Back in 1998, when TV viewers turned to Friends and Frasier for punchlines and ER and NYPD Blue for drama, one show boldly tried to be a one-stop shop: ABC’s Sports Night. Set in the high-stakes world of a live sports-news program, the Aaron Sorkin-scribed dramedy followed the behind-the-scenes exploits of fictional Sports Night coanchors Casey (Peter Krause) and Dan (Josh Charles), their brilliant producer Dana (Felicity Huffman), harried associate producer Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd), gruff executive producer Isaac (Robert Guillaume), and whip-smart researcher Jeremy (Joshua Malina).
Sports Night was adored by the media — including EW, which called it ”the most consistently funny, intelligent, and emotional of any new-season series.” Still, the show never became a hit, struggling with low ratings and unsympathetic network execs who insisted on an awkward laugh track for the first season and then canceled the series in 2000.
But thanks to DVDs and online streaming — and a ripple effect from Sorkin’s hits on TV (The West Wing, The Newsroom) and in film (The Social Network) — Sports Night has found a new audience beyond its all-too-brief two-season run. ”’Ahead of its time’ is overused,” says Malina. ”But it actually is appropriate to Aaron and Sports Night.” That time began in 1995. Bill Clinton was in the White House. TLC were on the radio. And Sorkin was living out of L.A.’s Four Seasons hotel, watching too much ESPN.