Making sport of TV series



The comedy and drama of sports

Craig T. Nelson

Television has made many attempt at series with a sports backdrop, some good, some bad and some pretty ugly.

One of the best and most successful of them was “Coach.” Airing on ABC from 1989 to 1997, this half-hour sitcom cast former “Poltergeist” star Craig T. Nelson as Hayden Fox, head coach of the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles football team.

Much of the comedy arose from his interactions with two of his assistants: diffident defensive coordinator and best friend Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke) and slow-witted special teams coach Michael “Dauber” Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke), whose girlfriend was Judy Watkins (Pam Stone), the ladies basketball coach with whom Hayden was in a constant war of pranks.

On the homefront, his wife (in later seasons) was local TV news anchor Christine Armstrong (Shelley Fabares) and daughter Kelly (Clare Carey), who ran off and married Stu (Kris Kamm), a theater mime whom she eventually divorced.

Viewers can watch “Coach” weeknights on Antenna TV and streaming on the Roku Channel.


Other Retro Rewinds:

“Sports Night” (Streaming on Amazon, Apple, Vudu, YouTube and Roku):

Loosely based on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” this 1998-2000 ABC series from Aaron Sorkin about the goings on at a sports news show struggled in the ratings and was canceled after two seasons but certainly had its mark at Emmy time garnering two trophies and eight nominations. Josh Charles and Peter Krause had the lead roles as anchors in the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann mold.

“Arli$$” (Streams on HBO Max):

As played by Robert Wuhl in this excellent 1996-2002 HBO comedy, Arliss Michaels was a hard-charging wheeler-dealer super agent with an inability to say no to his superstar clients. He’d do anything for them and to increase his agency’s cash flow and frequently that meant that ethics were optional. There were also cameos by real-life sports figures including Kobe Bryant, Yogi Berra, John Salley and Tonya Harding.

“1st & Ten” (Streaming on Roku and Filmrise):

Before she was one of the “Designing Women,” Delta Burke was front and center of the first three seasons of this 1984-91 HBO comedy as Diane Barrow, who became owner of the fictional NFL team California Bulls as part of her divorce settlement. In addition to the antics of the players, female stewardship was a common thread throughout the series’ run, with team heads being played by Leah Ayres, Shanna Reed and Shannon Tweed in succeeding years.

“Friday Night Lights” (Streaming on Netflix, Peacock and Hulu):

Peter Berg adapted his well-regarded 2004 movie about a Texas high school football team and their economically depressed town into a similarly well-regarded series that continued that storyline, with Connie Britton, Kyle Chandler, Gaius Charles and Zach Gilford heading a talented cast.

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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