The 40 Best Sports TV Shows
Sports television is addictive
Some people keep their TVs locked on sports shows just for background noise—like SportsCenter is some kind of moving, electronic wallpaper.
I understand the compulsion, but television isn't a white noise machine. If you're going to watch sports television, turn it on something you can't ignore.
The following are the 40 best sports television shows. These programs range from animated kids shows to dramas and documentaries, and they were all chosen based on the only metric that matters in television: entertainment value.
So strap on your sweatpants and lets take a look at the best of the best in sports on the small screen.
40. Rocket Power
More comedy than sports show, Rocket Power is just athletic and just entertaining enough to make the cut here.
I personally blame it for aggravating the rash of pooka shells necklaces worn at malls, but deep down, at one point or another, we've all wanted to be a tan Hawaiian surf bro who's good at every sport.
39. Necessary Roughness
It's young, but Necessary Roughness has shown promise as a sports-drama hybrid show.
The plot centers on Dr. Dani Santino, a no nonsense therapist whose job involves breaking down the emotional barriers of NFL head cases and helping them sort out their emotional issues.
If only Dr. Santino had been around 10 years ago, Terrell Owens might still have a functioning bank account.
Any sports show that hands out tacos and encourages heckling from the studio audience deserves your respect.
37. Nitro Circus
If curling can be in the Olympics, Nitro Circus can be filed under "sports TV show."
A tall order of athletic ability and a heap of chestnuts is required just to attempt the stunts Travis Pastrana and company pull off on a regular basis.
36. The Contender
"A bunch of boxers box to see who's the best boxer."
I can only presume this was the pitch for The Contender, an underwhelming but genre-defining show originally aired on NBC. The Contender wasn't a commercial success, but helped shape future reality fighting shows with its two team format that forced fighters to live together.
While a real life Friday Night Lights sounded like a cool idea, the result was a much whinier, less visceral broadcast.
Two-a-Days was a decent show, but its interesting parts were dragged down by petty high school drama. You can only watch players wage passive aggressive war with their cheerleader girlfriends for so long before you change the channel.
34. Speed Racer
If NASCAR can be considered a sport, Speed Racer deserves a spot at the table in the sports television show discussion.
Don't discriminate against Speed for competing in Formula 1 style racing and bumper cars. It's not his fault all his races turned into Twisted Metal death derbies.
Cut down in its prime by a profusion of horse death, HBO's Luck was likely on its way to being a critical and commercial television success.
Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte were brilliant in the ironically short-lived series, which was eventually canceled after losing its third horse over the course of filming.
32. The Best Damn Sports Show Period
It wasn't the best damn sports show ever, but The Best Damn Sports Show Period was completely binge-worthy in its heyday.
They read Chuck Norris his own "Chuck Norris fact," back when that was a funny Internet thing to do. That has to count for something.
31. Stump the Schwab
He was so smug, and so deservedly so.
Howie Schwab was seemingly infallible when it came to sports trivia. ESPN's first statistician was less of a know-it-all, and more like a paunchy, Dalai Lama of random sports knowledge.
Also, watching Stuart Scott use the terms "scurred" and "hizzie" in the same 30 second window was a sight to behold. The 2000's were strange times.
30. White Collar Brawlers
Awkward yuppies attempting to revert to Fight Club style, animal instincts makes for some priceless television.
Jokes aside, White Collar Brawlers provides some poignant reminders that life is about taking control of your destiny and fighting for what you want instead of just waiting for decisions to be made for you. It's very entertaining.
29. Pro Stars
For three short months, mankind was given the gift of ProStars.
While I wasn't old enough to have the mental capacity to remember things, I like to think my developing mind would have found the wherewithal to capture the sight of ProStars had my tiny eyes been exposed to it.
Even the softest, most underdeveloped mind would've leapt at the sight of animated Wayne Gretzky, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan fighting crime. It's just instincts.
28. Hard Knocks
HBO's Hard Knocks doesn't duck away from the hard truths.
It goes behind the scenes to show viewers what it's really like in the NFL, and more importantly, what it's like to eat shame-snacks with the New York Jets.
27. Mike and Mike
The amount of time I've spent watching this minimally controversial show on a sparsely decorated set is mindblowing and a testament to the Mikes.
