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01/28/2003 Archived Entry: "A Sporting Chance"
Posted by CKL @ 02:19 PM PST

My girlfriend gave me the Sports Night DVD box set as a Christmas present, and we watched the pilot episode last night. I noticed several things that I had forgotten about the show. The most heartbreaking was the opening shot, which had been missing from the syndicated reruns: the World Trade Center towers glittering in the night.

Sports Night is set in the studios of a fictional cable television network, CSC, presumably located in the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (I don't think this is ever actually mentioned in the show, but let's run with it for now.) And presumably, Comedy Central cut out that opening shot after September 11, 2001. I don't blame them for doing it. The show only ran for two seasons, from 1998 to 2000, and it would be pretty depressing to think, while watching the reruns, that those characters had perished later, when the towers collapsed.

There's a lot of fan fiction ("fanfic") out there based on various television shows. The first known examples-- at least, the first that anybody references these days-- were based on the original Star Trek series, which was cancelled after only three seasons. Not surprisingly, Trek fans were crazy and diligent enough to produce their own "episodes" for years after that.

And then there was "slash." As in "Kirk/Uhura," "Kirk/Spock," "Kirk/Mary Sue..." you get the idea. People wrote their own erotic fiction using familiar characters, putting them into situations which would be unthinkable on the actual show and which usually involved "mature content." Curiously enough, research has shown that most slash writers are women, and they usually write slash about two male characters exploring their latent homosexuality.

My point is, I know there's Sports Night fanfic on the Internet, but I'm not interested, because most of it's going to be about Dan and Casey sleeping with each other, and besides being totally untrue to the characters, that's just weird. And I'm pretty sure the one fanfic I'd like to read doesn't exist, because fanfic writers, as a rule, are less interested in story than in playing with characters like puppets for their own amusement. While I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, most fanfic has nothing to say.

So here's the Sports Night fanfic-- no, let's call it the lost episode, the one that Aaron Sorkin never wrote-- that I'd like to read. It's the September 11th episode, which I'm sure he would have done if the show had still been on the air. He did one for The West Wing, and Sports Night is set in Manhattan. In the World Trade Center.

It wouldn't be a flashback episode. That would be too easy, too simple a tearjerker: look how happy we were before! No, I think Sorkin's smarter than that. It would be a "bottle show," just like the 9/11 episode of West Wing-- set in a single room, or at least only on the standing sets for the show. No location shooting. Just talking.

I imagine it's in a coffee shop near the WTC. Maybe next to Battery Park. It's just after noon on September 11, 2001. The towers have collapsed, but there's still dust in the air. The Sports Night staff began evacuating right after the first plane hit the north tower. They think everybody got out, but they've been separated. Only a few of them made it to this coffee shop. Isaac, Casey, Jeremy, Natalie, some of the tech crew. Dan, Dana, and the rest are somewhere else. Nobody wants to say "missing."

This is Casey's story. His show, and the network which aired it, had been in danger of folding just last year. And then a stranger in a bar told Dana about coaxial cable, and CSC was bought by a holding company named Quo Vadimus. The network and the show were both saved. Jeremy and Natalie got back together. Isaac had recovered from his stroke. Things were looking up.

That was last year. That was this morning. And now, less than four hours later, the Sports Nights studio is part of a pile of rubble in lower Manhattan, and the two most important people in Casey's life-- Dan and Dana-- are missing. But nobody wants to say "missing." They say, "They're not here," or "They're somewhere else," or "I don't know."

It's all about the words, of course. That's why I love Aaron Sorkin. It's all about the dialogue.

Eventually, Casey blows up and says it: "They're missing!" That sets people off. Jeremy rants about Islam and how Arabs hate Jews, until Isaac delivers a disarming insight on race relations drawn from his rich life experience. The techies, still in shock, supply infrequent commentary on the sporadic news coverage coming from the television. The TV breaks; they try to fix it. Comic relief.

Emergency workers show up looking for water. The teenage kid behind the counter insists on charging them full price for the bottled water-- over $100. Casey watches the conversation, then finally loses it when the rescue workers can't come up with the cash. (Phones are down; credit card authorizations won't go through.) He goes ballistic on the kid and nearly punches him until he realizes how scared and confused the kid is. He doesn't know what to do. He's just a kid. All he knows is what the manager tells him.

Casey pays for the bottled water and helps the workers carry it out. The TV's back on. People are talking. Natalie confesses to Jeremy that she's scared of what's happened, and what might happen next, but she's more scared of how much he hates the Palestinians, and she can't understand any of it. Dialogue ensues. People are trying to use their cell phones, with varying degrees of success.

Natalie's phone rings. It's Dana's number, but it gets disconnected. Casey returns, grabs the phone, tries to call Dana. Nothing. He wants to go out and look for them. Others remind him that they agreed to meet here, everyone knows where this place is, what if they come back while he's gone? As if to support their argument, another one of the techies-- maybe Will-- arrives, bloodied, dusty, limping, barely coherent.

Important note here: this isn't ER or Third Watch. No spurting blood, no camera flying around as a screaming victim gets pulled out of an ambulance. The show isn't about physical injury or damage. It's not about the pain. It's about how we deal with the pain. It's about how much we want to say, and how little we are able to say.

Someone will, of course, make a joke at some point about how similar the names "Dan" and "Dana" are. It will snowball into something ridiculous, possibly involving sex-change operations or maybe just wigs, and people will laugh themselves silly.

Everyone in the coffee shop watches President Bush on TV, speaking from Barksdale AFB, explaining how security measures are being taken and trying to articulate what nobody can. The phrase "cowardly acts" sparks some discussion.

The show ends with no sign of Dan or Dana.

That's an episode I'd like to see.

Replies: 3 comments

I really liked your plot outline -- I think it's very close to what Sorkin would've written for the show had it still been on.

I recently borrowed the boxed set from a friend, and one thing that blew me away was some of the dialogue from the episode in which the building received a bomb threat. "Someone just tried to blow this building up!" "No, I have a fear of dying in a hail of shrapnel." Etc.

Posted by Mike Harris @ 11/01/2003 10:36 PM PST

I don't know - I think you're being a bit harsh about slash. This is not to say that I think you should rush out and read it because OMG it is just the best thing ever! If you're not interested, you're not interested. However, I have read some amazing stories with great characterisation, and an interesting plot, and hilarious dialogue. I think that saying that *most* fanfic has nothing to say is incorrect. (Admittedly (and sadly) it is not *entirely* untrue.)

Posted by Dzurlady @ 09/05/2004 12:29 AM PST

Posted by @ 00/00/ 00:00 PST

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