Sports Night/The Quality of Mercy at 29K

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The Quality of Mercy at 29K
Season 1, Episode 9
Airdate December 1, 1998
Production Number N-308
Written by Bill Wrubel
and Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
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Sports NightSeason One

The Quality of Mercy at 29K is the ninth episode of the first season of Sports Night.

While the CSC network watches a man grapple with the elements in Nepal, Dan grapples with altruism and guilt over charities. Natalie and Jeremy officially become a couple, and Dana becomes a theater lover.

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), Greg Baker (Elliott), Felton Perry (Man)

Co-Starring: Jeff Mooring (Dave), Timothy Davis-Reed (Chris), Ron Ostrow (Will), James Edson (Mike), Tawny Moyer (Libby)


Plot Overview

Tomorrow night, the Sports Night crew will be staying awake longer to show live footage of Desmond Corey's ascent up Mount Everest. Jeremy is especially excited, reciting statistics and crowing about "the spirit of the hill." There is noticeable flirting between him and Natalie.

The next morning, Dan enters the office with a sheaf of letters from various charities asking for donations. It saddens him that he can't give money to them all. He worries that he "talks a good game" but can't alleviate any real needs. Casey advises him to pick a random organization and write them a check, but Dan wants to consider further.

At a rundown meeting, Natalie reads a note from building security, warning that local homeless have been seeking shelter from the NYC winter by hiding in the lobby. As they discuss the Corey expedition, Casey takes some good-natured insults when he equates his climbing experience at the gym with the ascent of Everest. Casey claims to know "the spirit of the hill," but disappoints Jeremy when he can't adequately explain it to his colleagues.

Dana is careful to fully explain the day's schedule, because she will be absent for several hours escorting her young neice to a matinee of The Lion King on Broadway. In conversation with Isaac, Dana remarks that she finds musicals boring - too many hoedowns - and Isaac urges her to experience life outside the studio walls. Dana is so ignorant of culture in the city that she didn't even attempt to book tickets for the show until today. When she learns that the show is sold-out, Isaac bails her out by presenting her with tickets he wisely bought ahead of time.

Later that night, Casey and Dan feel hunger pangs when street-level maintenance prevents their favorite eateries from delivering. When Dan asks Natalie what she does with her disposable income, she reveals that she donates to AIDS charities when she can. Dan likes the idea, but worries that breast cancer and heart disease are bigger threats. Natalie advises him to put aside his doubts and "get in the game."

In editing, Jeremy and Casey talk about the dangers of high-altitude climbing. Jeremy admits that if he could get into shape, he might attempt such a climb since he has nothing really important in his life. Natalie enters, and she and Jeremy discuss the pros and cons of an office romance for about ten seconds, until they start kissing.

Dan asks Isaac about his charitable donations. Isaac used to make political donations, but now he gives out of his pocket directly to the needy on the city streets. He reasons that since most of them are beyond real help, the best he can do is help them make it through one more day. Their conversation is interrupted when Dana returns, overjoyed by the power of the theater experience. She thanks Isaac profusely for his gift, then runs into the office area to explain to Casey how the music and song stirred her emotions. Casey is more concerned with the total lack of available food.

After the regular evening show, Jeremy explains to Casey about the Sherpa's religious ceremonies, where they ask the gods for permission to ascend so close. Casey wonders whether it's useful for explorers to continue pushing the limits, but a lovestruck Jeremy has nothing but praise for human ambition.

Later that night, the studio waits nervously as they follow the expedition on the air via satellite. During a commercial break, Dan and Casey whine some more about their hunger. Casey gives his opinion about charity, that even though Dan can't solve the world's problems - or any one person's problems - he should still do whatever he can.

Suddenly, Dan recalls a half-sandwich in their office and runs to fetch it. He is startled by the presence of a homeless man in their office, standing silently in a corner attempting to warm himself. Instead of calling security, Dan hesitantly offers him the sandwich as he sits down in the office to watch Corey complete his ascent.

Dan is startled when the man brandishes a switchblade, but he only uses it to cut the sandwich and offer him half. Dan humbly thanks his guest, and the two men sit down together as, half a world away, another man reaches the highest peak in the world.


  • Dana compares her awestruck experience in the theater to being in church. Interestingly, she will be just as surprised in a Season Two episode, where she ducks into a church to avoid the rain.

Arc Advancement


  • Natalie and Jeremy officially begin their workplace romance.


  • Dana discovers an unexpected love for the theater.



The Show

  • The music playing at fade-out is "The Weight" by The Band.
  • After seeing The Lion King on Broadway, Dana describes to Isaac and Dan the actor at the beginning of the play who summons the other animals. This is the Rafiki character, and Robert Guillaume (who plays Isaac) was the voice of Rafiki in The Lion King animated films.
  • Isaac mentions that he lives in New Canaan, Connecticut - a very affluent neighborhood.
  • In Isaac's words, the building that houses the Sports Night studio (and the rest of CSC's offices) is "a fifty-four story glass high-rise."
  • The phrase "the quality of mercy" comes from the Shakespeare play "The Merchant of Venice" Act IV, Scene I.

