Legendary stage and television actor Robert Guillaume died today at the age of 89. Children of the 1970s knew him as Benson DuBois from the ABC TV shows “Soap” and “Benson.” However, the cool kids from the 70s and, frankly, the 80s knew him as Isaac Jaffe from the great “Sports Night,” an Aaron Sorkin TV show that ran on ABC from 1998-2000.
Yes, I’m a Sorkin apologist. I also love Apple and Starbucks.
“Sports Night” was a TV show made for people who work in TV; I’m convinced of it. Another Sorkin show, “The Newsroom,” was also a nod to journalists and the business — and they were both terrific. The former was a show centered on a SportsCenter-esque broadcast called “Sports Night” on a network called CSC, and the latter centered on a nightly news program called “News Night” on a network called ACN.
ACN was led by Charlie Skinner, played by Sam Waterston, a hard-drinking but affable boss who was a righteous news manager. Skinner stood up to Leona Lansing, played by Jane Fonda, although he was also a pragmatist and would push back on anchor Will McAvoy on the micro when he felt he was losing the macro.
On the other hand, CSC’s Isaac Jaffe was 100% righteous albeit not beyond his daily 10 mistakes, as he explained to Dan Rydell, played by Josh Charles, at the start of Season 2, soon after Jaffe’s character had suffered a stroke and had forgotten to tell the team that “Sports Night” had been pushed back to make room for a show on “lumber sports.”
Guillaume himself also suffered a serious stroke, and lived another 19 years, by the way.
Alas, two examples of Jaffe’s managerial style that stood out to me were his monologue about trust that he delivered to Jeremy Goodwin, played by Joshua Malina. Listen to the part where Jaffe refers to an obligation to change his mind in the face of conviction, Jaffe telling Goodwin that he should have spoken up about his abhorrence to hunting.
And then eight episodes later, watch Jaffe live that truth as he called out CSC’s fictional owner Luther Sachs on the air over the flying of the Confederate flag at Sachs’ alma mater, Tennessee Western.
Sure, this is all fictional, and it aired nearly 20 years ago. However, I know a lot of folks in TV who revered this show, and I’m one of them.
Toast to you, Isaac Jaffe.
Photo credit goes to Alan Light. It’s a photo of Guillaume at the 1980 movie premiere for “Seems Like Old Times” with Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn.