|and the crowd goes wild
1. The Pilot
Even after the divorce, which was not entirely any one person's fault, Lisa manages to retain at least a little remote fondness for Casey. Not much, but some.
When he calls, wakes her from her doze on the couch, makes her get Charlie out of bed for another sporting event she doesn't understand, doesn't want to understand, his voice reminds her of when they were first dating.
She hears pure, unadulterated joy, and Lisa thinks that he's lucky to find that in today's cynical world. Thinks briefly that she's lucky to still hear it after everything she put him through.
2. The Apology
Casey knows good writing when he sees it; he knows good writers when he reads them. Not that he wants to sound full of himself, but he's a good writer, and he's always considered himself a good writer, sometimes even a great writer. He's always been confident about what makes a great writer.
Danny is a great writer, hands down, no questions.
Casey knows Danny's a great writer because when he puts the script down, everything he says still sings. Sometimes it's nonsense, but it's always magnificent nonsense.
Good writers can find the words even when there is no script.
3. The Hungry and the Hunted
It's Jeremy's appeal - the neuroses, the burning curiosity, the awkward, geeky persona that he wears over his competence.
Natalie knew Dana would hire him from the moment she first met him - she didn't know if Jeremy would succeed at the job, and she was unwilling to commit to emotions for a man who might not stick around.
When he comes back, flustered and flushed and proud underneath the outward rage and frustration, Natalie decides that she'll keep him, whether he wants her to or not.
She can hunt just as well as he can't; he's the prey, and she'll win.
4. Intellectual Property
Dan makes an attempt, after Mallory tells him that his singing to Casey has cost the show 2500 dollars, to write something appropriate and original for Casey's birthday, something that won't suck or cost them money.
The trouble is, he can't. It's all - swoony love poetry, or so stoic that even Casey would laugh at it. He ends up in their office, surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper.
"What's this?" Casey says.
"A failed attempt at wooing you."
"Why didn't you say so?" Casey says, and kisses him.
Kissing Casey is better than that stupid song, a hundred times over.
5. Mary Pat Shelby
They all know there's a seedy side to sports. They witness it, they write about it, they talk about it on their show. Everyone in the Sports Night office knows, and if they don't know - well, Dana thinks, they should get out of the business.
But it's a different thing when the seedy side of sports affects not the show, but their lives.
Dana's angry not because it's offensive, but because it's Natalie. Somehow, somewhere along the way of climbing the corporate sports ladder, Dana forgot that just because you report on it, doesn't mean it can't happen to you.
6. The Head Coach, Dinner and The Morning Mail
There are three immovable forces in Casey's daily life, three more in his general sphere of existence. The first three are Dan, Dana and Lisa, much as he hates to admit it. The latter are George Steinbrenner, the United States Postal System, and the weather.
You can't stop the mail, he tells Jeremy, but he's envious, too - that Jeremy cares enough for Natalie to try.
He wouldn't have tried to stop the mail for Lisa; this realization makes him just a little depressed.
He would for Danny, though. Without a second thought, he'd take on George Steinbrenner for Dan Rydell.
7. Dear Louise
Jeremy is not a writer. Dan and Casey are writers. But not Jeremy, despite his frequent letters to Louise. Events slip through his fingers, no matter how carefully, thoroughly he tries to record them.
He knows that memory will fail him in his later years, as it fails everyone. (And, on some days even now, it fails Dana.) He doesn't want it to, but he accepts it as an inevitability.
He writes to Louise to help him remember. His words aren't polished, but they will help him recall the way Natalie felt in his arms that night - like the future.
Elliot has no living idea why Dana has put a turkey in the lighting grid in the studio. Well - that's not entirely true, he's heard her explanation so he knows, technically, why her turkey is thawing in his lighting grid.
And he knows, technically, that Dana is totally insane. A straight line should connect these two things, the turkey and the insanity, but it's Dana, so there is no line that he can see.
After the turkey drops tremendously onto the anchor desk, he leaves his mother's recipe for stuffing in the booth.
Dana brings him leftovers the next day.
9. The Quality of Mercy at 29K
Dan is a soft touch. He knows he is; the letters from everyone who wants his money overwhelm him, and his mother would say his concern is touching, while Casey just tries not to snicker in front of his face about the whole thing.
Natalie's voice softens when she turns back and says, "AIDS," though, and Dan thinks that he might be overwhelmed, but he remembers Natalie, and the man who shared Dan's sandwich even though he needed it more than Dan or Casey.
Maybe he's a soft touch, but it keeps him from getting cynical in a cold world.
