West Wing Continuity Guide
path: home / About the Series * Miscellaneous Overlaps between Sports Night & West Wing
By Peter Vetsch
Grammar and Quotations:
Miscellaneous Crossovers:

Groups of Crossovers:
  1. Names
  2. Embarrassment
  3. Psychological Problems
  4. Romance
  5. Family

Grammar and Quotations:
Does it matter how a man falls down?
Jeremy is fervently wishing that the show had a ninth-inning rally to cover in the season 1 finale of Sports Night, "What Kind of Day Has It Been". He stops work in the control room to tell everyone: "A writer once wrote: 'As if it matters how a man falls down...when the fall is all that's left, it matters very much.'" In "The West Wing" Toby and the President recite this very quote while discussing Bartlet's favourite movie ("The Lion in Winter") in episode #54 of the West Wing, "H.Con-172". Aside from the difference between Jeremy citing the quote to a writer and Toby to a movie, there's also the difference that Jeremy uses the quote to bolster hopes for a miraculous comeback ("What did he mean by that? He meant 'do not abandon blowouts!'") while Toby uses it to suggest that the President might consider accepting censure on his own terms. Still, the double use of the quote is certainly striking. (overlap pointed out by Nikki Goldberg)

Famous monk quotation
The Season 3 Finale of the West Wing (episode #3-23, "Posse Comitatus") provided one of the more intriguing quote overlaps between the two series. In episode 2-8 of Sports Night, "The Reunion", Casey is Isaac's Secret Santa and is striving to get him the perfect gift. Isaac tells him he wants a cheese grater just to get him off his back, and Casey returns with a dozen different models, unhappy to discover that Isaac wasn't really interested in graters at all. Isaac says: "A famous monk once said: 'I don't always know what the right thing to do is, my Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you'"...to which Casey responds, "Yeah, but you would have preferred a book of famous monk quotations." This quote resurfaces in the West Wing as Leo is trying to help the President reconcile his order to assassinate a supposed political ally with terrorist connections. The two situations in which the quote surfaces could not be more different, but the words are almost exactly the same. (for anyone interested in more information about this monk, there is a website on Thomas Merton ---editors)

Dangling modifiers
Aaron Sorkin seems to be as much of a stickler about grammar as I am, which is likely why the subject of dangling modifiers comes up in both of his shows. In the West Wing it was in episode #59, "Dead Irish Writers" (lovingly referred to by me as 'the Canadian episode'), in a conversation between CJ and the First Lady, who is arguing against giving up her medical license for a year due to the scandal over the President's MS:
   "Women talk about their husbands overshadowing their careers. Mine got eaten!"
   "Your husband got eaten?"
   "My CAREER."
   "Yeah, well, I'm on dangling modifier patrol..."
Sports Night's brush with dangling modifiers occurs in episode 1-4, "Intellectual Property", when Casey is grilling Dana about her new boyfriend Gordon after looking at her desk calendar: "Saturday the 2nd, Aztec Two-Step at the Bottom Line with Gordon. Sunday the 10th, Turandot at Lincoln Center with Gordon. I'm assuming, although your modifier was dangling, that you were going WITH Gordon to SEE Turandot, and that you weren't going to SEE Gordon IN Turandot." (thanks to Marybeth I. for her research work on this overlap)

Flammable and Inflammable
The bizarre similarities between these words have been a source of vexation for more than one Sorkin character. In West Wing episode 4-03, "College Kids", Sam asks "Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?". In Sports Night episode 2-2, "When Something Wicked This Way Comes", Dan, trying to prove his mastery of grammar after mixing up the meanings of secular and non-secular in front of Hillary Clinton, points out to exasperated co-workers that "Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing". (overlap pointed out anonymously)

The Level of Debate
In Sports Night episode 1-2, "The Apology", Dan is in trouble because of a magazine article where he is quoted as supporting the decriminalization of marijuana. While defending himself in front of CSC network executives, he says: "Discussion is good, and for those of us fortunate enough to be the subject of magazine articles, it may be our responsibility from time to time to try and raise the level of debate." This same sentiment is echoed by Leo in West Wing episode 119, "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet", when he states: "We're going to raise the level of debate in this country and let that be our legacy." (overlap pointed out by Emma Fraser)

