It was 5:30 PM on a Tuesday and Game 7 of the American League Championship Series wouldn't start for another two hours. Which clearly meant that the entire world of sports had ceased to turn on its axis in anticipation.
"Please tell me that something newsworthy is happening somewhere on this planet," Casey begged the newsroom at large.
"A train derailed in England this morning," Kim offered.
"Something that in any way relates to sports?"
"Hey, four people died. That's totally newsworthy. If it bleeds, it leads."
Casey considered this. "Were any of them professional athletes?"
"Soccer players?" Casey suggested. "Cricketers? Members of the Oxford bunting team?"
"Footballers," Jeremy said, without looking up from his computer.
Casey blinked at him. "I'm sorry?"
"Footballers." Jeremy poked his head around the monitor. "You said 'soccer players' but in the UK, the proper terminology is 'footballers.'"
"Fine. Did any footballers die in the tragic train derailment somewhere in the grassy shires of jolly old England?"
"No," Jeremy said, after a pause. "But the Kansas City Wizards defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 to win their first MLS Cup title."
"That's soccer-soccer, not British football-soccer, right?"
"And that happened like two days ago, right?"
"How is that news?" Casey shouted to the heavens. Or the ceiling. Whatever. "Is it too much to ask that news be, by definition, new?"
"It was the first time in the history of Major League Soccer that D.C. United has failed to make the playoffs," Jeremy added, not at all helpfully.
"Jeremy, the history of Major League Soccer is all of five years old," Casey pointed out. "My son is older than Major League Soccer. I've been working with Dan for longer than Major League Soccer. There is no 'history of Major League Soccer.'"
Jeremy beamed. "Yet! And that's why I'm working on an MLS feature for tonight's show!"
In one last, desperate attempt to maintain the will to live, Casey abandoned Jeremy to go perch at the edge of Kim's desk. Kim did not look impressed. Possibly she'd actually been using the stack of papers currently trapped beneath his butt. "So," he said, with that casual, suave charm that had brought him in at #92 of sport's hundred most influential people. "A train derailment in England, huh?"
Kim sighed. "Casey, you don't really want to be talking to me right now, do you?"
"Why wouldn't I want to be talking to you right now?" Casey asked, wounded. "I always want to be talking to you, Kim. Why would I be sitting in front of you right now if I didn't want to talk to you?"
"Because Dana and Isaac have been in a meeting with the network for the past twenty minutes, which freaks you out, but you can't find Dan, Jeremy is being insufferable about soccer, and Natalie is running around like a crazy person trying to do Dana's job, so I'm the next person down on the totem pole for you to harass?"
"Huh," Casey said after a moment. "When you put it like that--"
"Casey?" Kim said sweetly.
"You should go find Dan now, before I light a fire under your ass. Like an actual fire."
"Yeah," he said, getting hastily off her desk, papers more or less intact. "I'm gonna go do that."
Natalie strode into the control room. "I want to see the graphics on thirty, the live feed on thirty-five, and what the hell has the network been discussing with Dana and Isaac for forty-five minutes?"
"How about two out of three?" Dave asked. Will brought up the graphics while Chris silently feuded with the live feed. "Or one out of three, I can definitely get you one out of three. Bargain rate."
"I mean, there haven't been any budget crises lately, that I know of," Natalie said, staring in the general direction of the nonexistent live feed. "ESPN's been having that weird legal snafu with its contract office, but Quo Vadimus is totally in the clear. There was that ratings dip during ALCS Game 3 -- oh, god, do you think it's about the ratings dip during Game 3? Because that's because Fox landed the exclusive with Rodriguez, everyone else had a ratings dip that night."
"Nice graphics," Dave said.
"Thanks," Will said, pleased.
"How's that feed coming?"
"I am going to shoot the crew in Seattle," Chris muttered, fiddling furiously with his board.
"But we pulled in second on ratings for postgame coverage on Games 2 and 5," Natalie went on, undaunted. "Right behind ESPN, and ESPN is the network with the actual MLB contract. Or was. Probably still is. So Quo Vadimus can't be on our asses about that, can they? I mean, that would be really unreasonable. Calvin Trager doesn't seem like an unreasonable man to me, does he seem like an unreasonable man to you?"
"Seattle says the problem's on our end," Dave remarked, hanging up the phone. Chris was crawling around under the desk and didn't respond. The live feed failed to go live.
