J. Charles rounds first on 'Sports Night'

Media Watch

October 08, 1998|By Milton Kent

It didn't take Josh Charles long after he read the initial script for "Sports Night" to commit to being one of the leads. The blend of comedy and drama, not to mention the interaction of the characters who toil in the newsroom of a fictitious all-sports channel, was too rich to pass up.

But signing on to the new ABC show only got Charles thinking about the long term. Namely, the Baltimore native got to wondering if the show could sustain its high level, was "Sports Night" too insider-y for network television, how involved would the actors be in the collaborative process and if the writers would be asking too much of the viewing public.

So far, all the answers have been positive.

"All I really know is it's a bit different and, in my opinion, the more successful it will be creatively will [depend] on if it keeps pushing the envelope and it keeps growing in that way," said Charles.

"Sports Night," created by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the Broadway play "A Few Good Men," has been called an insider's look at the goings-on at "SportsCenter." Given that the show is produced by Touchstone Television, which, like ABC and four-fifths of ESPN, is owned by Disney, it's a pretty fair bet that there was a little corporate cooperation going on.

But the series, in just three Tuesday night airings (Channel 2, 9: 30), has proven to be much, much more than a corporate tie-in and to be accessible to the non-sports-oriented.

Charles' character, Dan Rydell, is the supposedly fun-loving half of the fictional CSC's popular 30-something anchor duo, but Rydell, who delivered a powerful soliloquy about the death of his brother in the second episode, has already shown himself to be complex and unpredictable.

"I don't know where he's going, and, on one level, that's good for a character," said Charles. "For the first six or seven [episodes], you don't have a full handle on who this guy is. And I think, for a half-hour television show, that's pretty good."

Given his lineage, it somehow only seems natural that Charles, ++ who has starred in such feature films as "Dead Poets Society" and "Threesome," would be a part of a project that combines the media and sports.

His father, Allan, is a local advertising executive who has been a part of successful Ravens and Orioles campaigns, and his mother, Laura, is a former Sun society columnist. His uncle, Stan, is host of a nightly radio sports talk show here.

In fact, Josh Charles' first question to a sports media critic is to ask how much Baltimoreans are watching the Ravens on television. Spoken like a guy with his finger on two pulses at the same time.

A 'Zone' blitz

Disney Regional Entertainment formally announced yesterday that it will add a third "ESPN Zone" restaurant next summer in New York's Times Square.

The three-story, 42,000-square-foot restaurant will follow a second planned facility in Chicago and, of course, the recently opened, inaugural "Zone" in the Inner Harbor. Disney and ESPN are calling the New York restaurant the flagship of what is expected to be a chain of similar establishments.

Speaking of ESPN, the channel announced that the confluence of events last month helped give "SportsCenter" its biggest monthly ratings ever, but then, you didn't expect them to release bad news now, did you?

The numbers for the Monday-Saturday 11 p.m. "SportsCenter" were up 25 percent from the same period a year ago, and the ratings for the Sunday night show shot up 114 percent from the same time last year.

Saluting 'The Blade'

Very classy tributes were on display late Tuesday night from Bruce Cunningham of Channel 45 and Channel 11's Gerry Sandusky as well as ESPN's Karl Ravech upon the death of former Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger from lung cancer.

Here's a thought: It would be similarly classy if the Orioles' organization, in honor of the significant contributions of both Belanger and former manager and third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., who also has lung cancer, retired the jersey number they shared, No. 7.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week:

Event, Day, Ch., R/S

Vikings-Packers, Mon., 2, 12.3/19

Eagles-Broncos, Sun., 45, 10.3/19

Monday pre-game, Mon., 2, 10.1/16

Bucs-Giants, Sun., 45, 9.1/16

Indians-Yankees, Tue., 11, 8.5/14

Rangers-Yankees, Wed., 11, 8.3/13

Dolphins-Jets, Sun., 13, 7.5/16

Cubs-Braves, Thu., 45, 6.3/9

Astros-Padres, Sun., 45, 6.3/9

Yankees-Rangers, Fri., 11, 5.0/11

R-Rating; S-Share.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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