CSC as a corporation has been portrayed on many occasions as the "Bad Guy" in situations involving on-air talent and behind-the-scenes "Sports Night" staff. CEO Luther Sachs especially, though he never had a chance to defend himself, seemed on the wrong side of every issue and twice lost some semblance of face thanks to an on air speech made by one of the main characters. In "The Apology," Dan Rydell played the role of one of the speechmakers. Perhaps the single most compelling two or three minutes of the entire series can be found in the fantastic and again perplexing second episode of the series. What the show did relates to what it did in the pilot, again showing how trivial the sporting world is in comparison to the tribulations of a man or woman's every day life. In what always was a top tenet of Sports Night, we had a serious issue interspersed with comedy to force the viewer into taking a roller coaster ride and being taken supremely high and then stomped down intensely low. It always worked for Sports Night and added much more depth to the overall product.
The main storyline focused on an interview with Dan Rydell published in Esquire Magazine. Generally what was said in the article that caused friction between the network and one of its stars centered around a few comments regarding Dan's approval of the legalization of marijuana. We learn later that Rydell belonged to a small organization that supported the cause and, obviously, CSC flew completely off the handle. Dan was first forced into a meeting with two CSC higher ups speaking on behalf of Luther Sachs, as Isaac Jaffee listened in and tried to mediate the debate. Long story short, Sachs strongly suggested an apology after Howard Stern and others had picked up on the article and had taken shots at it. Rydell stood by his opinion, saying that opinions in general are amoral, free from any and all constraints and that he certainly would not correct himself, which in effect would have made him look like he was in the wrong.
Unfortunately for Dan, the network had more pull and even Isaac wanted it to be taken care of and tried to put Rydell at ease. So it was set and Dan struggled over what to say. All the while, Casey McCall struggled with his own dilemma, the sudden lack of being "cool."
It was the opinion of the rest of the office that he never had been "cool," and McCall's choice of music alone was enough for Dan to make that call. Casey was entirely absorbed with his sudden apparent lack of a hipster image and asked around, only to discover no one saw him as an MTV Veejay or anything remotely close. In the pilot, Casey dealt with his divorce in correlation to his son and in "The Apology," he switched to play the side role that Dan had played originally. What was done between Episode One and Episode Two was that the anchors switched roles and importance and both were shown as both quirky, entertaining guys, and conversely as deep thinking human beings who had not only problems, but strong opinions that would always be voiced as well. This strategy paid huge dividends with me, and I would believe also pleased most of the hardcore audience that followed and most likely still follows the show on DVD.
Jeremy Goodwin played the final piece in the puzzle, as he had cut his first-ever highlights package for "Sports Night," and Casey was reviewing it to give him some constructive criticism. Natalie tried to tell the rest of the office that she might possibly have some feelings for Jeremy and, as such, did not want to analyze his work with her bias. Casey gave Jeremy his opinion and Goodwin did not agree, feeling that every bit of his cut was necessary, from all seven fouled off pitches from a leadoff batter to another slugger attempting to break the pitching rhythm of his adversary by knocking the dirt off his shoe. It had to be shorter, but Jeremy later would state that the life was sucked out of his story- saying the dirt-kicking moments showed that "the storm clouds are gathering." He lost his debate, and Isaac congratulated him on a job well done with the package once all the cuts were made. It was a small, but somewhat important part of the episode to give a little relief to the apology alongside Casey's disappointment of not being seen as James Dean. Jeremy's relevance to the show truly did not show up until the third episode, as Sports Night chose to give the anchors a 3D feel before most of the rest of the cast.
One final point, the term "battle" was used by both Rydell and Goodwin. For Dan describing his plan of action concerning the article and his opinion, and in entirely different fashion for Jeremy who used it to show what his highlight package was as it captured every figurative fired shot from the battle between the two teams in the afternoon baseball game.
The apology itself and, for that matter, "The Apology" as a whole was brilliant television. Although it might have been easy for most viewers to predict once Dan spoke of his brother, Sam, that the younger sibling had died in a drug-related incident, it was all delivered with pinpoint timing and the other characters reacting to it added to the drama. What makes an actor talented is being able to convey emotions with slight changes in face or body. If one has to blast open their eyes or slam shut their mouth to get something across, it doesn't impress me nearly as much. Felicity Huffman gets the nod, as her mouth may have dropped half a trillameter (not sure if that exists, I was never a mathematics major) and immediately it struck a chord that she was compelled and shocked by what her friend and colleague had just said. Sam lost his life in an automobile accident on his sixteenth birthday while joy-riding with friends on the first day he was legal to drive. Rydell blamed himself for the incident, first portraying Sam as a "genius" literally and stating that he would be living a highly productive life had he not looked up to his dope smoking older brother. It was a touching and at the same time troubling soliloquy to hear and it showed by everyone's reactions, from Dan all the way to the technical staff- that everyone in that office was at heart, a good person who had been altered mentally at least for a few moments by their coworkers painful personal convictions. As the credits would roll a few seconds later, it was obvious that the storm clouds had been fought off; maybe even the starlight was beginning to shine through.
The show ended on a light hearted note as Casey asked but one question of Dan as their program took a commercial break immediately following Dan's apology. "Can I just say one more thing about the Starlight Vocal Band?" Rydell smiled and joked back and forth as the show faded, letting everyone watching realize the friendship those two have and how they seem to know exactly what the other one needs and precisely the perfect moment.
What I would be interested to know would be what viewers who saw the pilot originally and came back to see "The Apology" thought about the second episode and if they expected it to go in that direction. "Sports Night" placed in a lineup full of sitcoms may have really been the wrong move, because though the show had a laugh track for the first several episodes, it certainly was not a sitcom. It was full of depth, much more so than most anyone had any right to expect and it tackled difficult issues seemingly from the opening credits of the first show. A thirty-minute time slot put it where it did in the ABC lineup and although the show was hilarious at many times, it appears to have been in a no-win situation on network TV. While watching any episode, the feeling is that Sports Night is a show tailor-made for a premium cable service without the smut that usually accompanies those spectacular efforts. Fact is, perhaps that explains why I like it so much.