"We're on top of things!" Natalie insisted. "That's what everyone says, they say, 'man, that Sports Night team, they're totally on top of things.'"
Something popped and fizzled under the control board. Will pushed his chair back away from the desk very, very carefully. A thin wisp of white smoke greeted the air.
"Um," Chris said from under the desk.
"Nice graphics, live feed looks great," Natalie tossed off over her shoulder as she strode back out of the control room.
"Ninety-five minutes until game time," Dave remarked philosophically. "Go team."
Casey eventually found Dan huddled in a corner of the editing room, looking hunted.
"I hate to ask this," Casey remarked, "but you are aware that this is the editing room, right?"
Dan glared up at him balefully. "So that's what all this expensive editing equipment is for. Here I thought Dana just went on another one of her New Hobby Spending Sprees."
"Editing room. A room in which video footage is edited."
"One would presume as much."
"One would indeed, Danny. And yet here you are. Not editing."
"Game 7 doesn't start for another hour and a quarter," Dan muttered. "There is nothing for me to edit."
"Jeremy has some footage from the MLS Cup that he wants to work on for a feature."
Dan shuddered. "Jeremy can keep it."
"And yet he is not currently working on his Major League Soccer feature." Casey paused meaningfully. "Do you know why Jeremy isn't editing the soccer game?"
"Because I'm hogging the editing room?"
"Because you're hogging the editing room," Casey agreed. "Lurking, even. Possibly skulking. You are creeping Jeremy out, my friend, and that is decreasing the overall productiveness of our workplace."
Dan narrowed his eyes. "You've been attending Quo Vadimus's productivity seminars, haven't you?"
"Danny. Why are you hiding in the editing room?"
"I'm not hiding," Dan protested, curling up into a smaller ball. "I'm…evading. Manfully."
"Okay. What are you currently evading in this extremely mature and masculine manner?"
"I'm just saying, I have a fondness for good alliteration, and that was top notch—"
"Kim assigned me an intern," Dan sulked. "He's trying to organize my desk."
Casey blinked. "You don't have a desk. You have a laptop on a table in my office."
"I'm aware of that. I think he's trying to procure me a desk to organize."
"Ah," Casey said. He stopped and thought about it. It still didn't make sense. Until it sort of did. "This is Kim's revenge for the secretary thing, isn't it?"
"This is definitely Kim's revenge for the secretary thing," Dan agreed gloomily.
"You probably should have considered this before treating Kim like your secretary for three years."
"I thought she was my secretary! How could I have anticipated she would have this kind of intern-hiring power?"
Casey sighed, shaking his head. "It's like you've never worked with Natalie before."
At precisely 6:54 PM, Natalie appeared in the newsroom. "Has anyone seen the weather report for Seattle?"
"High of 53, evening low of 37, cloudy, possible storms forecast starting at 11 PM," Elliot called from his desk.
Natalie blinked. "Wow, I wasn't actually expecting a prompt answer for that."
"We work in news, Natalie," Jeremy pointed out, rocking back in his swivel chair. "We deal in information, in cold, hard facts. We disseminate knowledge to the masses."
"Disseminate, huh," Natalie echoed with a smirk. "Kinky. No, but seriously, guys, weather in Seattle."
"High of 53—"
"Guys," Natalie said. "There's a TV right above your heads. Look at it, please."
They looked up at the TV set. A reporter stood in front of Safeco Field. Snow fell gently around him, briefly blurring up the camera lens.
"Huh," Elliot said. "You're sure that's Seattle?"
The caption on the bottom of the screen announced LIVE FROM SEATTLE, WA.
"Cold, hard facts, huh?" Natalie gave Jeremy a pointed glare.
"Well," he said, staring up at the broadcast in betrayal. "Cold, at least."
Dan approached his and Casey's office cautiously and with great vigilance. The newsroom bustled with worryingly frantic activity, but that was par for the course at this time of day. Kim was nowhere in sight. That was a good sign. His office door stood partly ajar. It wasn't likely that anyone could be lurking inside, but Dan would not be lulled into a false sense of complacency by the deceptively clear glass walls or apparent lack of human activity within. He'd been burned before.
