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Sports Night/Pilot

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Season 1, Episode 1
Airdate September 22, 1998
Production Number N-301
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Thomas Schlamme

1x02 →
The Apology
Sports NightSeason One

Pilot is the first episode of the first season of Sports Night.

The premiere episode of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night introduces us to the people in charge of a #3 rated show in the competitive field of televised sports news. Casey's despondency over his divorce threatens his position on the show, the network executives are sharpening their knives, and everyone's nerves are frayed.

Starring: Josh Charles (Dan Rydell), Peter Krause (Casey McCall), Felicity Huffman (Dana Whitaker), Joshua Malina (Jeremy Goodwin), Sabrina Lloyd (Natalie Hurley) and Robert Guillaume (Isaac Jaffe),

Guest Starring: Kayla Blake (Kim), Robert Mailhouse (J.J.), Greg Baker (Elliott), Timothy Davis-Reed (Chris), Bernard Hocke (Dave), Ron Ostrow (Will)

Co-Starring: Nina Jane Barry (Claire)


Plot Overview

Two minutes before airtime at the CSC Sports Night studio, and the place is buzzing. Host Dan Rydell is talking to his newly divorced co-host Casey McCall, encouraging him to get out of the house, but Casey points out that he's been out of his house for six months. Casey's bad mood is very noticeable to Dana Whitaker, the show's producer, and Isaac Jaffe, the executive producer.

The next day brings news of a basketball player arrested in a bar fight. Dan gives Casey some grief for sleeping in his office, while crowing about his "New York Renaissance" -- discovering the great things about living in NYC. Before the rundown meeting, Isaac warns Dana that Casey's attitude on and off the air is endangering his position on the show. Natalie has a candidate to fill an open associate producer position, a man "with a dark mystery about him."

J.J., the network executive, doesn't like that the show will devote over three minutes to Ntozake Nelson, a South African who overcame hardship to be a long-distance runner. He cites the ratings book, and the need to court teen viewers. Casey insults him and walks out. J.J. tells Dan, Dana and Isaac that the time may have come to replace Casey with another co-host, but Dan won't hear of it. Later, Dana finds Casey in private and warns him that he's endangering the show. She reminds him that she loves working on the show, and that he used to as well.

The candidate for the associate producer is Jeremy Goodwin, a hyper-knowledgeable sports geek. Natalie displays an immediate affinity for him. Despite his enthusiasm, he nearly chokes on Dana's first interview question, but recovers enough to get the job.

Preparing for this evening's show, Casey tells Dan that he's considering leaving sports broadcasting. He cites the ascendance of crime stories involving athletes taking the place of sports news, and the lack of role models for his 7-year-old son. But Dan sees through that, and cites Casey's increasing despondence over his divorce from an "angry, punishing woman." He tells that Casey that all his friends on the Sports Night crew have been doing their best to compensate for his lack of caring, and he resents Casey's lack of gratitude.

Their argument is interrupted by sports news: The entire crew is watching Ntozake Nelson as he breaks the world record for long-distance running. Casey calls his wife and gets his son on the phone, eager to point him to a real role model in sports. That night, he returns to the show with a renewed vigor and good humor. During a break, he apologizes to Dana, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.


Arc Advancement


  • J.J.'s concern over ratings will become a recurring problem, as CSC's sports programming is usually ranked third in New York against the larger networks.


  • Jeremy Goodwin is hired as an associate producer, and Natalie's affection for him is immediately apparent.
  • We have hints that in the past, Casey has not had much faith in Dana's ability to produce the show. This episode, he seems to change his mind on that issue.



The Show

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

  • O.J. Simpson Trial: Casey refers to "the mother of all great sports stories, a double homicide in Brentwood." He is referring to the death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which former pro football star O.J. Simpson was tried and acquitted.

