Sports Night: The Complete Series

Ever wonder why there aren't more clever, well-acted, intelligent television shows, particularly that stray from the sitcom family room? It's because no one watches them and they get cancelled. Sports Night is one recent show — collected here in all its two-season, 45-episode glory — that flew in the face of lowest common denominator TV wisdom, and has the axe marks to prove it. The Aaron Sorkin-created sitcom, which ran from 1998 to 2000, takes place at Sports Night, a nightly sports wrap-up show on a fledgling cable network that's fighting for ratings against larger powerhouses ESPN and Fox Sports. Its action centres around the work and personal lives of its two anchors and its team of producers and researchers. Watching it in retrospect, it also demonstrates the now-familiar style of creative team Sorkin, who wrote many episodes, and his director-collaborator Thomas Schlamme, who went on to create The West Wing together. Sports Night similarly features intelligent people spouting rapid-fire dialogue while walking quickly between offices. In this case, it's more about the upcoming football draft than about the passage of a Senate resolution, but in both cases, of course, it's about the people involved more than the subject matter at hand. Like the politics of Wing, Sorkin knows his sports stuff too, and the series has aged remarkably well given that context, tending to focus on larger issues in sport than the details of a given event. The series gets particularly good, alternately poignant and biting, in the second season, with the unspooling of a long story-line involving the sale of the network and cancelling the program; it parallels the real Sports Night's own fight to stay on the air. Sadly, no ninth inning rally was in the cards for this remarkable piece of work, but six DVDs worth will help ease the pain. Extras: none. (Buena Vista)