Slowly, carefully, he stretched out a leg and prodded the door with his toe. It swung slowly open. Nothing happened. He inched closer. Casey's much-maligned computer hummed faintly at him, as was its wont. He poked his head inside. The office appeared thoroughly deserted. He took a hesitant step inside. No one was there. Breathing out, Dan slowly sank down into his chair.
"Where have you been?"
"Holy fucking shit," Dan yelped, whirling around so fast he overtaxed the capabilities of his swivel chair and crashed over onto the carpet.
Natalie stood in his office doorway, hands on her hips, an expression not dissimilar to abject panic creasing her pretty brow. "Dan! Do you know what time it is?"
"First off, ow," Dan said, painfully picking himself up out of the wreckage of his chair. "And there's a clock right over there. It's 7:08 PM."
"And do you know what time Game 7 of the ALCS begins?"
"…seven-thirty?" Dan said. "You do realize that our show doesn't start until ten, right? We've still got a couple of hours of game time before—"
"Daniel," Natalie said, in tones of impending doom. "It's snowing in Seattle."
This failed to compute for several long moments. He took his time getting comfortably situated on the edge of Casey's desk to consider it. "But it's October."
"It's October, and it's snowing in Seattle."
"But that's the Pacific Northwest. It rains in Seattle. It's supposed to rain in Seattle. I'll bet the Mariners have super-secret wetsuits and underwater tactics and, and, a submarine strategically berthed beneath Safeco Field."
"Are you even speaking English right now?" Natalie asked, actually throwing her hands in the air. Dan had always thought that was just a figure of speech. "Dan. Strategic wetsuits aside, it's not raining in Seattle right now. It's snowing."
Dan wasted a few more seconds of dead air to process this information. "But tonight is Game 7 of the ALCS. Which is being played in Seattle."
"I knew you'd get there eventually."
"The Mariners actually have a shot of winning the pennant tonight. Do you know the last time the Mariners won the pennant?"
"The Mariners have never won the pennant," Dan said, deadly serious. "In their twenty-four years as a Major League Baseball franchise, the Seattle Mariners have never once won the American League Championships. And they are potentially one game away from going to the World Series for the first time in MLB history. One game. Nine innings. Eternal glory."
"Aren't you a Yankees fan?"
"Yes, but – we're talking about making history here, Natalie!"
"Right," Natalie said. "None of which will happen tonight if it continues snowing in Seattle."
Dan opened his mouth. Then he had a very horrible thought, and closed it again. He let the thought seep in, like toxic sewage. "Natalie. How much of our show tonight is based around Game 7 coverage?"
Natalie smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. It was, in fact, a death's head grimace, the skeletal grin of a woman facing her own imminent mortality. "Roughly? About eighty-five, ninety percent. Though Jeremy's working on a really scintillating feature about Major League Soccer--"
Dan propelled himself off Casey's desk and out of the office. "Casey!"
Precisely two hours and fifty-three minutes after she and Isaac had vanished into their mysterious meeting with the network -- and, incidentally, thirty-three minutes after the scheduled start time for Game 7 of the ALCS (New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners, 7:30 Eastern Standard Time / 4:30 Pacific) -- Dana waltzed into the newsroom, smiling at everyone indiscriminately.
"Hey, guys!" she chirped. "How's the game?"
"Hasn't started yet," Kim said. She was constructing a miniature castle out of paper clips. It was fairly impressive, if she did say so herself.
"Oh!" Dana's face seemed strangely incapable of contorting into a frown at the moment. "Why not?"
Elliot pointed up at the TV. "Snowing in Seattle."
Dana looked up. "Huh. So it is. Where is everybody?"
"Everybody as in the players?" Elliot shrugged. "Presumably in their dugouts, wondering why the hell it's snowing in Seattle."
"Everybody as in my newsroom," Dana clarified. "Because there's this thing where we do a show. It's about sports, goes on in less than two hours. You should check it out."
"Jeremy is reediting his soccer feature to be about three times as long to fill up the air time we were supposed to devote to Game 7, Natalie is calling every weather station west of the Rockies, Dave and Chris are trying to fix the live feed, Will is watching them and laughing, Dan and Casey are holed up in your office rewriting three alternate drafts of tonight's script, and Elliot and I are holding down the fort in case something happens," Kim said, all on one breath. She wasn't even winded. "Also, Elliot heard from Harry in Legal heard from his buddy over at Fox that ESPN is in serious trouble with their MLB contract. Care to weigh in on that?"