10. Shoe Money Tonight
Dana has no poker face. Isaac has no problem with cheating. Natalie, despite her protestations, isn't quite sure how to play. Danny is out of the zone and into the secret stash of beer they hide behind the leftovers in their refrigerator. Kim would rather play strip poker. So would Elliott, at least if Kim is losing. Jeremy is the big winner on the evening.
And Casey wonders why ESPN thinks that poker is a game that can be accurately called a sport, and he tries not to think about Gordon or Dana or Lisa at all.
It almost works.
11. The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee
Luther is kinder than Isaac expects. When it is all over, his crew and his anchors have gone home, Isaac turns out the lights in his own office and pours himself a drink and watches the skyline.
Every time he wins a battle - and he considers this a victory, reprimand and all - he wonders if this is the one that will cause him to lose the war. He'll cross a line someday and Luther will not be so kind.
But he balances it by righting wrongs, and in the end, that is all he can do.
Play of the year.
It's a good word. Smoky.
Natalie says it makes her sound like beef, but Dana knows better. It's smoky like a jazz singer in a tiny night club in the Village; like the sound of someone's voice when they want you.
It isn't the sort of word she wants to hear from Casey, necessarily - it's unexpected, and she has enough trouble staying on her feet without him unbalancing her with language.
But it's a warm word, and the way that he says that she's smoky, well, it heats the pit of her stomach in a way that is not unwelcome.
13. Small Town
She isn't allergic to twists of lemon in martinis, but she's nervous. You'd think that working in sports, she'd be able to keep her cool a little more than she can, but she can't, and she knows it.
Every word that comes out of her mouth during dinner is ridiculous, pointless or cruel, and she can see it and hear it but somehow she can't stop it.
When did I become that girl, she wants to ask, but Gordon's disgusted and Casey's a wreck. So she doesn't say anything at all and she goes slowly crazy inside her own thoughts.
So Casey didn't see the trouble with Lisa coming - that doesn't mean that he can't see the trouble with Rebecca coming a mile away. Danny's oblivious and he doesn't want to hear it from Casey, anyway, because he kept his mouth shut about Lisa for years.
But Casey knows Rebecca's going to do nothing but break Danny's heart a couple of times, and Casey's watched that happen before.
He can't decide what's worse: Rebecca, or watching Danny fall away from him again.
He can't decide what bothers him more: Rebecca, or being in love with Danny and watching him hurt.
15. Dana and the Deep Blue Sea
So she's neurotic. It's her mother's fault, Dana is sure, because her mother second-guessed everything Dana ever wanted to do - from playing tackle football with Kyle and his friends in high school, which, she will admit, was a bad idea both at the time and in hindsight, to going into sports professionally - but that doesn't mean that it's not Dana's problem now.
Her mother started it, but Dana's carried it on, and she can't help it that fish scare her.
She just wishes she could turn it off sometimes, you know? Being neurotic stopped being attractive a long time ago.
Hate is a strong word. If Sally was shorter, uglier, less good at what she does, Dan might like her more. Not hate her less, he doesn't hate her - it's just that he doesn't like her, he doesn't respect her, and even if she has to be in his studio, she doesn't have to be in his life.
There's a big difference between tolerating her in the control room and watching her wreak havoc with the entire Sports Night staff, is all.
How goes Casey, so goes the show, and Casey's going Sally and it's all a big fucking mess.
17. How Are Things In Glocca Morra
If you want to be pedantic about it, sports are an extended metaphor for life. Especially when you work on a sports show, and Pete Sampras can't get rid of this kid Fedrigatti, and they're all just sitting, waiting.
It's all about watching the clock run down and the innings run out, and watching a tennis match with no end in sight and a broadcast to make, Natalie feels the press of having everything on hold - she's waiting, even if she's not sure what she's waiting for, and she hates that her job reminds her of that, every single day.
18. The Sword of Orion
Dan knows she's faking it. She doesn't really care about Orlando Rojas or spring training, but she can make a joke about it and he thinks that maybe he's got a chance.
So sports are tied up with her ex-husband - he can change that. Never mind that he's never changed for a woman in his whole life, never changed for anyone except for maybe Casey. Maybe in the end, he can change Rebecca. Hold up Orlando Rojas and say, See? Sports aren't so bad.
If millions of Red Sox fans can dream of a World Series, then Dan can hope.
19. Eli's Coming
Time stops when Kim takes the phone call, the way time stops when an eighteen year old college football gets hit too hard and doesn't get up from the field as fast as he should.
