Sports Night/Thespis

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Season 1, Episode 8
Airdate November 17, 1998
Production Number N-309
Writer(s) Aaron Sorkin
Director(s) Thomas Schlamme
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Sports NightSeason One

Thespis is the eighth episode of the first season of Sports Night.

Tonight on Sports Night: a stranger-than-usual broadcast when the ghost of an ancient Greek actor plays mischief on the show. Dana's spirits are dampened, but not as much as the Thanksgiving turkey she's thawing on the studio lights. Isaac worries when his pregnant daughter goes into early labor. Amid the chaos, Dan's feelings are hurt when Casey forgets an important anniversary.

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)

Co-Starring: Jeff Mooring (Dave), Timothy Davis-Reed (Chris), Ron Ostrow (Will), Russell Andrews (Matt McGregor)


Plot Overview

Apparently, the large invisible fly that was annoying Casey a few episodes ago has been replaced by an even larger bird, as Dana has stashed a 24-pound frozen turkey up on the lighting grid. She is nervous about having her entire family over for Thanksgiving, and she wanted to test how quickly the bird thaws. She is especially nervous about what her mother will say about her ability to prepare a holiday meal.

Isaac tasks Kim to keep calling his pregnant daughter Kathy in San Francisco, since his wife has flown out to be with her earlier in the day and he expected to hear from them by now. Dan quizzes Casey on the significance of the day's date—November 23rd—but Casey gets Dan upset as he keeps guessing wrong. Jeremy supplies his own answer: two and a half millennia ago on this day, a Greek named Thespis became the first stage actor. Now, his ghost haunts stages and wreaks havoc on performances. Dana brushes off the warning, certain that if they can make it through the first half hour, they'll be fine.

Isaac paces around the control room, suddenly nervous that his Navy radar officer son-in-law would have difficulty finding a hospital, when Kim hands him a phone call from his wife. After an on-air flub, Dan reminds Casey that this day is the anniversary of their first broadcast together five years ago, and he's miffed that Casey didn't recall. While Jeremy impresses the control room with his knowledge of Greek mythology, Isaac suddenly runs out of the office with a surprised Dana following.

Dana finds Isaac in his office, planning an emergency trip. He tells her that Kathy was rushed to the hospital for a C-section after severe internal bleeding. By the time Dana returns to the control room, Thespis has caused four more gaffes, and drops of water are mysteriously falling on the anchor desk. Dana storms into the studio just in time to see her 24-pound turkey plummet to the floor.

Later, but still during the same broadcast, Dan is convinced that Casey was shortlisted five years ago for a job as a late night talk show host. Casey denies it but the topic agitates him. He takes advantage of a few minutes break to leave the desk. He finds Isaac still in his office, lamenting that the last words he said to Kathy were insensitive. Isaac advises Casey to make a kind gesture to show Dan that he's more than a consolation prize.

In the control room, Dana is taking Thespis' interference personally. Jeremy opines that the role of a ghost is to offer humility and to "point out what's important by mocking what is not." Just then, a power failure knocks the broadcast off the air, and Dana once again whines about her ruined Thanksgiving. Jeremy takes her aside and reminds her to savor the time she has with her family, accepting the little annoyances while focusing on the love. Dana grudgingly accepts the wisdom of this.

Casey returns to the anchor desk and admits to Dan that he was offered the late night show, and he chose to do the show with Dan instead. Dan is amazed that his friend would have turned down such an opportunity. Casey modestly says that he wouldn't have been any good, but Dan knocks that down as evidence of his ex-wife's damage to Casey;s confidence. They high-five.

With a few minutes to go until the broadcast power is restored, Isaac returns to the control room with great news: his daughter and his newborn grandchild have both survived the operation. Much congratulations and cigars. As the show resumes, Elliott gets a phone call that Kathy Lee Gifford has fallen down at a reception across town, and it looks like Thespis has let the Sports Night crew slide for another year.


Timeline: Dan states he has known Casey for ten years.

Arc Advancement


  • Isaac's daughter Kathy, nine months pregnant, suffers a placenta praevia and bleeds heavily. After a scare, she delivers a healthy baby boy named Matthew.



  • One of the news items is the court appearance of Jason Grissom, who "hit a fan over the head with a bottle of fine cognac." This incident was discussed in the pilot.