"Huh," Dana said, with a studied air of nonchalance that fooled precisely no one. "How about that. Wait, back up, why are Dan and Casey in my office?"
Kim smiled dangerously. "Because Dan is afraid of their office."
"You realize that now I have to ask why Dan is -- okay, you know what, I don't even want to know."
"Plausible deniability," Kim agreed, tapping her nose.
Dana looked at her, then at Elliot. Elliot just shook his head. A loud dragging, thumping noise resonated from the direction of Dan and Casey's office. Kim's smile widened.
"Right," Dana said. "Three alternate scripts?"
"One if the game starts in the next thirty minutes or so, one if it starts too close to showtime for anything interesting to have happened yet, and one if it's canceled outright," Kim explained. "Casey wandered through a little while ago asking if there were any Guinness World Records relating to snowball fights."
"Those are my boys," Dana cooed, and wandered off.
"Did she seem disturbingly cheerful to you?" Elliot asked.
Kim shrugged and added another turret to her paper clip palace.
"Something is happening!" Elliot yelled, twenty minutes later.
It was kind of impressive how quickly the newsroom filled up, especially considering that half the staff had been nowhere near the studio.
"What?" Casey shouted. "What's happening? Is someone talking on a television with actual, legitimate information?"
"Not yet, but they say Lou Piniella is meeting with Torre and the head umpire," Jeremy said. "Also the camera keeps panning Safeco Field."
"It's been doing that for the past eighty minutes," Kim pointed out. "In case we hadn't noticed that snow is still falling."
Natalie fidgeted with the long sleeves of her sweater. "Oh, my god, snow is still falling."
"I think I see movement," Jeremy said.
Everyone huddled closer, as though that would force the unseen Seattle cameraman to zoom in on the theoretical movement.
"Look!" Dana reentered the newsroom, beaming. "I have a team again!"
Natalie grabbed her arm. "Oh my god what happened in the network meeting?"
"Oh, nothing much!" Dana sang, an obvious lie.
"I will kill you both if something happens in Seattle and we miss it because you're gossiping about ESPN," Casey promised.
There was movement in the corner of the baseball field. The camera abruptly stopped its continuous pan, as though hiccuping; then it slowly, disbelievingly zoomed in on the dark, blocky blur.
Dan fist pumped the air. "They're bringing out the Zamboni!"
"That's not a Zamboni," Jeremy said, long-suffering. "Zambonis are ice resurfacers. They're used to clean and smooth the surface of ice rinks. Safeco Field is a baseball stadium, not an ice rink."
"Look at that television, my friend," Dan said, "and tell me what that thing clearing the snow off of the diamond looks like."
"Jeremy?" Dan prompted.
"...okay, it looks an awful lot like a Zamboni," Jeremy grudgingly conceded. "But it's still actually a snow plow."
Elliot raised his hand. "So if the not-a-Zamboni-thing is chugging its way around the diamond--"
"Danny!" Casey shouted amidst the general uproar. "Script option number one!"
In Dan and Casey's office, they found a second desk. It sat where no desk had ever sat before. The table had been relocated to the opposite side of the room, under the Raging Bull poster, with the couch and other accoutrements ergonomically shifted to accommodate it. Dan's laptop and phone were set up on the new desk, along with a calendar, a sports almanac, the latest edition of the Guinness Book of Records, and two brimming binders helpfully labeled "Seattle Mariners - 2000" and "New York Yankees - 2000".
"What," Dan started. Then he just blinked some more.
Casey was already thumbing through the Yankees binder. "Hey, this is pretty good. All the stats, personal bios for every player, rundowns of every game this year, a 'fun facts' section..."
Dan grabbed the Mariners binder. "'Fun facts?' What the hell?"
"I mean, it's not like there's anything here we didn't already know, but it's all...organized. And right here."
"I definitely didn't know some of the 'fun facts,'" Dan remarked. "You know, Case, I think Kim may have found me the most scarily efficient intern ever."
"Congratulations on your new secretary-slash-intern." Casey paused and looked around. "And your new desk, Jesus Christ. Dan, what happens if the intern decides to organize the rest of your life the way he organized your desk?"
Dan replaced the binder on the desk, looking somewhat dazed. "I have to admit, the prospect terrifies and arouses me in roughly equal measure."
