The best fictional sports TV shows
NBC

The best fictional sports TV shows

There have been TV shows about many subjects. Families. Workplaces. Creepy looking dinosaurs. And of course there have been shows about sports. After all, sports are one of the most popular things in the world. Why wouldn’t there be shows about them? They may not always be the most realistic, but here are our favorite fictional TV shows about the wide world of sports.

 
1 of 20

"Friday Night Lights"

"Friday Night Lights"
ABC

Not just a sports TV show, but a prestigious one, during its run, “Friday Night Lights” got a lot of Emmys love, including a win for Kyle Chandler, who played the iconic high school football coach Eric Taylor. And let’s not forget Connie Britton’s great performance as Tami Taylor.

 
2 of 20

"Coach"

"Coach"
ABC

Eric Taylor coached high school football, but Hayden Fox was just a step above. He coached a college football team, namely the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles. Coach Fox was helped by his friends and assistant coaches Luther and Dauber. Unlike “Friday Night Lights,” “Coach” was a sitcom, so the football was treated a little less seriously.

 
3 of 20

"GLOW"

"GLOW"
Netflix

Yes, this is a fictional show about a fictional sport, but we’re still counting it, mostly because Netflix’s “GLOW” is just so good. It’s based on the real women’s professional wrestling company of the same name, but the events are all fictional. The show is funny but can also hit great dramatic moments well. Also, Alison Brie plays a woman whose wrestling character is an evil Soviet communist named Zoya the Destroya.

 
4 of 20

"Ballers"

"Ballers"
HBO

Hey, Elizabeth Warren likes it, so it can’t be all bad, right? Plus, the show stars Dwayne Johnson, who is almost always a delight. It’s kind of like sports “Entourage” but probably a step above it in terms of quality. After all, Rob Corddry is involved.

 
5 of 20

"Eastbound and Down"

"Eastbound and Down"
HBO

Not all sports shows are about successful athletes. Well, Kenny Powers had some success, but his, shall we say, tempestuous personality and predilection for self-destruction have gotten in his way. Power is a pretty brutal character at times — a Danny McBride special —but if you’re up for the ride “Eastbound and Down” is truly insane.

 
6 of 20

"Red Oaks"

"Red Oaks"
Amazon Prime

Technically, “Red Oaks” is a coming-of-age story with a country club setting. However, a lot of it focuses on sports. David Myers, the character having the aforementioned coming of age, is a tennis pro. There is a lot of tennis involved and also some golf. You know, country club stuff. That makes it sporty enough for us.

 
7 of 20

"Brockmire"

"Brockmire"
IFC

So many sports shows focus on athletes and coaches. Where’s the love for the announcers — specifically, the alcoholic, foul-mouthed announcers who are having emotional breakdowns? That’s where Hank Brockmire’s journey starts, though the show wisely doesn’t just stay in that lane for the entire run. The show has more depth than just Hank Azaria saying shocking things in his Vin Scully voice.

 
8 of 20

"Playmakers"

"Playmakers"
ESPN

ESPN may have been ahead of the curve with this one. Also, yes, once upon a time ESPN had fictional programming. “Playmakers” took us behind the scenes of a professional football team, the Cougars, including all the sordid details. But that turned out to be a problem. Though “Playmakers” was highly rated, the NFL reportedly pressured ESPN to cancel it because the league didn’t like all the drug abuse and concussion talk.

 
9 of 20

"Pitch"

"Pitch"
FOX

Speaking of short-lived shows, “Pitch” didn’t have a long life on FOX either. That wasn’t for a lack of quality necessarily. The show told the story of the first woman to play in Major League Baseball, and “Pitch” was able to get the licensing rights for MLB, which helped. Also, Mark-Paul Gosselaar had a role as a veteran catcher!

 
10 of 20

"Sports Night"

"Sports Night"
ABC

Aaron Sorkin has made a few shows about the behind-the-scenes world of TV. A couple of them, “Studio 60” and “The Newsroom,” weren’t very good. On the other hand, “Sports Night” turned out quite well. It was about a “SportsCenter” analogue, and this time, for whatever reason, Sorkin managed to hit the right notes.