Mike and Mike doesn't blow too many minds, but Golic and Greenberg consistently deliver sound sports takes and most importantly, book great guests.
Also, when you can get Ditka to cry on the air—a thing I saw with my own eyes—you're doing something right.
26. Around the Horn
He throws paper, wears Zubaz and yells "Horn!"
Tony Reali's show is every sports fan's dream job. He sits in front of a panel of experts, listens to them go toe to toe on the topics du jour and awards points to whomever he sees fit.
Reali reigns supreme over his microcosm of sports, and he his changing panel keep things light, funny and interesting.
25. Real Sports with Bryant Gumble
Solid reporting and interesting stories have made Real Sports With Bryant Gumble a mainstay of investigative sports journalism.
Unlike other hosts and moderators, Gumble likes to get in ther and get his hands dirty. If he thinks the Winter Olympics look like a GOP convention, he'll tell you.
24. WCW Nitro
Hide your kids and wife, brother.
WCW Nitro was an out of control attack on the eyes and ears—just a bunch of former WWE wrestlers who wanted to make some noise.
I would be shocked if any of the wrestlers present at "Spring Break Out '98" remember a lick of it, but that's why it's good.
23. Hang Time
The sports version of Saved By the Bell, Hang Time was a long running show about a group of high schoolers with a constant turnover in cast members.
The show did manage to put together a solid six season run, and can make its claim to fame as the only program to guest feature Kobe Bryant and Screech in the same episode.
22. The Ultimate Fighter
"This week on The Ultimate Fighter: Dana lays down the law and Ronda Rousey flips off an orphan."
The Ultimate Fighter has become a bit hokey, but it's still a solid show. While it continues to serve as a UFC hype stage, the popular MMA program still delivers the goods in terms of brutal carnage.
As long as guys like Uriah Hall still kick people in the face, this show will continue to be extremely popular.
21. First Take
Yep, it's on here.
Like it or not, ESPN's First Take is a powerhouse of sports television. It takes everything good, bad and in between about sports television and tamps it directly down your gullet.
If you think of it as entertainment, as opposed to news, you'll realize that the world would be a darker, less fun place without guys like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.
20. Pardon the Interruption
Simple, iconic and always good.
Pardon the Interruption is a lot like First Take, if First Take had grown up in a home with rules. Michael Wilbon and Andy Kornheiser argue less and less these days, but still provide adequate punch and reasoning behind their takes.
Also, unlike First Take, there's a time limit to their spats, meaning viewers aren't subjected to 10 minutes of prattling if a topic that doesn't them comes up. Sure, the time restraints sometimes cut off compelling discussions, but I'd rather be left thirsting for more than praying for less.
19. Inside the NBA
The best thing smokin' for NBA analysis, coverage and unmitigated horseplay.
Chuck, Shaq and the gang were born to entertain, and Inside the NBA on TNT is their stage. After watching several shows you'll be convinced that no one on the planet is having more fun or giving fewer damns than Chuck and O'Neal.
God bless Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. They try to keep hold of the reins on this show, which is a full-time job.
18. WWE Raw
Even when it's bad, it still beats not watching wrestling.
Also, they staged the Betty White prank, guys. It wasn't real. Stop getting upset.
17. Global GUTS
Two words: Aggro. Crag.
You got a piece of it, or you died trying.
16. American Ninja Warrior
So Shawne Merriman isn't exactly a night-stalking assassin yet.
That doesn't change the fact that American Ninja Warrior is one of the most pointless, but satisfying shows in television history. Watching ANW is like opening a big bag of chips. Your day was going to be productive, but now it's over.
You said you were going to mulch the side yard, but instead you put on sweatpants to better inhale this salmon ladder footage.
15. The Dan Patrick Show
Dan Patrick is a consummate professional, and the televised broadcasts of his radio show are nothing if not engrossing.
Any fan who tunes in to The Dan Patrick Show leaves more informed and thoroughly entertained. They also leave with a deep desire to live in Patrick's studio, which looks like the coziest man cave ever designed.
14. Hangin' with Mr. Cooper
You can't talk sports television shows without talking Coop.
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper was another necessary and important '90s television show. Mark Curry nailed his role as the cool cat/former NBA player just looking for a good time.