The Show

  • Five years ago (in show time), Casey was offered a job as host of a late night talk show. He turned it down to host Lone Star Sports, his first broadcast with Dan. He admits that this decision was the beginning of the end of his marriage.
  • Dan and Casey shared their same backwards-style high-five in the pilot.
  • Unlike other episodes of Sports Night, the plot of this episode unfolds entirely within the timespan of a single night's broadcast.
  • We learn more about Isaac's family: Besides the unnamed daughter mentioned in the previous episode, he has a daughter named Kathy married to a Navy radar officer named Douglas and living in San Francisco, and a wife named Esther.

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

  • Andruw Jones and Cris Collinsworth are real life sports figures - a baseball player and a football-player-turned-commentator, respectively.
  • Alberto Salazar is a winner of five American marathons, as well as the 90 km Comrades Marathon of 1994.

Memorable Moments

  • The whole control room stares at Jeremy as he reels off the story of Thespis
  • Dan has trouble with the words "Red Wings locker room"
  • Robert Guillaume's portrayal of a father trying to hold in his anguish
  • Dan and Casey's reaction to the falling turkey
  • A happy Isaac throws cigars around the control room (though only to the men)


  • Chris: (to Will) "Andruw Jones" is spelled with a "u."
    Will: And "Cris Collinsworth" doesn't have an "h."
  • Dan: What happened on this date?
    Casey: Boston College upsets Notre Dame.
    Dan: Wrong.
    Casey: Gretzky's 500th goal.
    Dan: Think!
    Casey: Alberto Salazar wins his fourth New York Marathon.
    Dan: No.
    Casey: Alberto Salazar wins his third New York Marathon.
    Dan: (upset) Casey, you're not--
    Casey: Does it have anything to do with Alberto Salazar or the New York Marathon?
    Dan: No.
    Casey: Let me take one more stab at it.
    Dan: Go.
    Casey: Alberto Salazar wins his second New York Marathon.
  • Jeremy: Thespis can smell fear a mile away.
  • Casey: What do you want from me?
    Dan: Nothing, Casey. I'm just going to sit over here and do my show.
    Casey: Impersonating my ex-wife never won anyone a place in my heart.
  • Natalie: So Thespis is the Roman god of theatre?
    Jeremy: That's exactly right. Except he's not Roman and he's not a god.
    Natalie: What is he?
    Jeremy: He's Greek and he's a ghost.
  • Dan: (to Casey re: their first broadcast together) I remember what you were wearing. Do you remember what I was wearing?
    Casey: I remember not thinking at the time that you were a woman.
  • Dana: I was gone three minutes, is there anything that didn't get screwed up?
    Jeremy: We spelled "Cris Collinsworth" right.
  • Dana: I am not going to be beaten by a six thousand year old Roman god.
    Jeremy: He's a three thousand year old Greek ghost.
    Dana: Well, I'm a thirty-three year old television producer. And for one hour every night, this is my little corner of the world, and nothing screws up here unless I screw it up. (at the ceiling) You got that!?
  • Dan: Just answer me this.
    Casey: What are you, the Riddler?
  • Isaac: Did a big frozen turkey fall down onto the anchor desk during the last commercial?
    Casey: Yes.
    Isaac: And why?
    Casey: Aw, Isaac, is there really an answer I can give to that question that will satisfy you?
  • Casey: I was going to hug you.
    Isaac: Oh, please don't.
  • Dana: I've named this Thanksgiving. I'm calling it "The Thanksgiving of Mom's Disapproval." Included on the two-record set are the hit songs "Why Aren't You Married?" and "Sports Is No Place For An Educated Woman," and "Didn't Anyone Ever Tell You How To Cook A Turkey?"
  • Elliott: Dana, Broadcast Center says we should expect some trouble with our transmission in the next couple minutes.
    Dana: What kind of trouble?
    (All the monitors go to static.)
  • Jeremy: Your mother's gonna love you whether or not you screw up the turkey.
    Dana: My mother's gonna annoy me whether or not I screw up the turkey.
    Jeremy: Which leads us to the conclusion that your mother loves you even though she annoys you. And it's Thanksgiving, so which do you want to focus on?
    Dana: (pause) For a guy who's read The Hobbit fourteen times, you're not so dumb.
  • Casey: (re: the power failure) I was on television for a little while there and then I wasn't anymore.
    Dana: That's gotta be pretty disturbing for someone like you.
  • Casey: (on-air after power is restored) Still here in New York City, I'm Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell and you can't get rid of us that easily.