The sportswriter never gets the girl. The sports-writer never solves the crime. He never files his story and then rides off into the sunset. FBI agent Clarice Starling stalks serial killer Buffalo Bill; the sportswriter lurks next to the locker room stall of Buffalo Bill Doug Flutie.
On television, sportswriting is most often depicted as comedy, not drama. Think Oscar Madison ( Jack Klugman) in The Odd Couple, Slap Maxwell (Dabney Coleman) in The Slap Maxwell Story, Tony DiMeo ( Tony Danza) in The Tony Danza Show, if you must. The latest incarnation is Ray Barone, who, as portrayed by Ray Romano, mixes punch lines with deadlines on CBS's highly rated Everybody Loves Raymond.
" Oscar Madison's the closest to the real thing," says Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom of the incurable slob in whose bedroom laundry ferments like overripe cheese. " Jack Klugman didn't invent getting mustard on your tie. That already went with the territory."
Albom isn't only a sportswriter, but he's also host of The Mitch Albom Show ( MSNBC, weekdays, 3 p.m.), a talkfest. Moreover, he is one of the few real sportswriters to have been portrayed on TV (by Hank Azaria in the ABC TV movie Tuesdays with Morrie, based on Albom's 1997 best-seller). Albom thinks TVs view of his profession is cockeyed. "Sportswriting is better fodder for drama than it is for comedy," he says. "In real life you often have a situation in which well-educated, middle-income, middle-aged people record the exploits of younger, wealthier and usually less-educated people. That's more poignant than it is funny. There's conflict there, and that's what you want in dramas."
There's plenty of conflict in the aforementioned sitcoms—domestic conflict. Madison, who shares his abode with finicky friend Felix Unger, is divorced, as are Maxwell and DiMeo. Ray Barone bickers good-naturedly yet incessantly with his wife, his parents and his brother. Sure, everybody loves Raymond, but does anybody like him?
Another common element: Rarely are sitcom sportswriters shown at work. "Here's the scene I would write," says Albom. "Baseball writer typing on deadline. Computer breaks. After a few panicked attempts at fixing it, he gives up. Hurls it from the press box. It lands on home plate, shattering. At the sound of the crash, the other writers look up. For a moment they regard their colleague in distress. Then they resume typing."