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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/6/03

Sports Night: The Complete Series
1998-2000 (2002) - Touchstone Television/Imagine Entertainment (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Sports Night: The Complete Series Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B-/F

Specs and Features

Approx. 990 mins (45 episodes at 22 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 6 single-sided, single-layered discs, Amaray keep case packaging in slip case, animated program-themed menus with music, episode access (7-8 episodes per disc), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned

"You're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around..."

Imagine a half-hour "dramedy" about the behind-the-scenes workings of a cable sports news show (think ESPN's Sportscenter and you're on the right track). You've got the irreverent and neurotic on-air hosts, Casey McCall (Peter Krause of Six Feet Under) and Dan Rydell (Josh Charles from Dead Poets Society). You've got the show's equally neurotic producer Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman, seen in Magnolia). Then there's the quirky assistant producer, Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd, a recent addition to the cast of Ed), and sports statistician/geek extraordinaire Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina, an equally recent addition to the cast of The West Wing). And adding a touch of class and perspective to the mix are Robert Guillaume, as managing editor Isaac Jaffe, and second-season guest star William H. Macy, as Sam Donovan, a acerbic consultant brought on to improve ratings. Now imagine this hypothetical show is conceived and written by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The American President and TV's The West Wing. What you get is Sports Night... one of the most entertaining and original half-hours of network television in recent memory.

Sports Night was lauded by critics and viewers alike, won three Emmy Awards and garnered numerous other accolades. Unfortunately, ABC never really gave the show a fair shake, giving it a lousy slot on their primetime schedule and preempting it often. It also didn't help that ABC was at continual odds with Sorkin, who was engaged in a marathon of production, writing and producing virtually every single episode of both Sports Night and NBC's The West Wing at the same time. The show was ultimately cancelled by ABC at the end of its second season, but was very nearly picked up by HBO, who planned to turn it into a 12-episode cable series, a-la Sex and the City. The shorter schedule would have worked much better with Sorkin's West Wing duties, and the pay cable move would have allowed the writing to become richer and much more mature. Unfortunately, ABC nixed the deal, and Sports Night's 45 episodes were relegated late-night reruns on Comedy Central... until now. Thanks to the folks at Buena Vista, the entire 45-episode run of Sports Night is now available on DVD, as a 6-disc box set.

The episodes run about 22 minutes each, and they're packed 7-8 per disc. As a result, the full frame video quality is a little bit over-compressed. It still looks good, with vibrant colors and more than adequate contrast, but it's also a little bit muddy-looking and there's visible artifacting if you look for it. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from TV sound on DVD. This is a no-frills mix, but it gets the job done with audible dialogue and well-mixed music. I should note that the first few episodes were taped before a live audience, so you'll hear a laugh track. But a decision was made early in the series run to ditch the audience in favor a much more complex stage layout and camera set-ups. It's was a good move - the show's funny enough that it doesn't need the extra kick of audience laughter.

I would really have loved this DVD set to include at least something in the way of extras - behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with the cast and Sorkin, an outtake reel... anything at all would have been welcome. As it is, however, I feel very lucky just to have this series intact and complete on DVD, so I'm not going to make too much of out the lack of bonus material.

Sports Night is a TV series that's very close to my heart. It'll entertain you, amuse you and even move you. More than a few of the episodes in this set will leave you with chills. This is superior television in every respect. If you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it more highly. And for fans... well, there's no need to tell you folks to enjoy this, is there? So save up your shoe money and pick this box up quick. Just watch out for girls named Pixley. And pray it doesn't rain at Indian Wells.

Bill Hunt
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