Miscellaneous Crossovers:
Remembering Anniversaries
In Episode 1-8 of Sports Night, "Thespis", one of the major plotlines is the anniversary of Dan and Casey's first show together, which Dan remembers but Casey forgets, much to Dan's annoyance. Episode #40 of The West Wing, "17 People", features a similar plotline, the proper date of the anniversary of when Donna started working for Josh, which is a bone of contention between them. (overlap pointed out by Lisa R.)

Rare Prizes
The 'leaders' of both the Sports Night and West Wing crews have each received distinguished, major prizes that few others ever get. Isaac Jaffe, managing editor of Sports Night, received a Pultizer Prize sometime during his past career as a journalist/writer; Jed Bartlet, West Wing President, received the Nobel Prize in Economics sometime before his Presidency.

Clothes Bleeding in Television Lighting
When Janel Moloney made her appearance as wardrobe assistant Monica in "Sports Night" episode 1-11, "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee" she berated Casey about taking others' jobs for granted: "You're not expected to know what shirt goes with what suit or how a colour and a necktie can pick up your eyes. You're not expected to know what's going to clash with what's Dan's wearing or what pattern's going to bleed when Dave changes the lighting..." In the pilot episode of the West Wing, she kind of reprises this role as Donna when Josh is watching a tape of his interview with Mary Marsh. She enters the room with coffee and says: ""You shouldn't have worn that tie on television. It bleeds." (overlap pointed out by Marybeth I.)

Problems attempting to record
In West Wing episode #27, "And It's Surely To Their Credit", the President attempts to tape his regular Sunday morning Presidential Address in the Oval Office in front of a sizeable group of visitors, but tens of takes produce only failure and impatience. Dan has similar problems in Sports Night episode 2-6, "Shane", when he's trying to record the voice teaser for the night's broadcast but has to redo it over 30 times due to his inability to pronounce "Yevgeny Kafelnikov" properly. (overlap pointed out by Marybeth I.)

Losing Place on Lists
West Wing episode #24, "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen", includes a flashback sequence of C.J. getting fired from her old job at a Hollywood public relations firm. She loses her job because one of the firm's most influential clients (played by the same actor who played Chuck "The Cut Man" Kimmell on Sports Night) drops from 3rd to 9th on an annual list of the most powerful people in Hollywood. A similar list causes havoc in the Sports Night studio in episode 2-15, "Celebrities". The Sports Report annual list of the 100 most influential people in sports is leaked to Natalie, and while Casey is #92, Dan is nowhere to be found. This is one of the events that leads to Dan being overwhelmed by his psychological problems later in the season. (overlap pointed out by Hope Wilson)

Simple Songs with Two Authors
In episode #58 of The West Wing, "Hartsfield's Landing", C.J. informs the press room that the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" had its music and lyrics written by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer. This is actually the second widespread and simplistic song with multiple authors referenced in a Sorkin show; the other is "Happy Birthday", featured prominently in Sports Night episode 1-4, "Intellectual Property". In that episode, CSC is forced to pay royalties to the representatives of Mildred and Patty Hill, writers of "Happy Birthday", after Dan sings it to Casey on the air, prompting almost everyone associated with the show to ask: "It took two people to write that song?".

Paranormal Mythological Interference
Jeremy attributes the grievous technical errors assaulting the first half of the night's broadcast in Sports Night episode 1-8, "Thespis", to Thespis, a mischievious Greek ghost who wreaks havoc on performances on any kind. He is not the only Sorkin character to be assailed by a mythological figure, however, as CJ is convinced she has incurred the wrath of Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, in West Wing episode #39, "The Stackhouse Filibuster", and has been hit with an ancient curse.
(overlap pointed out by Sarah Spooner)