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

  • Dan describes himself as being in "Dickensian London", a reference to Charles Dickens, who often wrote about the struggles of the poor in Nineteenth Century London.
  • Jeremy refers to George Mallory and Edmund Hillary, two climbers who each ascended to the top of Mount Everest. He also refers to explorers Magellan and Balboa.

Memorable Moments

  • Casey tries (and fails) to explain "the spirit of the hill."
  • Natalie gives Dan some charitable advice
  • Natalie and Jeremy smooch in the editing room
  • Dana explains her theater experience to everyone
  • Dan's entire encounter with the man in his office, especially his reaction when the man offers him part of the sandwich
  • The show's fade-out only seconds before Corey reaches the summit


  • Dan: (on air) The Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast and high school sophomore said that after all those years of hard work, it was a relief to finally realize her life-long dream. (pause) Good to get that out of the way at 15.
  • Chris: (re: Mount Everest) It's actually 29,029 feet.
    Dana: And it's those last ten yards that'll kill ya.
  • Jeremy: How can I best express this? How many of what kind of thing would we have to line up end-to-end?
    Elliott: 29,000 rulers.
  • Dana: How 'bout this? If I shot you out of a missile silo, you'd have to go 29,000 feet in order to clear the peak of Everest, land on a pile of rocks in Tibet, and shut the hell up.
    Jeremy: I'm just saying, it's a big mountain.
    Dana: And I hear ya.
  • Dan: A couple of months ago I wrote a check to someone. Now I'm in the middle of Dickensian London.
  • Dan: (re: charities) I'd love to give money to all these people, but then I'd have no money and I'd need someone's mailing list just to pay rent.
    Casey: It's a vicious circle.
    Dan: It is.
    Casey: It's a never-ending circle.
    Dan: It just keeps going round and round.
    Casey: It never ends.
    Dan: That's what makes it vicious.
    Casey: And a circle.
  • Casey: You know, while we've been having this conversation, a couple people have probably died from something you could've cured.
  • (Dana is trying to buy tickets for The Lion King on Broadway)
    Dana: (into phone) Hi. I'd like two of your best seats for this afternoon's matinée. Anything between the 8th and 12th rows, in the center, and if I end up with an obstructed view, you're going to have a very angry woman on your hands. (listens) Yes. (listens) Yes.
    Isaac: What's he saying?
    Dana: It's tough to tell, he's laughing pretty hard. Now he's telling his friends. And... there, he just hung up.
    Isaac: Screwed?
    Dana: Totally screwed.
  • Isaac: Nothing wrong with a good hoe-down.
  • Dan: What do you do with your money?
    Natalie: What do I do with my money?
    Dan: Yeah.
    Natalie: Well, my portfolio's pretty much tied up in food and shelter, Dan.
    Dan: I meant your disposable income. I've got some extra money and I don't know what to do with it.
    Natalie: Wow. That must really suck.
  • Natalie: Two guys have ascended five miles into the sky. They walked up a wall of ice and are preparing to knock on the door of heaven itself. There's really no end to what we can do. You know what the trick is?
    Dan: What?
    Natalie: Get in the game.
  • Jeremy: (after kissing Natalie) I'll tell you this: any small glimmer of a chance that I was going to climb Everest has completely vanished.
  • Casey: Nobody's delivering?
    Kim: Nobody's delivering.
    Casey: But we're in New York City.
    Kim: Yes, I know. I recognized the big buildings.
    Casey: What about the kitchen?
    Kim: They took all the food out of the kitchen to spray for bugs.
    Casey: Could there be some dead bugs lying around I could eat?
  • Dana: (describing her reaction to a Broadway show) It was really quite something. The music began and I just started to cry. I don't know where it came from. It was like... church. I didn't know we could do that. Did you know we could do that?
    Casey: (smiling) Well, when I forget, something usually reminds me.
  • Casey: (on air) By the way, none of us here have eaten, so if you happen to be walking by the building with a pizza...
  • Casey: What if the gods don't give permission to climb so close?
    Jeremy: The gods can stick it. We're citizens of this planet. George Mallory, Edmund Hillary, Magellan, Balboa, Desmond Corey, you and I. And I don't think anyone should tell us how high we can climb. (points to image on monitor) That's Mount Everest, the highest peak on the planet. You see a lock on the door and a do not disturb sign?
    Casey: It's five miles of ice, straight up.
    Jeremy: Piece of cake.
    Casey: What's gotten into you?
    Jeremy: I think I'm in love with Natalie.
  • Dan: (watching the ascent of Everest with a homeless man) Look at what we can do.