Normally, you'd think it odd to spotlight a series that lasted four seasons in a column like 'Gone Too Soon.' But 'Soap' was a different kind of series. Like the soap operas it was mocking, it was a premise that could have gone on for years and years. In fact, there's no reason to imagine that it couldn't still be on today.
From 1977 to 1981, Susan Harris crafted what would become a timeless comedy classic for ABC. But despite high ratings throughout its run, 'Soap' would only see four seasons, abruptly ending on a slew of cliffhangers that have frustrated fans for decades.
Despite that, the stellar cast and writing have stood the test of time in a way very few television series can, even if the wardrobes haven't. 'Soap' is as relevant and hilarious today as it was more than thirty years ago now. It deserved a longer life, and both the series and its fans deserved a true ending to Harris' brilliant vision.
A lot of times, when a show that we love gets canceled way too early in its run, we like to trot out the mantra: "It was before its time." But looking at a television landscape with The Office, 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation (and that's just one night on one network), I really do think Sports Night may have been too innovative for its own good.
Creator Aaron Sorkin even wanted the sitcom to air without a laugh track, but ABC balked and there is one evident in the first season. It was dropped by the second season, but unfortunately the show was dropped as well after only 45 episodes.
Character relations were front and center, and the humor was much more subtle and dry. In 1998, comedies were still dominating the television landscape, led by traditionally formatted shows like Frasier, Friends, The Drew Carey Show and ABC's TGIF lineup. Maybe the very non-traditional Sports Night should have been an hour long, and acted more like FOX's Ally McBeal.
After the jump ... Remember this pop cultural gem (video below) that gained traction on the Net not too long ago? The sheer oddity of the clip alone forces us to ask ourselves several questions: do these people all live together? Why is Marla Gibbs dressed like an astronaut? Does Bea Arthur do everybody's shoppingl? CAN'T NELL CARTER JUST SIT DOWN AND REST HER FEET FOR A SECOND? (Seriously, give her a break!)
There was Ralph Waite, John-Boy's father from The Waltons; Robert Guillaume, the double Emmy-winning star of Benson; and even the creator of Laugh-In, George Schlatter. And the center of the whodunit was none other than an original Hitchcock blonde, Tippi Hedren, star of The Birds and Marnie.
Well, now we do. Shout! Factory has released a new 10th Anniversary set for the show, and all of the the extras that were missing in that set are here, and then some.
(S01E23) This is one of my favorite episodes of the show. It has so many great lines and exchanges that I really can't put all of them down here. It's the first season finale, and the way it ends, it almost seems like they weren't sure if the show was coming back and they wanted to end it in a very definite manner, with many plots tied up and the return of a beloved character.
Casey's son Charlie is coming to the studio, and he seems to have an odd relationship with his father. Meanwhile, Dana bought that camera she talked about endlessly in the last episode and wants to take a picture of the staff in their nice clothes to break in the camera, and Dan is still wondering if Rebecca will change her mind and come back to him.
(S01E20) While Isaac continues to recover from his stroke in the hospital, Dana is in charge, and the network execs are putting a lot of pressure on her. Meanwhile, Rebecca might want to go back to hubby Steve, which doesn't please Dan too much, and Jeremy wants to break up with Natalie, because there are way too many things happening right now, including his parents breaking up.
Oh, and there's a bomb threat called in to the building.
(S01E19) It must be hard as hell to do an episode of a show where something bad happens to one of the characters that actually happened to the actor in real life. In this episode, we find out that Isaac had a stroke after returning from a vacation. Actor Robert Guillaume had a stroke in real-life too. It's a tricky thing for a show to write in a real-life incident into a show, but because of the way this show is structured - a seamless blend of comedy and drama - it actually works.
Before they find out about Isaac, the staff is getting ready for special March Madness coverage. They're working on a Saturday, Bobbi Berstein is coming in to co-anchor (which thrills Dan, since she still thinks they slept together in Spain), and Dan is wondering why Rebecca's ex-husband Steve is in her office. On a Saturday. He thinks it's like "Eli's Coming," the classic Three Dog Night song, that something bad is about to happen. But as Casey reminds him, the song isn't about that, it's about a womanizer. No matter, Dan still thinks it's going to be a bad day.
(S01E12) Isaac knows that one day he won't be in charge at the show forever (especially after embarrassing him by supporting the college players in the last episode) , so he wants to groom Dana to take over someday. But she doesn't even want to talk about it. He wants her to come to the monthly executive meetings, but she doesn't want to. He tells her not to tell anyone what they've talked about.
She immediately tells Natalie.
Meanwhile, Dan thinks it's time to get Casey back into the dating scene.
(S01E02) No one mixes comedy and drama better than Aaron Sorkin. I don't mean in that "dramedy" kind of way (ugh, I hate that term), I mean in a natural, realistic way. You saw it all the time on The West Wing, and also on Sports Night. It's in particularly fine form in this episode, one of my favorites.
Dan is in trouble with the network for saying in an Esquire interview that marijuana should be legalized. Meanwhile, Jeremy puts together his first highlight reel, and Natalie tells Dana to show an interest in Casey now that he's divorced.
How do I know this? Because I've been watching the Benson marathon since about 10 AM, and have barely switched away from it since. I was going to pick up dry cleaning and go out for a nice lunch, maybe get some writing work done. But here it is, 5:00, and all I've done is laugh my ass off at one of my all-time favorite shows (one I haven't seen in many years). God, Kraus was funny. And Benson's insults towards her and Clayton were legendary, and... oh, crap. I need to go out for dinner tonight. Guess I'll actually need to leave the apartment...
(S01E01) Sports Night is the show that Aaron Sorkin created before The West Wing. It didn't last very long (two seasons), but it has a lot in common with The West Wing: intelligent writing, fast-paced dialogue, and a strong ensemble cast of smart, moral characters all working toward a common goal. In this case, that goal is getting out a nightly show on the CSC network. It also have several of the same behind-the-scenes people as TWW, and a few on-camera people too.
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