My family got cable the summer I was twenty-one years old. Finally. After an entire childhood spent missing out on the glamour of watching Nickelodeon and MTV, nodding unconvincingly when kids would talk about You Can’t Do That on Television, or the scandalous new Madonna video, I could now experience the wonders of basic cable. (We still didn't have HBO—I mean, let’s not get too crazy.)
My older sister Priya has introduced me to a great many things that have changed my life. She taught me to read; she showed me The Princess Bride (and then watched it with me countless times); she’s given me so many great novels for Christmas; she introduced me to overusing semicolons. But perhaps nothing would eventually shift the course of my life as tectonically as the afternoon when she told me about the television show Sports Night. It had already been cancelled, but it was running in syndication on Comedy Central. And with our newly acquired cable box, we could watch the reruns.
Sports Night is about the behind-the-scenes of a fictional daily sports news show. It’s at least partly inspired by SportsCenter on ESPN, and specifically the mid-90s incarnation of that show, when it was anchored by folks like Craig Kilborn, Keith Olbermann, and Dan Patrick. Priya watched a lot of baseball and a lot of SportsCenter in those days, so the appeal for her was obvious. I myself was deeply uninterested in either of those—but I loved Sports Night immediately.
I was confused but also delighted by the very fast and off-kilter way everyone spoke on the show. It felt like a play. It felt a little like Glengarry Glen Ross, but instead of everyone being horrible, all the characters were loveable and funny, if flawed and awkward and a little goofy. Sports Night stars Peter Krause and Josh Charles as the anchors of the show-within-the-show; Felicity Huffman as its executive producer; Sabrina Lloyd as the senior associate producer; the wonderful Robert Guillaume as the managing editor. My favorite character—a new associate producer who joins the show—was played by Joshua Malina.
Josh’s character, Jeremy Goodwin, is an earnest nerd trying hard to fit in and do well, and despite the vast, vast difference between that character and how anyone would ever describe me, I found Jeremy to be the emotional center of the show. That’s how my fandom of Josh Malina began, sixteen years before we would start The West Wing Weekly podcast together.
Sports Night, like The West Wing, was written and created by Aaron Sorkin, who I would later find out was, aha, in fact, a playwright. It was his first television series, and it only ran for two seasons on its original network of ABC. The way the fictional show ‘Sports Night’ had to deal with its fictional basic cable network, CSC, offered Sorkin a way to represent some of the battles the real Sports Night had with ABC. It was fascinating. Even more important to my enjoyment, though, was the warmth and familial dynamic between the characters. Priya and I watched every episode that summer.
I’ve rewatched the series a few times over the years; I have the DVDs. Sadly, Sports Night isn’t currently available on any streaming service, but I recently bought the whole thing digitally on iTunes. Josh Malina recently bought it on Amazon Prime Video. The reason why, besides being a classic that we love, is that Josh and I are starting a new project. We’re going to be watching Sports Night together, simultaneously, every Wednesday night—starting tonight—and discussing it as we watch. We’ll both be at home, but talking to each other over video chat, and we’re live-streaming our conversations for anyone who wants to join in to watch Sports Night and us. Our series is called Unnecessary Commentary, and it’s available to anyone who subscribes to our new Patreon page: patreon.com/unnecessarycommentary.
Part of the reason why Josh and I are starting this project is because we miss talking to each other. It’s been almost two years since The West Wing Weekly ended, and we wanted a new excuse to be in conversation with each other. On top of that, though the world is slowly moving forward with vaccines and boosters and safeguards for gathering, I still miss doing things with people. The idea of gathering together, albeit virtually, to all watch the same show at the same time, feels like a balm. It feels exciting. It feels like when my sister Priya and I would sit on the couch and turn on cable and wait for the next episode of Sports Night to come on.
I’m teaching a 3-part seminar over 3 weekends in December, over Zoom, on how to interview people, and turn those interviews into podcast episodes. The class can be viewed on-demand, so even if you can’t attend the classes live, you can still sign up and watch and do the homework assignments. You can sign up for the class here: “Podcasting & the Art of the Interview With Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder.”