Breaking Windows
A running joke in Sports Night episode 1-8, "The Reunion", is that Dana is acting "edgy". This comes to a head when Dana, fresh off another denial of her edginess, storms out of the control room and slams the door so hard that the control room window shatters. Dana is left standing there, staring wide-eyed at the pile of glass on the floor. In West Wing episode #415, "Inauguration: Over There", Will Bailey is dealing with some edginess himself as he listens to Toby tell him not to act on his principles. Stalking out of Toby's office, Will goes next door to his own office and throws Toby's bouncy ball at the window separating his room from Toby's (he has been assured by Toby that the ball has never broken the window). The window shatters and we then see Will staring at the new hole in the wall.
(overlap also pointed out by Michael Wingate)

Annoying Flying Creatures
A subplot in Sports Night episode 1-4, "Intellectual Property," has a large fly in the studio which causes Casey to flinch repeatedly. Dana tweaks him about the "phantom fly." Casey: "Itís not a phantom fly, itís a real fly. . . . Iím like Tippi Hedren in there." In West Wing episode 4-21, "Life on Mars," there is a bird outside whatever office Donna is in (first Joshís, then C.J.ís) pecking noisily at the window. C.J. says that the bird is obsessed with Donna. Donna: "Itís true, Iím like Tippi Hedren around here."
(overlap also pointed out by Judith M. Costello)

Bishop To Queen's-Rook-7
Jeremy Goodwin and President Bartlet both use the same chess analogy as a metaphor for their personal difficulties in Sports Night episode 1-10, "Shoe Money Tonight", and West Wing episode #36, "The War at Home". Jeremy is explaining to Dan that Natalie putting on one of his dress shirts after an argument always puts him on the losing side of things, just like the chess move bishop to queen's-rook-7. "My chess team is playing Lakeland. I start my match king's-pawn-3, king's-pawn-3. Bam, bam, bam, all of a sudden the guy moves bishop to queen's-rook-7. I lost 32 moves later, but I was never even in it." Jeremy vows to stand firm against Natalie's persuasions when they have their first big fight, but at the end of the show she mentions wearing his shirts and he caves in, repeating "I was never even in it!". President Bartlet is facing the prospect of a jungle war in "The War at Home", and at the end of the episode is forced to let a renowned druglord out of jail because he had been completely boxed into a corner and had run out of options. When he realizes he has to order the druglord's release, he refers back to a chess match he was playing with himself earlier in the episode and states: "It was the queen's rook...that's why I couldn't trade the bishop. It was over 6 moves ago."
(overlap also pointed out by Mike Campbell)

Trash Cans on Fire
Major characters accidentally setting their office garbage cans on fire and not noticing until a co-worker points out the blaze is comic relief used in both shows. In Sports Night episode 2-20, "Bells and a Siren", Dana's attempt to hide her covert smoking from Natalie by quickly tossing her lit cigarette into the trash fails when it sets fire to the other contents of the can, prompting Dana frantically to douse the whole thing in water. Toby plays both arsonist and fireman in West Wing episode #76 [or #410], when he lights a disappointing piece of his own writing on fire and throws it in the trash. He's prompted to put out the flames with water from a seltzer bottle during a conversation with Will when the latter calmly remarks: "Your garbage can is on fire."
(overlap pointed out by Cory Baker)

Homeless Generosity
Transients have played prominent roles in subplots in both West Wing and Sports Night episodes, and in both cases they are portrayed as protagonists who share what little they have with others. Dan encounters a homeless man who is taking shelter from the cold in his office in Sports Night episode 1-09, "The Quality of Mercy at 29K Feet". Despite being extremely hungry, Dan gives the man the only food he has left in the office, a half of a turkey sandwich, which the man unexpectedly cuts in half and shares with Dan equally. In West Wing episode #10 [or #110], Toby goes to a common spot for transients in order to track down the brother of a homeless veteran who died wearing a coat Toby had previously given to Goodwill. After speaking to the veteran's brother, who is also homeless, Toby gives him all of the money in his wallet and starts to walk away, only to have the man stop him and give him some bills back because "you don't live around here".
(overlap pointed out by Aaron Suggs)

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