Series DVD cover
Created byRobert Wuhl
Opening theme
ComposerEd Smart
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes80 (list of episodes)
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time30 minutes
Production companies
Original release
ReleaseAugust 10, 1996 (1996-08-10) –
September 8, 2002 (2002-09-08)

Arliss (rendered in its logo as Arli$$) is an American dark comedy series, created by and starring Robert Wuhl (who was also the series' showrunner), about the glitzy, big-money world of professional sports, with Wuhl playing the eternally optimistic and endlessly resourceful L.A. sports agent Arliss Michaels, whose Achilles' heel is his inability to say "no" to clients and employees. Arliss ran for seven seasons and 80 episodes on HBO, from August 10, 1996, to September 8, 2002. After almost two decades of being off-air, the entire catalog of Arliss episodes returned to HBO Max in a streaming format as of September 2022.

The New York Times called the show "One of the freshest shows to come along in a while."[1] It was well-known for taking on very controversial (at the time) topics, including point shaving, political corruption, personal seat license fees, relocation of professional sports teams, sports in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, right to work states, domestic abuse, steroid use, Alzheimer's disease, gay and transgender athletes, alcoholism, and unwanted athlete pregnancies.

The idea behind Arliss was to show the hype, greed, and hypocrisy of powerful sports agents like Arliss Michaels, and what really happens "behind the scenes" in professional sports. In a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Wuhl said the idea for Arliss was based on the book The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and journalist Tony Schwartz:

I had read The Art of the Deal and I thought, "This is total, 100 percent bullshit. He's saying stuff that I don't believe a fuckin' word of it. He's telling you what happened, but I want to see what really happened." We can use this, as Arliss the sports agent, telling you what happens and then prove he's full of shit and show what really happened.[2]

Over 400 celebrities had cameo appearances on Arliss, including Les Moonves, George Wallace, Bobcat Goldthwait, Shannon Elizabeth, Fred Williamson, Al Michaels, John Elway, Derek Jeter, Dan Marino, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Warren Moon, Alonzo Mourning, Bob Costas, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, Picabo Street, Katarina Witt, and Barry Bonds.[citation needed]


Series overview

Main article: List of Arliss episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
111August 10, 1996 (1996-08-10)October 16, 1996 (1996-10-16)
210June 17, 1997 (1997-06-17)August 19, 1997 (1997-08-19)
313June 7, 1998 (1998-06-07)August 30, 1998 (1998-08-30)
412June 6, 1999 (1999-06-06)August 22, 1999 (1999-08-22)
513June 4, 2000 (2000-06-04)September 3, 2000 (2000-09-03)
610June 10, 2001 (2001-06-10)August 12, 2001 (2001-08-12)
711June 16, 2002 (2002-06-16)September 8, 2002 (2002-09-08)

Arliss on other programs

In July 1999, Robert Wuhl appeared, in character as Arliss, on WCW Monday Nitro as a guest announcer, alongside Scott Hudson and Bobby Heenan.[3] He said that his HBO series has featured WCW wrestlers as guest stars, but the Big Three networks were "scared" of doing the same. Arliss said he was scouting Dennis Rodman, who was doing his third stint with the company. Wuhl's appearance was a cross-promotion for HBO, as both it and WCW were owned by Time Warner. In the Arliss episode "To Thy Own Self Be True", WCW creative head Eric Bischoff guest-starred along with wrestlers Lex Luger, Randy Savage, and Gorgeous George.

In The Simpsons season 13 episode "Half-Decent Proposal", Marge is watching Nookie in New York with Patty and Selma, when an announcer states, "Coming up next on BHO [sic], it's Arliss!"; Patty and Selma scream and quickly reach for the remote control.

During the October 12, 2002, episode of Saturday Night Live, guest host Sarah Michelle Gellar delivered the following monologue in a fake television commercial sketch:

You know the feeling. Someone's about to tell a joke, and you panic. What if you start laughing? Lots of us experience slight loss of bladder control. An embarrassing accident can happen any time. Sometimes, just when laughing. That's why I watch Arliss on HBO Comedy. It's nice to know that, every weekday at midnight, I can sit down with Robert Wuhl and the gang at Arliss Michaels Sports Management, and, a half-hour later, my drawers will be as dry as a bone. And now I know I'll be able to get 100% bladder control whenever I'm feeling insecure. Because all seven seasons of Arliss are now available on DVD. That's over forty hours of keep-your-pants-dry entertainment! So, don't let slight loss of bladder control cramp your style. Watch Arliss, and take back your life. Ask your doctor if Arliss is right for you. Side effects may include nausea, depression, and slight sexual dysfunction.[4]

In the 30 Rock seventh season premiere, "The Beginning of the End", Kenneth says, in response to Tracy Jordan's marriage having lasted for over 20 years, "That's half as long as it felt Arliss was on TV!"

Former UCB New York stage show The George Lucas Talk Show organized a 7-week-long charity marathon of Arliss episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The hosts watched all seven seasons of the show and interviewed many of the show's writers, producers, and cast, including Wuhl.[5] The livestreams raised over $20,000 for the New York City FoodBank.

In "Strike One," an episode from the third season of The King of Queens, Carrie berates Doug for canceling their HBO subscription in an attempt to save money. Doug claims it was not an easy decision because he "lost Arliss."

Critical reception

Arliss has a 72/100 rating on Metacritic,[citation needed] and 62% on Rotten Tomatoes.[citation needed] The popular show, which ran for seven seasons, has been cited as a "blueprint" for future HBO shows such as Ballers and Entourage, and as an example of how premium cable networks manage their programming. Arliss was cited by a number of HBO subscribers as the sole reason that they paid for the network, and as a result, its fan base was able to keep the show on the air for a lengthy run.[6] The show frequently used obscure sports references, and Entertainment Weekly repeatedly referred to it as one of the worst shows on television;[7] sportswriter Bill Simmons (who would eventually work for HBO itself under his digital banner The Ringer) used Arliss as an example of what he saw as a lack of quality fictional shows about sports.[8]


  1. ^ "Of Athletes and Agents... Oh, and Money, Too", The New York Times, August 10, 1996
  2. ^ "Arli$$: Robert Wuhl and Mike Tollin on Why It's Time for a Revival", The Hollywood Reporter, September 27, 2018
  3. ^ "Arli$$ on Nitro: Maybe If He Had Played Alexander Knox..." December 26, 2012. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  4. ^ Saturday Night Live. Season 28. Episode 2. October 12, 2002. NBC. Saturday Night Live Transcripts.
  5. ^ The George Lucas Talk Show - May the AR Be LI$$ You Marathon (Talk-Show), Patrick Cotnoir, Griffin Newman, Connor Ratliff, Robert Wuhl, May 17, 2020, retrieved January 26, 2021((citation)): CS1 maint: others (link)[better source needed]
  6. ^ Poniewozik, James. "TV 101: They're Not TV Numbers. They're HBO Numbers". Tuned In. Time. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved February 25, 2008.
  7. ^ "EW's Ken Tucker names 2002's 5 worst TV shows – Arli$$". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 12, 2006.
  8. ^ " Page 2: Dear Sports Guy..." ESPN. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved October 12, 2016.