Throughout television history, there have been thousands of shows based on sports. From ABC’s Wide World of Sports to SportsCenter to Friday Night Lights, countless television programs have provided endless amounts of entertainment for sports fans, whether it be through news reporting, comedy, or drama.
With the amount of sports shows created over the years, numerous titles that were popular at one point become forgotten as time moves forward. Here are a few of those shows:
Saturday Night’s Main Event (NBC, 1985-1991, 2006-2008; Fox, 1992)
Originally produced as a placeholder for weekends that didn’t air new episodes of Saturday Night Live, NBC and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF; now WWE) agreed to create a show that allowed for professional wrestling to be broadcast on network television and reach their biggest audience up to that time. The WWF created Saturday Night’s Main Event, and it began airing on NBC in 1985. The timeframe in which it aired was inconsistent and infrequent, but by 1986, a semi-schedule was set in place, with fans being able to expect shows during New Year’s weekend, in late February or early March, in late April or early May, in late September or early October, and over Thanksgiving weekend.
Between 1985 and 1991, NBC aired 29 episodes, with each of them being huge ratings successes for the network. However, by the end of 1991, NBC acquired the rights to broadcast NBA games, and the interest in pro wrestling began waning. In 1992, NBC dropped Saturday Night’s Main Event, and the WWF moved the show to Fox for two episodes.
In 2006, NBC and the now-WWE reached a new deal that allowed for WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, to air on the NBC-owned USA Network. As part of this deal, NBC would air a “special series” of Saturday Night’s Main Event episodes. Between 2006 and 2008, five more episodes aired.
All episodes of Saturday Night’s Main Event can be streamed on Peacock.
Coach (ABC, 1989-1997)
Airing on ABC for nine seasons, Coach followed the career of Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) as the head coach of the fictional Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles football team, and, eventually, the Orlando Breakers of the National Football League. The show followed Fox, his assistant coach Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke), former player and eventual assistant coach Michael “Dauber” Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke), his daughter Kelly (Clare Carey), and his love interest Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares).
This football comedy was successful during its tenure, garnering two Emmy wins in 1992 and 1996. The show produced 200 30-minute episodes.
Coach is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
GUTS (Nickelodeon, 1992-1995)
During a period known as its “Golden Age,” Nickelodeon produced the sports game show GUTS. Hosted by Mike O’Malley and officiated by Moira “Mo” Quirk, GUTS put three children against each other in physical and extreme sports competitions to compete for being the top athlete of the episode. Each episode had five rounds of competitions, with players receiving points based on their place: 300 points for first, 200 points for second, and 100 points for third.
Although the first four rounds would be different each episode, the fifth and final round would be a climb to the top of “The Crag,” a faux mountain that mimicked landslides and avalanches. The first player to reach the top earned 725 points, and second and third earned 500 and 375 points, respectively. The winner of each episode would earn a gold medal and a piece of “The Crag.”
GUTS ran for four seasons and produced 160 half-hour episodes. Episodes can be found on Paramount+.
Arli$$ (HBO, 1996-2002)
Arli$$ introduced audiences to the glitz and glamour of being a sports agent. The dark comedy, which ran for seven seasons on HBO, followed sports agent Arliss Michaels (Robert Wuhl) and his goings on within the sports world.
According to star and creator Wuhl, Arli$$ was meant to show the hype, greed, and hypocrisy found behind the scenes in the sports world. Arli$$ is remembered for both kickstarting Sandra Oh‘s career (she played Michaels’ assistant) and featuring a wide array of professional athletes such as John Elway, Derek Jeter, and Kobe Bryant.
Arli$$ can be streamed on HBO Max.
Sports Night (ABC, 1998-2000)
Coming off of writing credits for A Few Good Men and The American President, but still a year before creating The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin‘s first dive into television was Sports Night. Sports Night followed the crew of a SportsCenter-type show, and the drama surrounding the creation and maintenance of such a show. Sports Night ran for two seasons, producing 45 30-minute episodes.
Sports Night included the smart and witty writing now expected in Sorkin-led projects, as well as a cast that included Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Joshua Malina, and Robert Guillaume. According to Dan Patrick, the show is a semi-autobiographical telling of his and Keith Olbermann‘s time anchoring SportsCenter together.
Sports Night can be streamed on Amazon Prime with purchase.
2-Minute Drill (ESPN, 2000-2001)
Hosted by the always charismatic Kenny Mayne, 2 Minute Drill spent the beginning of the new millennium as ESPN’s top game show. In the show’s first season, three players would compete against each other in a two-minute first round, with each player getting a chance to answer as many questions as possible from four different categories. The player with the least amount of points at the end of the round was eliminated. In the second and third seasons, only two players competed in the game, and both of them would move on to the second round.
The second round, also two minutes in length, was a rapid-fire round, where each person tried to answer as many general sports questions as possible. The winner of the game would win 5,000 dollars and move on to the bonus question. If the participant answered the bonus question correctly, the prize doubled to 10,000 dollars.
The show is unavailable to stream, but numerous episodes are currently on YouTube.
Best Damn Sports Show Period (Fox Sports Net, 2001-2009)
In an attempt to compete with ESPN and their flagship shows, Fox Sports launched their late-night sports talk show The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Although the show evolved over the years, The Best Damn Sports Show Period was known for its variety of hosts (Tom Arnold, Chris Rose, Charissa Thompson, John Salley, Rob Dibble, and Rodney Peete, to name a few), its comedy sketches, its selection of celebrity guests, and its “man cave” feel.
Although numerous interesting interactions and moments occurred on the show, its most famous occurred on April Fools’ Day 2006, when Tom Arnold and guest Michael Strahan pretended to get into a physical altercation with Strahan feigning an injury. The fight was so believable that it not only fooled viewers but also cast and crew.
Although The Best Damn Sports Show Period isn’t available for streaming, clips can be found on YouTube.
Playmakers (ESPN, 2003)
In an attempt to dive into the drama realm, ESPN created and produced their first original drama series, Playmakers, in 2003. Running for only one season, Playmakers followed the Cougars, a fictional professional football team from an unknown city. The show starred Omar Gooding, Marcello Thedford, and Tony Denison.
The style of the show was to follow numerous storylines involving the players and coaches throughout each episode. Playmakers would help drive the plot through internal monologues. The show tackled numerous issues during its 11 episodes, including mental health and drug abuse. Despite extremely high ratings, ESPN canceled Playmakers after the first season because of pressure from the National Football League, who felt the show depicted a negative image of professional football players’ lives off the field.
The entire series can be found on YouTube.
The Sports List (Fox Sports Net, 2004)
The Sports List was a half-hour countdown show created by Fox Sports. The Sports List was hosted by Olympic gold medal swimmer Summer Sanders and ran throughout the summer on 2004. Lists would include categories such as “Greatest Out of Shape Athletes” and “Best Athletes Without a Ring.” Segments would be interjected with commentary from celebrities and former athletes.
Clips of The Sports List can be found on YouTube.
Cheap Seats (ESPN Classic, 2004-2006)
Trying to recreate the magic of Mystery Science Theater 3000, ESPN Classic and the Sklar Brothers produced Cheap Seats, where Randy and Jason Sklar, as fictional ESPN video librarians, would watch and provide commentary on old and obscure sporting events and shows. Edited within this commentary were in-studio skits that included comedians Jim Gaffigan, H. Jon Benjamin, Paul Rudd, David Cross, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Michael Ian Black, Nick Kroll, Nick Swardson, and Patton Oswalt.
Although the Sklar Brothers watched and commented on numerous sports shows and events over Cheap Seats’ four-season run, such as Wide World of Sports broadcasts and Scripps National Spelling Bee competitions, the most notable episode was the Sklar Brothers’ campaign to get Major League Baseball utilityman José Oquendo into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Various episodes of Cheap Seats can be found on YouTube.
Stump the Schwab (ESPN2, 2004-2006)
Possibly ESPN’s most popular game show in the last two decades, Stump the Schwab took bar trivia and converted it into a television show format. Stump the Schwab, hosted by the legendary Stuart Scott, was a competition where three contestants answered sports trivia through three rounds against ESPN’s first statistician, Howie Schwab.
In the first round, titled “Leading Off,” the contestants and Schwab would take turns naming a player or team on a list related to an accomplishment. If a person couldn’t name someone, they would lose their turn for the remainder of the round. The round concluded until either all four lost their turns or the entirety of the list was named. The contestant with the lowest score was eliminated.
In the second round, the remaining two contestants faced off head-to-head in trivia. The winner of the second round would then go head-to-head with Schwab. If a contestant was able to stump “The Schwab,” they would win 5,000 dollars. In the show’s four seasons and 80 episodes, only 14 people stumped “The Schwab.”
Entire episodes can be found on YouTube.
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