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The Good Ol' Days

Sports Night on DVD evokes ESPN in its prime

A FEW YEARS ago former SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann stopped actor Josh Charles on the street and said, "Hey, didn't you play me on TV?" That Olbermann (now a political pundit on MSNBC and a football host on NBC) saw so much of himself in Dan Rydell, the character Charles played on Sports Night, was a testament not only to the actor but also to series creator Aaron Sorkin, who nailed the feel of a growing cable-TV show.

Sports Night was canceled in 2000, after its second season, and all 45 episodes have been released on a 10th-anniversary DVD box set. The most striking thing about the show at this remove is not how it holds up—and it does, very well, thanks to Sorkin's snappy dialogue and some outstanding acting—but rather how little it now resembles the show upon which it was modeled. Set at the fictional Continental Sports Channel, Sports Night revolves around a tight-knit group anchored by Rydell and his on-air sidekick Casey McCall (Six Feet Under's Peter Krause). The supporting cast includes Felicity Huffman as the tough producer, Robert Guillame as the wise managing editor, and Sabrina Lloyd and Joshua Malina (who went on to become a regular on Sorkin's The West Wing) as nerdy lovebird underlings. The show aired at a time when SportsCenter also seemed like a big, happy family: Olbermann and Dan Patrick bantering with little snark, Charlie Steiner unintentionally cracking up on air and Beano Cook ranting at technical gremlins like a crazy uncle.

By comparison, today's SportsCenter crew, a carousel of interchangeable anchors and abrasive analysts, lacks that sense of camaraderie. A DVD extra featuring current ESPN anchors even dismisses any off-screen similarities: The frequent bullpen sessions, the late-night poker games and the sense of family all seen on Sports Night? SportsCenter, the anchors say, has outgrown them all.

In the same featurette Sorkin reminisces about being holed up in a hotel room nearly 15 years ago. He was writing a movie called The American President, and he found himself inspired by the 5 a.m. episodes of SportsCenter that he watched during writing breaks. Perhaps the folks in Bristol could find some inspiration in Sorkin's show.

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EVERETT COLLECTION (SPORTS NIGHT)

ON-AIR TALENT Charles (left) and Krause deftly played the kind of guys who hung out after work.

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EVERETT COLLECTION (FUDD)

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CHARLES DHARAPAK/AP (PALIN)

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MARK J. REBILAS/US PRESSWIRE (DANSBY)

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WARNER HOME VIDEO (300)

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JOEL AUERBACH/US PRESSWIRE (BOOTH)

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DAVID DOW/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (YOUNG)

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ERICK W. RASCO (BUTTON)

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JENNIFER R. GRAD (BOXERS)

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JOSE LUIS/CAL SPORT MEDIA (BORNSTEIN)

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FRANK MASI/© 2008 NEW LINE CINEMA (FERRELL)

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