Reissue Fever, SPORTS NIGHT Style

A reader asked me if I could explain why Sports Night is being reissued by Shout! Factory next week even though the complete series was already available on DVD for years, and the new version doesn’t look any better than the original. (Most TV shows were never meant to look great, but there’s something uniquely grungy and depressing about the look of shows from the late ’90s — unlike earlier shows, which were cut on film, and can therefore be made to look surprisingly good if remastered from the original prints, ’90s shows tended to be edited on video, and therefore look worse than earlier shows and today’s high-def shows.) I think, apart from the fact that the original issue didn’t have any extras and this one has a lot of them, that Shout! Factory was just excited to be able to get the rights to Sports Night and bring it out on their label; the company is doing a lot of publicity for the release, including getting Peter Krause to tape a message for their website, and they’re clearly big fans of the show. Also, from a business standpoint, the company had a success last year with My So-Called Life, which also had been available in a bare-bones DVD set at one point, though it was harder to find than the first Sports Night set. It’s not unreasonable to think that they could have a comparable success by bringing out a “definitive” edition of this other ’90s cult favourite.

I have to admit, myself, I’ve never been a Sports Night fan. One of the few Family Guy lines that really stays with me is “I finally understand Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night. It’s the comedy that’s too good to be funny!” That’s unfair, of course, because one-camera comedies don’t have to be non-stop laugh riots to be entertaining, and Sports Night‘s mix of genres and tones is a perfectly legitimate way to go with the half-hour one-camera show. But I didn’t find the funny parts very funny, or the serious parts very interesting; and it just seems to me that whenever Aaron Sorkin applies his style to a “small” subject, like running a TV show (here and on Studio 60) his bombastic rants and the constant, extreme intensity of his characters becomes wearying; it’s like he has one tone, hyper-intense, and can’t really imagine how anyone could act any other way. The West Wing wasn’t profound, but it worked as entertainment because the setting gave the characters a reason to be intense and fast-talking all the time; in a less larger-than-life workplace setting, I just wish he’d settle down and let his characters talk and act like people. Buffalo Bill was a similar show-behind-the-show where the funny parts were funnier and the serious parts were more emotionally engaging.

Most people who have seen the show disagree with me, though, and if you like the show and don’t have the earlier set, there’s no reason not to buy the new one: the special features aren’t quite as plentiful as on MSCL, but they cover everything you need, including commentaries, interviews with Sorkin, Thomas Schlamme and most of the cast, and one of those “real life vs. TV” featurettes where people from ESPN compare their lives with the TV world.

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