Memorable Moments

  • Jeremy "wigging out" at his interview
  • Casey holds back tears when he tells his son he loves him


  • Isaac: Is he in a better mood then he was this morning, or is this gonna be another crappy show?
    Dana: (into the control room mic) Hey Casey, Isaac wants to know if you're in a better mood--
    Casey: Shut up.
    Dana: Pretty crappy, yeah.
  • (Dan has spotted an error in the script right before they go live.)
    Dan: Helsinki's in Finland.
    Dana: Really?
    Dan: Yeah, don't worry, I got it.
    Dana: Are you sure?
    Dan: Am I sure that Helsinki's in Finland? Yeah, I'm quite sure.
  • Natalie: Which is it? Sweden or Switzerland?
    Casey: It's in FINLAND!
    Natalie: Elliott, get something up on the Net.
    Elliott: What do you need?
    Natalie: We think Helsinki might be in Finland.
    Dan: Yeah, we think there's a pretty good chance.
  • (At a pre-show rundown meeting.)
    Natalie: Ntozake Nelson is a South African distance runner. 15000 meters. As a schoolteacher in Jamestown, he led protests against the white majority.
    J.J.: That's swell, but folks, I have a--
    Natalie: Hey! He was beaten up and thrown in jail, his legs were broken and the doctors said he'd never walk without a cane. He's 41 years old, and guess what he's doing tonight?
    J.J.: It doesn't matter, because I've already changed the channel.
  • Isaac: It's your call, Dana. But pretty soon it's gonna be my call. 'Cause here's the thing: I can't let it be their call.
  • Dana: (to Casey) I love producing Sports Night. I live from eleven to midnight, and the rush is so huge, I don't come down until three o'clock in the morning. I love doing Sports Night, and you used to too.
  • Dana: What are your favorite sports?
    Jeremy: Beg your pardon?
    Dana: Where are you strongest?
    Jeremy: Oh, football.
    Dana: Great, let's talk about basketball.
  • Dana: Name three things the Knicks need to do this season to make it to the finals.
    Jeremy: Um, I couldn't get another question?
    Dana: You will, but not until I hear an answer to the first one.
  • Jeremy: (near hysterics) Ms. Whitaker, I would be great at this job. You gotta believe me when I tell you I've been training my whole life for it. I've crunched stats, I've broken down film, and there wasn't a team in my high school that didn't have me for an equipment manager. I have read every box score in every newspaper that's printed in English and has a sports section, and I have seen Sports Night every night since your first broadcast - two years, two months and a week ago today! Now yes, sure, indeed, I can tell you what Ewing and Oakley are shooting from the field, and that you're not going to stop John Starks if he squares up to the basket, and put any defensive pressure on Charlie Ward, he's gonna fold like a cheap card table. But if you're asking me for genuinely sophisticated analysis - AND I SENSE THAT YOU ARE - you gotta give me some time! At least twenty minutes!
  • Dana: If you wanna work here, you gotta not spontaneously wig out.
    Natalie: Not 'til an hour before airtime.
  • Casey: (calling his young son late at night) Charlie? It's Dad. Did you finish all your homework? Good. Turn on your TV. Turn to my channel, I want you to watch this. This guy's name is Ntozake Nelson. Now look, I'll call you tomorrow and I'll tell you all about it, but for now you just watch him run. He's not doing much, he's just running faster then any man has ever run before.
  • Casey: It's not that my teasers are better than yours Danny, it's just that yours are vastly inferior to mine.
  • Casey: Wanna do something tonight after the show?
    Dan: Yeah, y'know, I was gonna ride the Staten Island Ferry for a while and eat a hot dog, you wanna come?
    Casey: Yeah, absolutely, and I'll tell you why: because it's 17 degrees outside with the wind chill, so what I wanna do is stand on a boat in the middle of New York Harbor at half-past midnight.
    Dan: You have a better idea?
    Casey: Well, we could go to a bar, find some people we don't like and beat the crap out of them.
    They high-five.