"Because such a large percentage of the people who work here are men, there isn't the kind of emotional bonding and involvement in each other's lives that you see on the show," said Lisa Fenn, 24, who has been a production assistant at ESPN for about a year. "This is a place where people's first get-to-know-you question is, 'Who's your team?' "
Sorkin, who fell in love with the rotating crew of anchors when he used to watch ESPN's "SportsCenter" for companionship after staying up all night writing his screenplays, readily concedes that the show is about human beings, not sports. In an effort to broaden viewership of his series, he even went to ABC's Web site to ask fans of the show to dissuade others of the notion that it is a "sports" show.
"My obligation is to involve the audience," Sorkin said in an interview from his office in New York. "This is not a sports show anymore than 'ER' is about surgery. It's about the lives of these people."
But both Fenn and Mariash believe that Sorkin has accurately depicted their lives as women in this male-dominated world. On "Sports Night," Felicity Huffman, who plays the show's producer, and an associate producer, played by Sabrina Lloyd, both know their stuff.
"You have to be pretty tough to fit in and take part in the goofing around in order to be accepted and succeed in your work, and I think both of the women in their show do that," said Mariash, the youngest of five girls, who became the son her father never had and his companion at New York Rangers and Knicks games and, eventually, a lifelong sports fanatic. But when it comes to the show's more emotional moments, that's something she rarely sees surface in her world.
"They had one of the anchors do this whole big thing on the air about his brother who had died. That could never happen. It's too personal and too emotional," said Mariash, adding, "If they did a show based on the reality of our every day, no one would watch. We're just not that exciting."
TV Playing Field Taps Into Emotions
Even with the sitcom's colorings and distortions, the ESPN staff all said they will continue watching "Sports Night."
"I thought it would be a traditional goofy sitcom, but every once in a while it really tugs at the emotional strings," Steiner said. "In my time here, I've seen young men graduate from college and grow into men, babies being born, parents dying, dear co-workers dying. He's tapped into that emotional playing field by intruding some real life into this almost surreal setting. And look, I've been on 'SportsCenter' ever since we were just a little news show on the sports channel. Now we have a sitcom about us. That blows me away."
* "Sports Night" airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.