Sunday, December 19, 2004

Sports Night

Aaron Sorkin is a genius of television, and I’ve been rewatching The Show He Did Before The West Wing: Sports Night.

It’s such an interesting dry run – shot on video, impossibly short episodes, and the first few episodes even have a laughter track. Of course, you’ve never heard a laughter track like it – it’s nervous, mild laughter from an audience frankly baffled by the sheer pace, intelligence and style of the show. It’s like asking people to guffaw at an ice sculpture in a microwave.

Only Sorkin could make me love a programme about sport. Of course, it’s as much about sport as the West Wing is about politics – his genius is clever people in crisis, and this show is a strangely comforting, melancholy tale of an under-funded, over-worked team of people making a brilliant show that the network just don’t understand.

Google it, and you’ll find out how closely the show parallels the struggle Sorkin had keeping it on air – a network that kept hoping it would dumb-down or die off, a constant battle for ratings, and a behind-the-scenes battle to keep an actor after they’d had a stroke (not only do they write it into the show, they keep nagging away at it).

Amazingly, the show lasted two fantastic seasons. And is so obviously a dry run for The West Wing, with a similar repertory company in front of and behind the scenes. There are sour bhuddas, recovering alcoholics, brilliant-but-needy women, and charmingly vulnerable men. Poignantly, it seems to have been set in the World Trade Centre.

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