 
11 of 20

"Hangin' with Mr. Cooper"

"Hangin' with Mr. Cooper"
ABC

As you may be able to tell by the name of the show, the titular Mr. Cooper is a teacher. Ah, but he is a high school gym teacher. Also, during the show’s run he becomes the coach of the school’s basketball team. That makes sense, because the premise of the show is that Mark Cooper was a member of the Golden State Warriors before taking on his current gig.

 
12 of 20

"The White Shadow"

"The White Shadow"
CBS

Interesting fact: “The White Shadow” was created by Bruce Paltrow, the father of Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s another show about a former NBA player, this time a former Chicago Bull, who takes a job coaching a high school team. While “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” was a sitcom, “The White Shadow” takes places at a racially diverse, impoverished high school and tackles a lot of serious issues. It ended up lasting three seasons and got a fair amount of critical love.

 
13 of 20

"One Tree Hill"

"One Tree Hill"
CW

Like many CW shows, “One Tree Hill” is mostly about romance and intrigue and love triangles. This time, it involves two half brothers. However, those two brothers ALSO are on the same high school basketball team, where they compete for playing time and prestige. That means, when they aren’t out looking for dates and romance, there’s a lot of basketball going on.

 
14 of 20

"The League"

"The League"
FX

A show about a fantasy sports league is technically about sports! You can’t argue with the logic! Also, in time, a lot of pro athletes would show up to make cameos on “The League,” the largely improvised FX comedy. When you start getting real athletes showing up to crack jokes, you’ve officially become a sports show.

 
15 of 20

"My Boys"

"My Boys"
TBS

Here’s another take on the sports show. PJ Franklin, the main character of “My Boys,” is a professional sportswriter. A lot of the show is about her hanging out with all her guy friends while also trying to balance being a lady trying to date. Also, you might be thinking, “Hey wasn’t Oscar Madison from "The Odd Couple" also a sportswriter?” You bet, but that show feels like it is a lot more about, you know, the odd couple at the center of the show. Include it with an asterisk if you like.

 
16 of 20

"Hang Time"

"Hang Time"
NBC

“Hang Time” was part of NBC’s Saturday morning lineup for teenagers, so we are grading it on a sliding scale. It aired alongside shows such as “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” for example. This is one of the sportiest shows out there though. It focuses on a high school basketball team from Indiana, and the cast changed throughout the six seasons.

 
17 of 20

"Arliss"

"Arliss"
HBO

Here’s another new take on the sports show. This time, it’s a comedy about a sports agent. It’s one of the earliest original programs on HBO, having begun airing in 1996. Robert Wuhl played the titular Arliss Michaels, but the most notable member of the cast these days has to be Sandra Oh.

 
18 of 20

"Lights Out"

"Lights Out"
FX

“Lights Out” lasted only one season on FX, but it qualifies as a “canceled too soon” program. It had an interesting, if dark, premise. A boxer dealing with dementia from all the punches he’s taken has to decide if he wants to make a comeback to try and help support his family. It could have been an interesting story had it been able to continue, but alas it did not.

 
19 of 20

"Necessary Roughness"

"Necessary Roughness"
USA

“Necessary Roughness” comes from the era of “blue sky” TV on USA, so it is light and frothy. The show starred Callie Thorne as a physical therapist who works for a professional football team, the fictional New York Hawks. She butted heads with people, she dealt with her divorce and the adventure lasted three seasons before getting the ax, as USA started to move away from that kind of show.

 
20 of 20

"Cobra Kai"

"Cobra Kai"
YouTube

A TV show about Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults, years after they clashed in the original “Karate Kid” movie. Could this new show, especially in this era of cash-grab reboots, be justified? It turns out it could! The critical consensus of “Cobra Kai,” a YouTube original, was surprisingly good. Apparently there was more story to be told about these two, no longer teenagers but somewhat broken adult men.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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