Sometimes he bit off more than he could chew, and—wouldn't you know—his roommates Robin and Vanessa would usually have to bail him out!
13. Celebrity Deathmatch
Warning: Video contains NSFW content.
Yes, claymation death and violence can be considered a sport when put in the context of a boxing match.
Watching B list celebrities scoop each other's eyes out was a guilty, awful pleasure, which is precisely why it was so popular. Deep down, we all wanted to see who would win in a fight between Dave Thomas and Colonel Sanders, and Celebrity Deathmatch answered those questions.
A classic by all rights, Coach was the quintessential sports show of the '90s.
It was a one-stop shop for relationship humor and physical gags—all under the umbrella of Coach Fox's life as leader of the jocks.
11. The White Shadow
The first primetime cable show with a predominantly African American cast, The White Shadow was a drama about a white basketball player who retired from the NBA to coach high school ball in the inner city.
Imagine Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, but the opposite. A white guy comes to a bad neighborhood, becomes the head basketball coach and immediately has to deal with teenage pregnancy scares and alcoholism. It was gritty for its time, and re-runs are still airing on Nick at Nite.
"Jerry Maguire without a conscience."
That's Arliss Michael, the super sports agent who would sell out his own mother to win a fantasy baseball championship.
That's probably why he was such a relatable character to many sports fans.
Video contains some NSFW content.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge in the landscape of modern television.
In what essentially amounted to a game show version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, MXC took footage from a ridiculous Japanese game show and worked in English voice overs. The result was an unending downpour of pain and raunchy, inside jokes.
8. Blue Mountain State
"I don't even care if you take my rabies, just get out of my life!"
Thad Castle was the only reason you needed to tune into Blue Mountain State. Alan Ritchson wore his character like a second skin, and made that show one of the raunchiest, hysterical programs on television.
When Ritchson landed a role in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, you didn't think "Oh, it's that actor from that show." You thought "Holy God, Thad Castle is in this?!"
7. Sports Night
Some shows have their wings clipped before they even get the chance to fly.
Such was the case for Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night, a smart and captivating show portraying the life and times of sexy journalists working in a modern sports news room.
The show developed a cult following after its two year run met an untimely demise in 2000, but lives on in spirit (kind of) with Sorkin's new series The Newsroom.
6. Eastbound and Down
Danny is Kenny. Kenny is Danny.
The Finkle and Einhorn complex with Danny McBride and his character Kenny Powers is strong. You can't tell where one ends and the other begins, which cinches the deal for the endless gut laughs in HBO's Eastbound and Down.
5. College Gameday
How many television shows turn an entire college campus into a sea of madness each week?
College Gameday is an institution and religion for college sports fans. The sheer amount of man hours students have spent pitching tents, dressing up and making signs for this show is beyond imagination.
I'm confident that Washington State University could not continue to exist if this pregame show were replaced.
Warning: Contains NSFW language.
When your TV show is so raw The Man has to shut you down, you did something right.
ESPN's short-lived series Playmakers was so real that the NFL stepped in and pressured the network to end its run. The kitchen was getting spicy, and ESPN decided to get out instead of incurring the league's wrath.
3. The League
"Bobbum man? Bobbum van!"
The League is awesome. You know it, I know it—the world knows it.
You know who doesn't like The League? Putin. Vladimir Putin doesn't like The League, because every year he drafts a QB first, gets owned and Evgeni Plushenko takes home the Shiva. *
*Unconfirmed, but I'm throwing it out there just to see if it sticks.
2. ESPN 30 for 30
Great show, great topics and deep subjects.
You name it, ESPN's 30 For 30 has covered it. Everything from basketball rivalries to Tupac's relationship with Mike Tyson on down. They even did an entire episode on Space Jam. Kind of.
1. Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights accomplished a rare, perhaps singular feat for sports television—it successfully made the jump from the big screen to cable.
Expectations couldn't have been higher when an FNL TV show was announced, and while the program never took over America as some thought it would, it wasn't for a lack of quality storytelling. The show refused to remain static, with Coach Taylor changing schools and his wife Connie developing into a hard-charging guidance counselor.
Perhaps most importantly, Friday Night Lights gave us the chance to yell "Biiiig Timmm Riiiggiiinnnss!" That's a gift I'll never take for granted.