Televised sporting events are already a pretty big deal for most people, but when you factor in the event status of the Olympics or the Super Bowl or the World Series, they become juggernauts. So why is it that fictional TV shows about sports are so much less popular? The high school football drama Friday Night Lights is one of the best shows on TV, but ratings are only so-so, and it was moved from NBC to DirecTV in 2008 (it will return to NBC in April). Luckily, other sports shows are still plugging along: My Boys, about a female sportswriter, will get a fourth season this summer on TBS, and fantasy-football comedy The League will get a second on FX. And, encouragingly, new shows are still getting made: Spike recently launched college football comedy Blue Mountain State and is prepping Players, about the owners of a sports bar. But historically, sports shows tend to hover in a sparingly viewed grey zone between regular TV shows and actual sports. Here are some of the best shows about sports that have ever aired, and don't be surprised if you haven't heard of some them.
Sports Night (1998-2000)
This meta, multi-camera sitcom about the behind-the-scenes staff at a sports news show was created by Aaron Sorkin, which means it featured both walking and talking, sometimes at once. It was notable for featuring two actors who would go on to bigger shows: Felicity Huffman, who is now on Desperate Housewives, and Peter Krause, who would next do Six Feet Under, Dirty Sexy Money and Parenthood. It also featured Robert Guillaume, the man formerly known as Benson. Even though the show only lasted two seasons on ABC, Sorkin would pursue a similar premise with 2006's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Guess how many seasons that lasted.
Beyond the Break (2006-2009)
What happens when four female professional surfers live in an apartment together? TV magic. Especially when they're coached by former Baywatch star David Chokachi. Sadly, there was a two-year break between Season 2 and 3 airing on The N, causing it to miss its wave, brah.
Although it only lasted one season on ABC, this show about a 15-year-old tennis player is fondly remembered for a cast that included future 24 actress Angela Goethals as the young Angela Doolan, former "Angela" Judith Light (Who's the Boss?) as her mother and another one-time 24 regular, William Devane, as her coach. Sadly, Kiefer Sutherland did not guest-star as a particularly persuasive ball boy.
Hang Time (1995-2000)
A Saturday-morning live-action show (and all that that entails), this teen comedy was about an Indiana high school boys basketball team with one female player. Basically Saved by the Bell with more basketball, the show was notable for changing the bulk of its cast on three separate occasions, with only the female player and the head cheerleader remaining on the show for all six NBC seasons.
The White Shadow (1978-1981)
A CBS show about a white, former pro basketball coach at a predominantly black and Hispanic high school in South Central L.A., this dramatic series showed the players facing real-life obstacles in their path to college and careers. Over the course of three seasons, the program dealt with drugs, game fixing, teen pregnancy, venereal disease, shootings, the works. It was famous for scenes showing the team singing in the shower, although they are not as famous as the shower scenes from Oz.
A rare success in the sports-show genre, Coach starred Craig T. Nelson as a college football coach assisted by the older Jerry Van Dyke and the younger Bill Fagerbakke (both hilarious) and ran for nine seasons. The lead character later moved up to a coaching spot with the NFL. Its success on ABC was probably what inspired the network to keep making sports shows, although none would match Coach's run by a long shot.
The Bad News Bears (1979-1980)
A spin-off of the movie, this TV show replaced Walter Matthau with Jack Warden as Coach Morris Buttermaker and made the Bears a junior high baseball team of misfits, rather than a Little League team of misfits. It still had a crackerjack girl pitcher, though. Unfortunately, CBS moved its timeslot a couple of times, and it was cancelled shortly into Season 2.
You say Seinfeld's not a sports show? Technically, no, but considering that George Costanza, one of the show's four leads, spent three of the show's nine seasons employed by the New York Yankees, and that a faceless George Steinbrenner was a recurring character, and that Kramer was once spit upon by both Roger McDowell and Keith Hernandez, the latter of whom Elaine also briefly dated, I would say that sports were a pretty big part of the show. Plus, it's only the second show on this list that wasn't tinkered with or cancelled prematurely. Who would have thought Coach and Seinfeld had so much in common?
What's your favorite fictional sports show? Let us know below.