The phone rings. Isaac's had a stroke. Time grinds to a halt and the rest of them find out in a vacuum, where every clock has stopped and every action is trivialized compared to this.
Dan sets his mouth and keeps talking. Casey's eyes say everything. Dana sags against the control room wall.
Kim hates that she is the one who has to stop time.
20. Ordinance Tactics
Jeremy doesn't want to break up with Natalie; he just needs to breathe for a while. A week. Two at most. She doesn't understand that he wants this so he will not fall apart while she's watching. Because even after this time they're been together, Jeremy is not so big on trusting her, and at this exact moment, he is not big on trusting anyone, ever.
He doesn't want to hurt her later, so he tries not to hurt her now.
It backfires. She just looks at him with eyes that don't trust him any more than he trusts anyone.
21. Ten Wickets
Whatever hackneyed metaphor you use - bell, buzzer, or desperate ninth inning rally - the end result is that the game doesn't end ‘til time runs out.
Casey believes he's lost, even when Natalie assures him he hasn't. He should leave well enough alone, and if Dana wants to go to her doom with Gordon - well, she didn't stop him from marrying Lisa, did she?
But he loves Dana more than that, and Danny looks at him over a bottle of wine with an expression that says be happy, if I can't. Casey hasn't heard the bell, and he isn't quitting now.
22. Napoleon's Battle Plan
The only thing that keeps Dan and Casey together is the fact that they're both absolutely terrible with women.
Mostly, Casey says "together" and means "working together peaceably", but after Dan makes a mess of everything, Casey stops and thinks about what together really means, here.
It means that Danny wants him to be happy, and even if he's not the best at cunning plans, Danny tries to make Casey happy - more than any woman has ever done for Casey.
He doesn't decide to swear off women and proclaim his love to Danny, but - well, he rethinks what together means.
23. What Kind Of Day Has It Been
Dana goes noisily crazy and the rest of them try to hold it together the best they can. With the network breathing down their neck and the one person who's still nominally in charge falling apart, the ones who pick up the slack aren't Dan or Casey or Natalie.
It's Chris, in the control room, making sure that everything runs correctly. It's Kim, making sure the phone calls get returned, and Elliott, making sure that Dana remembers to eat.
It's the minor players, filling in for the starters without complaint, just until Isaac comes back.
It's just what they do.
24. Special Powers
He should have married Dana to begin with. Lisa was just a long mistake, and while he wishes her nothing but the best, he'd like to forget all about it most mornings.
Seeing Dana doesn't help. He won Dana in the divorce, even though she was Lisa's friend first, and he got to keep Danny because Lisa wasn't around to hate him anymore. But Dana reminds him that he married her best friend and look how that turned out.
He can't shake the feeling that this won't end well, either, but he doesn't see how anything else would end better.
25. When Something Wicked This Way Comes
"It's a lousy idea," Dan tells him.
"The dating plan?"
"Yes," Dan agrees.
And it is. It's a terrible idea, but Casey is just so sure that Dana will fix everything that other women have broken in him, so sure she is the answer to all his problems, that he is willing to try. When you have the answer within your sights, the word on the tip of your tongue, you do what it takes to remember the phrase or pin down the language.
If this is what it takes to pin Dana down, Casey will give it a shot.
26. Cliff Gardner
It is clear from the moment Sam walks through the door that he's good at what he does and he's going to kick Dana's ass all over the place.
Dan and Casey think this is fantastic. They've been in TV long enough to know they need him. Plus Dan enjoys watching Dana get her ass kicked, and Casey thinks that it's a nice distraction from the dating plan, and the whole thing is for the best if not the easiest.
They don't expect to like him. When he throws J.J. out on his ass, they find grudgingly that they do.
27. Louise Revisited
Dan believes that he doesn't need reassurance that he is cooler than Casey. Not from a stupid internet poll, anyway. Maybe from Dana, except she's too crazy to have any idea, or from Natalie, who actually knows what cool is.
What he'd like from Casey is for him to leave the question alone for a while. It's one of Dan's few comforts; Casey is better looking, more talented - he can't let Danny just be the cool one.
He'd like a little reassurance from Casey that he's still the one Casey likes best, too.
But that's apparently not in the cards.
He doesn't want to date a shrink any more than he wants to see a shrink, but if he was dating Abby, at least he could have her advice for free.
And maybe he's falling apart a little, but he's fallen apart worse than this before and he's kept standing, so he doesn't really see what the big deal is here, but she's the professional and she's the insistent one.
She doesn't say, "Danny, you're nice but you're crazy," because that's too blunt.
