Sports TV Shows That Need to Be Rebooted

Scott Janovitz@@BrainTrain9Featured ColumnistAugust 18, 2014

Sports TV Shows That Need to Be Rebooted

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    Dan Rydell and  Casey McCall were the stars in ABC's Sports Night
    Dan Rydell and Casey McCall were the stars in ABC's Sports NightClip from YouTube

    Most would agree: Bringing the sports world to the big screen with any semblance of success can be tricky.

    Unfortunately, the same can be said about television. Though there has been no shortage of attempts, today’s TV is nearly devoid of quality sports programming.

    Sure, the update news format has worked well in the always changing, constantly developing sports world. But beyond that tried and true format, what’s happened to sports-inspired entertainment? Where has all the comedy and drama gone?

    With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look at 12 of TV’s all-time best sports television shows. (Most specifically, the ones that are now gone but that we want back). Some were classics while others failed despite developing cult followings.

    In the end, though, they all found ways to entertain viewers with sports themes that extended far beyond the fields of battle.

    So without further ado, here are the 12 sports-themed TV shows that we believe deserve a second chance.

12. GUTS

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    Do you have “it”? GUTS did. In fact, GUTS had it all.

    The Nickelodeon-based TV show aired for only a short while—from 1992 to 1995—but really had no business going away. Originally structured to appeal to children, it quickly became clear that the “action sports” game show preferred no age, gender or race.

    In finding a way to add extreme elements (mostly steam and boulders) and a whole lot of bungee to traditional sports like soccer, basketball and swimming, GUTS was a dream come true for the evolving sports fan.

    And just when the viewer couldn’t take anymore fun, the show’s three teenage contestants—who, it’s worth noting, were always shockingly unathletic—were asked to take on the hellish, volcanic Aggro Crag.

    Or was it the Mega Crag? No, wait. It was the Super Aggro Crag, right? No matter what the thing was called, that mountain brought with it some serious drama and had a way of separating life’s contenders from its pretenders.

    My only fear concerning a GUTS reboot: I’m not sure today’s children are quite quirky or clumsy enough to do the show or its challenges true justice.

11. Blue Mountain State

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    I’m not going to lie: I never got the chance to actually watch Spike’s Blue Mountain State, which aired in 2010 before fizzling out after three action-packed seasons.

    With that said, montages like the one linked above have me convinced of the show’s general merit and overall right to exist. If movies could mate and in so doing produce TV shows, B.M.S. would be the result of a drunken, escapade-filled night during which American Pie finally gives into one of Varsity Blues’ many far-too-forward advances.

    In an overtly but not too grotesque manner, the show follows around members of the Blue Mountain football team—the Mountain Goats—and chronicles their flirtation with booze, drugs, sex and sometimes football.

    In truly unique fashion, B.M.S. didn’t do quite well enough to continue its television existence, but it developed enough of a cult following to merit time on the big screen (filming was scheduled for August 2014 but has been delayed by budget concerns).

    In my opinion, though, stories concerning college football, sex and drugs deserve more exploration than any two-hour movie can possibly provide.

10. Two-A-Days

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    If you were one of the millions of men who loved MTV’s Laguna Beach, but only in secret and when no one else was around, Two-A-Days was probably made for you.

    The show debuted in 2006 and chronicled the lives of select students at Hoover, Alabama’s Hoover High School, with a special focus on the school’s football stars and their cheerleader girlfriends.

    For true football fans, getting a behind-the-scenes look at a nationally elite high school program was a pleasure and at times eye opening. And seeing a legend—head coach Rush Propst—at work was equally entertaining.

    In the end, Two-A-Days married the fascinating drama forever overflowing from high school halls with the still growing passion and excitement that imbues high school football.

    Now you tell me a show about all that wouldn’t still work today.

9. American Gladiators

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    Unquestionably one of the true classics on the list, American Gladiators was sort of like GUTS for adults, with a little steroids and anger sprinkled in. The same bad acting and soul-defining obstacles were present, however.

    The show originally ran from 1989 to 1996, which was nowhere near long enough, so it actually was rebooted in 2008. The updated version was bad enough to quickly fail—and we’ve linked the proof—but the original was special enough to warrant another try.

    In the end, why deny the everyman challenger an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Titan, Nitro or Zap? But before producers try again, we the viewers must answer one very important question: Do we want more or less of this guy?

    I'm thinking less.

8. Sports Show with Norm Macdonald

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    Far from a classic, Sports Show aired in 2011 and lasted on Comedy Central for just one season. I imagine the “Tuesdays at 10:30” time slot did it no favors.

    It did, however, develop a sizeable and loyal fanbase—the show averaged one million viewers per episode according to Nielsen TV Ratings—and with good reason.

    Combining comedic satire with the basic update news format, producers found the perfect host in Norm Macdonald, who had excelled in nearly an identical role when he starred as an “anchor” on Saturday Night Live nearly two decades prior.

    The comic’s observational humor, dry wit and clever timing made him the perfect fit for the role.