"Which is pretty much business as usual for you," Casey said with a grin. Then he sobered abruptly. "Dan. Danny. I can see that look in your eye, that speculative gleam, that harbinger of doom and stalking. No sleeping with the intern."
"I totally was not thinking about that at all!" Dan protested unconvincingly.
"Also, your intern is a guy."
"...your point being?"
"No, you're right, it doesn't matter, you're going to be equally disastrous either way. It's like Kim was secretly plotting revenge on me this whole time," Casey groaned, sinking down into his chair. "That, or she seriously miscalculated."
"Well, would you look at that," Isaac said, surveying the busy newsroom. "People are actually working. What a pleasant surprise."
"Isaac! Hi!" Dana bounced up to him. "Guess what I did!"
"You actually kept a secret for once in your long and extremely talkative life?"
"I did," Dana said, beaming.
"She did," Natalie agreed sulkily.
Isaac made a great show of checking his watch. "And it's been...forty-eight minutes since the meeting ended. Is that a new record for you, Dana?"
"Guinness has been notified," Jeremy said.
"All right, listen up, people." Isaac raised his voice ever so slightly. It was very effective. Dan and Casey even poked their heads out of their excitingly refurnished office. "I know you've all got a lot of work to do for the show tonight, so I'll make this quick. I've got some bad news. Your workload for the next couple of weeks just got a hell of a lot heavier."
"Because...?" Dana prompted, practically vibrating with glee.
Isaac shot her a quelling look. "Because ESPN's contract with Major League Baseball fell through due to unforeseen legal complications, so Quo Vadimus has stepped up to the plate instead. Sports Night has been granted exclusive coverage of all National League home games of the World Series this year--"
It was entirely possible he had more to add, but no one heard him over the general uproar. Most of the volume came from Natalie and Kim's very shrill victory dance in the middle of the newsroom. Jeremy went very still, seeing hours of soccer features dribble down the drain in the manner of a little boy who's just been told he has to give up the cookies in his lunchbox, but there will be limitless cake and ice cream when he gets home. The control room techies gave everyone high fives. Dan temporarily lost the power of speech and retired to his (recently replaced) swivel chair to steady himself. Casey did an incredibly uncool dance move that everyone judiciously pretended not to have noticed.
"Chaos, disorder, mayhem," Dana said proudly. "Our work here is done. Or actually, our work here has just barely started, Jesus Christ. Natalie, get me those run sheets--"
"Isn't there supposed to be some kind of baseball game happening?" Isaac asked no one in particular, frowning up at the TV. "And what the hell is all that white crap in the stadium?"
Jeremy coughed. "Well, there was this freak weather incident in Seattle--"
"Pitcher!" Elliot shouted. "Pitcher on the mound! Batter up!"
The TV zoomed in. Tino Martinez stepped up to the plate. A few snowflakes clung to his helmet as he gripped the bat tightly. Arthur Rhodes threw the first pitch, and the camera zoomed out to the eager, snow-dusted crowds.
"It's a Christmas miracle," Dan said, awed, from the doorway to their office.
Casey snorted and bumped his shoulder lightly. "Dan. It's the middle of October."
"They're playing baseball in the snow and we just won exclusive coverage of like half the World Series, what else do you want me to call it?" Dan raised an eyebrow. "Are you implying that Christmas is insufficiently miraculous to bring joy and wonder into our hearts at any other time of year?"
"Dan. You're Jewish."
"Would it make you feel better if I called it a Chanukah miracle?"
"It really wouldn't."
"Don't you people have a show starting in less than an hour?" Isaac asked the room at large. "It's like you've never seen anyone play baseball before."
"You want snow? Casey here can tell you that the world's largest snowball was rolled by reporter Katrin Hess in Tyrol, Austria, coming in at a circumference of twenty-two feet. Try throwing that in someone's face."
"You want to play games in the snow? Dan here knows that the world's largest snowball fight took place at Michigan Tech, with three thousand, seven hundred and eighty-four participants, which is the precise number of viewers who just turned off their television sets in frustration because they were expecting a sports show."
"You want actual sports? We've got Sharks in San Jose, we're putting soccer in the spotlight, and we're swatting snowballs in Seattle. You're watching Sports Night on QVN; I'm Dan Rydell alongside Casey McCall, and we've got a lot more alliteration where that came from, so stick around."