But the implication is there, and when someone else points it out, he starts to maybe understand.
There's no such thing as a tarnished hero. There are heroes, and there are first-class jerks.
Shane McArnold turns out to be a first-class jerk. The whole thing makes Casey want to put his head in his hands and quit sports for good.
You build a reputation on something being a certainty, people being genuinely good at heart, and it all falls apart because people aren't good - people are selfish, and athletes are doubly so.
Casey doesn't have heroes anymore. He's just got a job to do.
It's still a surprise that heroes can break your heart at any age.
30. Kyle Whitaker's Got Two Sacks
They took care of her when she was younger, is the thing. Kyle was the one who went to bat against her mother: "If I can play professional football, Dana can work in sports."
When you're the only girl in a family of boys, you expect them to look out for you. Dana's brothers did.
This is where she should be looking out for Kyle. This is where she should have been looking out for Kyle. She wasn't paying attention to anything but the good, and the bad stuff has a way of screwing up your life without you noticing.
31. The Reunion
There are no easy answers, and Kyle Whitaker knows that. There are no easy answers when your older sister produces a television show that has every right to put your mistakes in every home in the country that cares about these things.
There are easy decisions, easy mistakes, but the answers are hard.
He's spent his life making sure no one hurt Dana. With one stupid decision that seemed easy at the time, he's negated a lifetime of protection and affection.
She still loves him, but she can't go to bat for him this time.
He doesn't expect her to.
32. A Girl Named Pixley
Dan has a list of girls with stupid names that Casey has dated. Lisa is first, and Pixley is last. He keeps folded up in a pocket of his winter coat and he looks at it occasionally.
It's a long tribute to every mistake Casey's made in his life, starting with his ex-wife and continuing all the way through Dana's ridiculous dating plan.
It reminds Danny that Casey's really just a mess, and he doesn't want to be in love with him.
It reminds Danny that none of the girls with stupid names take care of Casey like he does.
33. The Giants Win The Pennant
There are more disappointing moments than there are triumphant ones; this is a fact of life as well as professional sports. It's been almost fifty years, but Dan can see it in Isaac's face when he asks the wrong question about the wrong triumph.
When you were almost there to witness history, but instead it slipped through your fingers.
Dan makes a habit of using the bathroom in the eighth inning, not the ninth; he suffers hunger through the third period of hockey games and the final seconds of basketball games.
When greatness happens, he isn't going to miss it.
34. The Cut Man Cometh
On the big nights, everything goes wrong.
It always does.
Dana can't keep Casey from needling Chuck Kimmel on air, keep Danny from collapsing in on himself and run the show at the same time. Casey won't stop taking the piss out of Kimmel long enough to take of Danny like he usually does, and if Kimmel would just stop being such a fucking drunk, she thinks, none of this would have happened.
But it happens, and if Casey can't see that Danny's spiraling downwards again, it isn't Dana's job to remind him.
She'll just try to weather the fall.
35. The Sweet Smell Of Air
Sam is getting the idea that people care what he thinks, which is completely untrue.
But there's a woman too tall for heels in his office, angling for Dana's job. There's Dana, wringing her hands and throwing the show into confusion every time he inhales, and there's Dan and Casey who mostly ignore him, except when they're eyeing him with something between respect, fear and amusement.
He doesn't care about the drama or the politics or even, frankly, the sports. He cares about who's watching, and if Dana freaking out and Casey sleeping with giantesses helps ratings, well.
36. Dana Get Your Gun
Jeremy believes that there's a brief second in which you can actually take back the horrible things that you've said, before the person you've said them to can actually hear them.
It isn't true, and he knows this, rationally, but it's what he thinks every time he snipes at Natalie about the stupid club and being stupidly cool. I shouldn't have said it, even if I meant it.
She acts angry, but he knows better than that - like Dana, she covers the hurt with vitriol
And when she asks if they're done, he'd like another chance to not say "yes".
37. And The Crowd Goes Wild
There's a fine line between doing your job well and investing yourself in your job. When Natalie collapses in tears against Isaac, he thinks that perhaps they have all been doing that too often, investing themselves too fully.
It's reels of tape, and they should mean nothing to any of them. All the same, he knows how Natalie feels. It's something you've put yourself into; it's something you've made important.
When there's nothing left to hang onto, that's what you hang onto. Work can be a life raft in a world that doesn't make sense even on its best days.
Influential isn't the same as cool. Or the same as smart, talented, funny, good-looking, or nice to women. Influential means that people remember Casey's name more than they remember his, and that's okay.