    The sports world today has plenty of news-oriented programming that often takes itself way too seriously. With segments like “What the H?," Sports Show introduced an almost necessary lightheartedness into the discourse.

7. Hang Time

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    While the show was admittedly conceived with teenagers in mind, NBC’s playful sitcom appealed to Saturday morning TV watchers of all shapes and sizes.

    Simply put, Hang Time was Saved by the Bell with more sports and no Screech—the latter serving as the show’s only real drawback.

    Through its focus on the school’s basketball team—the Deering Tornados—Hang Time dealt with important issues such as gender equality and also brought star power to the table, creating on-camera acting opportunities for the likes of Reggie Theus and Dick Butkus.

    The premise was there, but the show’s cast—which changed far too frequently—was ultimately its undoing. With a little more continuity, however, Hang Time 2.0 could more than work today.

6. Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

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    Mark Curry—or Mr. Cooper—wasn’t the first actor to play the former pro athlete who turns high school teacher/gym coach after his career comes to an end. He was just the best at it.

    Debuting on ABC in 1992 and running until 1997, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper's writers used a sports-oriented backdrop to create hip, edgy comedy, which Curry delivered to perfection.

    If done right, stories that seek to address the specifics of life after pro sports can be fascinating. And if you can find another dynamic actor like Curry to steer said stories, well, you’ve got yourself a gem.

    I so badly want to once again be Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.

5. NBA Inside Stuff

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    Ahmad Rashad’s baby is the only true sports update news and analysis-oriented show on the list. In its truest and most original form, it ran on NBC from 1990 to 2002.

    Charged with recapping NBA games from the week prior and also with featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, NBA Inside Stuff was the perfect recap show for avid NBA fans.

    In November 2013, NBA TV decided to revive the show in a new, updated format, but it simply isn’t the same.

    When the show worked—examples of which are linked above—it had a smooth, genuine, untarnished purity to it. Somehow, watching it made you feel good. With Rashad at the helm, NBA Inside Stuff was the Reading Rainbow of professional sports programming.

    And who doesn’t have time for more of that?

4. The White Shadow

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    Perhaps the list’s truest classic, The White Shadow was completely entertaining and truly historic—among its many distinctions, The White Shadow was the first ensemble drama on prime-time television with a predominantly African-American cast.

    Just like Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, The White Shadow chronicles the day-to-day life of a former NBAer—Ken Reeves—who takes up teaching at Carver High—a predominantly black and Hispanic school in South Central L.A.

    Unlike Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, The White Shadow was far more dramatic than comedic.

    Considering the tremendous popularity of modern sports, and the way in which they often interact with other aspects of society, there seems to be plenty of room for a sports drama willing to address some of life's more meaningful, albeit sensitive, issues.

3. Rock N’ Jock

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    In somewhat amazing fashion, a network supposedly devoted to music is responsible for two shows on our list. MTV’s mind-blowing Rock N’ Jock debuted in 1991 and ran until 2001.

    Since the dawn of time, actors and entertainers have dreamt about playing sports professionally while sports superstars have equally admired the former. In a stroke of genius then, MTV brought the communities together, giving actors, musicians and other entertainers the chance to play various sports with the world’s best pro athletes.

    If I told you that I know a place where you can watch guys like Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett school the likes of Home Improvement’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas, what would you say? If I could offer you vintage Bill Walton cameos, 75-point quarters and 50-point jumpers, wouldn’t you want in?

    Yeah, me too!

2. Coach

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    Let’s start with the basics. Coach ran on ABC from 1989 to 1997 because it had a concept that worked at the time, and it’s one that would almost certainly work today, too.

    In short, Coach followed the day-to-day life of a Division I-A head football coach—played by Craig T. Nelson—and his relationship with his two assistant coaches—played by Jerry Van Dyke and Bill Fagerbakke.

    More importantly, the show was flat-out funny—maybe even hilarious. Nelson was as sharp as ever—winning the 1992 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor—and Van Dyke was consistently laugh-out-loud funny in his portrayal of Luther Van Dam, which can be seen above. 

    It’s no secret that college football has become big business—and a fascinating, convoluted one at that.

    With that in mind, how can you reject a sitcom that embraces the game, its climate and coaches with a certain comedic flair?

1. Sports Night

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    Airing on ABC from just 1998 to 2000, Sports Night should be considered one of the more underappreciated television shows of any time or genre.

    Created and penned by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin—who is also responsible for the likes of The West Wing, A Few Good Men and The Social Network—the sitcom combined comedy with drama to depict the behind-the-scenes inner-workings of a fictional sports news show.

    In general, Sorkin’s writing is the work of a linguist and true genius, though often times to the detriment of his characters, their believability and notions of realism.

    With Sports Night, however, Sorkin was at his best—as the above clip suggests. 

    The writer, and the actors he employed, creatively captured the beauty of sport while making sure to cover its ugliest themes as well. That they did so with such heartbreaking laughter and sentiment is all the more impressive and enough reason to give the show a new lease on life.

    Follow Janovitz on Twitter @BrainTrain9