

3. Cliff Gardner (Episode 2.3)
William H. Macy, who has the good fortune to be married to Felicity Huffman, changed the dynamic of Sports Night’s second season when he arrived as ratings consultant Sam Donovan. Though I believe that Sam was intended to be Aaron Sorkin’s subtle jab at ABC’s interest in “sexing up” the show’s romantic storylines, Macy’s work was never better than in this episode. When a group of ambitious network executives insists that the Sports Night team accept a list of critical changes, Sam Donovan takes the stuffy suits on a walking tour of the CSC studios, complete with a history lesson on how creativity requires contribution from a village of willing participants, not just the inventor. After dismissing the corporate team back to their ivory tower, Sam galvanizes the production team with the simple message, “Trust me. I won’t make fools out of you.” As the credits rolled when this first aired, I wanted to run through walls for Sam Donovan, and he was a dude with a bad mustache and a mustard sweater!

2. Eli’s Coming (Episode 1.19)
Since I recap House as part of Team GMMR, it is odd that this emotional chapter in the CSC time line featured Cuddy herself, Lisa Edelstein, in her recurring role as Bobbi Bernstein, fill-in anchor for the network. The story arc for Bobbi, as she insists that Dan acknowledge their romantic past, pays off in this episode alongside a number of game-changing moments for the Sports Night crew. In an effort to creatively deal with Robert Guillaume’s real-life stroke, Sorkin built this story around Issac’s mysterious disappearance following a flight back to New York City. In addition, the office attempts to rally around Dan following his discovery of Rebecca’s husband in her office. Josh Charles is at his best in this half-hour, projecting a sense of dread within Dan that foreshadows the fate of both Issac’s health and Rebecca’s marriage. If you have ever been jilted by a past love, Dan’s apology to Bobbi will give you closure for the heartbreak you suffered, even if you never received it from the guilty party.

1. Dear Louise (Episode 1.7)
As just the seventh episode produced by the masterful team of Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, it is hard to imagine that this could be the show’s creative peak. Despite a flood of witty and imaginative episodes that followed, this is the ultimate Sports Night sampler. Serving as a welcome mat to the world of CSC, this episode follows Jeremy’s efforts to write a letter to his sister Louise. How did Dana become the first female producer in cable sports history? What do Dan and Casey offer the viewer that other anchor teams do not? How can you not fall in love with Natalie? Those questions are answered, along with a host of others. In addition to being a standout piece of creative achievement, “Dear Louise” is also the stuff of TV trivia legend.

  • West Wing fans, take note. This episode was the template for the political drama’s “The Stackhouse Filibuster” episode when C.J. writes a letter to her father against the backdrop of the day’s events.
  • Desperate Housewives fans, take note. This episode featured Felicity Huffman’s first appearance dancing to K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” before she jumped on the bar in the DH episode, “They Asked Me Why I Believe In You”
  • Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick fans, take note. This episode featured a recitation of the uproarious “bulging disc” faux pas from the pair’s ESPN SportsCenter era. If you have not seen that clip or read the story in their book, “The Big Show,” a simple viewing of this episode will tell you everything you need to know.

Though we were sadly left with just 45 episodes to savor, I know there are tons of other favorites to be mentioned. What are your Top 5? Who was your favorite character? Was it a coincidence that I failed to mention Ted McKinley’s role as Gordon, which I blame for the show’s demise? I cannot wait to read your comments!

— authored by Erik

How does Erik combat writer’s block?  He indulges in podcasts of the Adam Carolla Radio Show and reads Bill Simmons’ columns on ESPN.com.  The GMMR HOUSE & SURVIVOR scribe is an active participant in the economic recession, and is working on a pamphlet outlining the etiquette of handling Facebook requests from old boyfriends/girlfriends.

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15 Responses to “Take 5: SPORTS NIGHT Top 5 Episodes”

  1. Avi the TV Geek on January 6th, 2009 8:25 am

    My favorite episode is “April is the Cruelest Month”. There’s something about watching executives fighting over budgets and our favorite sports duo coming back together again.

  2. Lisa (aka lmr) on January 6th, 2009 10:22 am

    Erik…am speechless, just amazing, thank you. My former BF adored Sports Night at the time – I too was a fan but not to the all-consuming extent that he was. Around that time West Wing debuted and it was love at first sight for me. I tried to get him to watch WW and he stubornly would not, he didn’t want another TV show to get hooked on. I would make plaintive requests that he just had to try it since he loved Sports Night so much. Eventually he did and he got hooked and owns every season of WW.

    I miss Aaron Sorkin.

  3. Mikki on January 6th, 2009 1:51 pm

    The Sports Night pilot was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

    I still get goosebumps when I think about Casey’s broadcast at the end of the episode: “…and Ntozake Nelson’s got something to say about a world record!”

  4. Philboy on January 6th, 2009 3:23 pm

    I’m so glad you included “The Cut Man” and “Eli’s Coming”. Those are my two favorites of a series that I (disappointedly) didn’t get for Christmas, but will buy soon.

  5. Meg on January 6th, 2009 7:37 pm

    The Six Southern Gentelman of Tennessee is an incredible episode. I also love the first season finale (What Kind of Day Has it Been?) with the return of Isaac, and the real life return of Robert Guillaume. Tear jerker.

    Some trivia: In one episode, Dana goes to see The Lion King on Broadway. Robert Guillaume was the voice of Rafiki in the original Disney movie.

  6. ColoradoKila on January 6th, 2009 7:47 pm

    OMG – was just thinking about Josh Charles the other day, so glad to see this.

    Though I cannot remember a specific episodes (besides what you mentioned here) I will never forget the production meetings in the big glass room, the amazing writing, the brilliant acting and casting to die for. To this day, the thought of Robert Guillaume’s stroke episode makes me teary.

    It was so ahead of it’s time, and I miss television like this.


  7. Bonnie on January 6th, 2009 8:05 pm

    Erik – I am thrilled that you wrote this! I absolutely loved Sports Night and am still not completely over its demise. What was that – 8 years ago? I completely agree with your choice for #1 – my my my my my boogie shoes.

    I also really enjoyed The Apology where Dan is asked to apologize on camera for his comment about marijuana in a magazine article. I thought the writing and Josh Charles’s acting were terrific. And I like the one where Casey has dilated pupils and Dan has writer’s block. I don’t know the name of the episode but it rocked. “Dan, my sense. They’ve come alive.”

    In your pamphlet – could you also cover your spouse’s exes and their requests to you to be a facebook friend? I mean, really?

  8. Erik on January 6th, 2009 10:28 pm

    If you loved Josh Charles on Sports Night (and if you did not, how dare you?), he had a nice story arc on the HBO series In Treatment last year.

  9. Give Me My Remote on January 6th, 2009 10:35 pm

    And don’t forget that Josh Charles will be seen in the upcoming ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ which premieres at Sundance (he he).

    Great stuff, Erik. I’ve known for a long time that I need to watch ‘Sports Night’, but this post just proves that I need to watch it sooner rather than later.

  10. joe on January 6th, 2009 11:28 pm

    Long-time reader, never commented before though. Thanks for putting this up, more people need to see this show. I was a little young for it when it first aired but got into it once I discovered the West Wing in its middle years and became a devoted Sorkin/Schlamme fan. I agree with all the episodes mentioned so far, especially Eli’s Coming and Cliff Gardner.

    Josh Charles as Dan Rydell very well may be my favorite television character of all time, and I watch a heck of a lot of TV.

    Also, in my opinion, Clark Gregg’s work at the end of the series was wonderful.

    Erik, you say you blame Gordon for the demise of the show? I was never a big fan of the character but do you have specific reasons for blaming him? Just wondering.

  11. Ryan on January 7th, 2009 2:23 am

    Isaac Jaffe: Let me start by saying that: Dana, what I say in my office stays in my office.
    Dana Whitaker: Natalie’s my number 2, she’s the only one I told.
    Natalie Hurley: Jeremy’s my boyfriend, and he’s the only one I told.
    Jeremy Goodwin: I told many many people.

    -from the episode “Smoky”

  12. Ariana on January 7th, 2009 9:21 am

    I’ve gotta say that The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee never ever fails to give me goosebumps. Play of the year, right there. Obviously Robert Guillaume is a brilliant actor. Eli’s Coming is another favorite. I still use that phrase as a warning of bad things to come. Thespis is really great too. Know it all Jeremy and the ridiculous things that go wrong.

  13. Erik on January 8th, 2009 12:21 am

    Lisa: Thanks for the feedback. I have vivid memories of watching an episode from Season One with a college crush, keeping my fingers crossed that she would embrace the rapid fire dialogue and brisk pacing. Since I never shut up in real life, I found this experiment to be a reasonable test of our future together. After a half hour of silence on her behalf, I had to let her down gently. And by gently, I mean that she had to go see her actual boyfriend at Georgia Tech 🙂

    Mikki: The closing seconds of the pilot were intoxicating, particularly since Casey’s audience was first and foremost his little boy. I meant to include a reference to that father/son dynamic, and how beautifully it was woven into later episodes. That could be said for a number of other relationships on the show, making it even more painful that we have to live with just 45 chapters of the story.

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