If he just keeps telling himself that, maybe the knot in the pit of his stomach will undo itself. The list doesn't take away from the other things that Danny is.
Still, it'd be nice to see a list of the 100 funniest people in sports one day, or the 100 people in sports most likely to be nice to women. He'd make those lists, he's sure.
39. The Local Weather
Other time zones matter. Hard luck stories on the other side of the world can stomp on your heart like any in New York actually do.
Abby knows that Dan cares far more about sports than she does - he cares at all, and she doesn't care a lick. But he stands in her office door, looking as though something's chewed him up and spit him out, and it has to be the job.
It has to be the way things end in sports.
She can't imagine taking a job that much to heart, but it explains so much about Dan.
40. Draft Day, Part One (It Can't Rain At Indian Wells)
And he honestly likes Jenny. Not even because she's not Natalie. But he worries about her job, and how to explain it, and how to introduce her to people who are theoretically his friends but who in actuality are more interested in what she does than who she is.
That isn't Jenny's fault, but it isn't his fault, either.
He isn't dating her for any reason that has to do with Natalie. He finds himself worrying more about what Natalie will think about her, though, than what Jenny will think of his friends, and that's worrisome in and of itself.
41. Draft Day, Part Two (The Fall Of Ryan O'Brien)
This is what the fall feels like.
Danny knows it well; he knows how Ryan O'Brien has to feel, expectations and dreams burning away one piece at a time, and he knows what hitting bottom feels like, too.
After all these years, he should recognize it in himself, if not others. He understands the free-fall that spirals out below him, and he cannot stop it.
He is a professional, and when he starts to talk on the air, it's like a dream. He can see himself and he cannot stop what happens.
The fall is worse than hitting the bottom.
42. April Is The Cruelest Month
Later Dana thinks that it was all right before her eyes; cutting costs obviously means turning the show into something sellable. But it was more personal than the show in general when there was a chance that it would be Natalie specifically.
Cutting personnel isn't simply a fire sale when it's her second in command, when it's Dana's friend on the line. Then it starts to hit close to the heart, and it clouds her vision more than it should.
She could have seen the signs. She could have used the extra prep time when the final axe dropped down.
43. Bells And A Siren
Dan is not seeing the point of driving to New Jersey when Casey and Jeremy are hunched over their computers, trying to comprehend the rumors that are trickling into the news room.
All he's ever wanted to do was talk about sports on TV with Casey sitting next to him, and if Jeremy's doom-and-gloom predictions are right, one or maybe all of those things are going to change.
So, really, he wants to say to Catherine. What's the point, because publicity for someone who might shortly be out of a job seems vaguely ridiculous?
It's not such an unreasonable question.
44. La Forza Del Destino
"You can't know everything," Dana says.
"I know enough," her stranger tells her.
"You don't know me," she says.
"Someday I might," he says.
"What's your name?" she says.
"Not important," he says. "Who do you want me to be?"
A savior, Dana thinks. Someone with the spare change to buy my station and save my show.
"Want to buy a TV station?" she says.
"I'm not in the market at the moment," he says.
"It's going cheap," she says.
"Make me an offer I can't refuse," he says.
"You can work with me," as though that was answer enough.
45. Quo Vadimus
Anyone who can't make money off of Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.
It's sound advice, Dana thinks. Sound advice from a stranger who just saved more than her career and her family, and the thought of it makes her want to dance.
The show sings that night, because they know they have a reprieve, saved from death row by a last-minute pardon. Dan and Casey are brilliant, funny and smart and better than they've ever been, and for a clean, clear moment, Dana sees exactly how you make money on Sports Night.
It's a beautiful moment.
Author's notes: I like to think of this as my epic love letter to the Sports Night fandom. This is 45 100 word drabbles, one drabble for each episode of Sports Night that aired. It's for Steph and Ivy specially, and every single one of you who have squeed and cried and laughed with me over this show generally. Thanks for rocking. ♥
The inspiration for this project was Annie SJ and Circe Tigana's Mood Rings, and Dorrie and Jacito's Waiting and Every-Flavor Mood Beans. Extra-special thanks go to Television Without Pity and their recaps, which saved my detail-oriented butt more than once. Every drabble exists in its own universe; there's no chronology for them beyond the events of the show. I wrote "What Kind Of Day Has It Been" first, "Quo Vadimus" somewhere in the middle, "Ten Wickets" last, and if you want to know the truth, "Thespis" is my favorite. Tip your waitresses, ask if you want to archive, and thanks for reading.