There was a recent news article about plans to create a comedy-drama based on the 1980’s film A League of Their Own, the film about the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League of the 1940’s-50’s. The thing is, if it does go to series, and if it lasts longer than 13 episodes, it may be the most successful baseball-themed drama / TV show of all time.
Sports-based TV shows (not the actual sports on TV) have had a mixed-bag of success. Friday Night Lights lasted for five seasons, although the last three seasons were kind of abbreviated (in order to save some money, the show would air episodes on DirecTV first, then rebroadcast the series on NBC later that year).
Basketball dramas seem to do well – The White Shadow, for instance, lasted three seasons. Showtime had a 22-episode fictional drama called The Hoop Life, and there’s also One Tree Hill, but I still am not sure if that’s a basketball-themed show or a family drama with a basketball theme.
Football and hockey have had their own drama series, both with mixed success. HBO had First and 10, which was one of their early attempts to mix drama and comedy and boobies, while ESPN’s football drama Playmakers pissed the NFL off so much that the show was cancelled after its first season. And I think Canada had a two-season hockey drama called Power Play, which aired for a total of two episodes in the States.
But baseball-themed dramas and comedies – they die quickly. And not counting shows like Cheers (where Sam Malone is an ex-relief pitcher who owns a bar), or reality TV productions like Baseball, Minnesota, the drama / comedy baseball shows just don’t last. They’re hard to film – most shows take place in locker rooms rather than try to fill 50,000 extras into a stadium for game/action footage. Or if they do film in a stadium, the players barely look like they could actually hit, pitch or throw the ball properly. And all the shows seem to have the same archetype – the grizzled old manager, the hunky cleanup hitter, the quirky outfielder, the wife/girlfriend in the stands, a few shout-outs to major league ballplayers or real teams to make the whole show seem realistic …
But it doesn’t work. None of the shows I’m bringing to you in this blog post lasted longer than a single season. Let me show you some examples of failed baseball-themed TV shows and you’ll see what I mean.
In 1976, Jim Bouton took up acting, playing a fictionalized version of himself in a fictionalized sitcom about a fictionalized baseball team (the Washington Americans). This show lasted five episodes before CBS sent it to the showers.
BAY CITY BLUES
Steven Bochco either had staggering successful shows (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) or he had steaming failures (Cop Rock, Capitol Critters). This show fell into the latter category, a drama about a minor league baseball team. You can recognize several cast members from other Bochco dramas in this program, including Dennis Franz, Peter Jurasik, Ken Olin and Michele Greene – and wait, is that Sharon Stone in the series? Yes it is. Eight episodes were made, but only four aired before NBC sent the program back to the minor leagues.
Talk about bad timing. This Fox comedy series from 1994 touted the adventures of the Pioneers, a fictional American League baseball team – and yes, that’s Captain Kragen, Dann Florek, as the team’s manager. The show actually debuted during the strike that wiped out the 1994 season and cheated the Montreal Expos of their World Series victory. And after seven episodes, this unfunny sitcom was dumped.
Based on the memoirs of an actual Yankees bat boy who later became a successful lawyer, Clubhouse had an all-star cast and was treated as a prestige drama. There’s Christopher Lloyd as the team manager. There’s Dean Cain as the team slugger. Hey, there’s Mare Winningham as the batboy’s mother. Hey, there’s … there’s … an empty stadium, because nobody watched the show. CBS killed the show five episodes into its first season, with the remaining episodes appearing a year later on the HDNet cable service.
This 2016 Fox drama was based on the concept of what would happen if a woman actually made it to the major leagues. Another all-star cast for this show, including Mark-Paul Gosslear as the aging baseball superstar, Dan Lauria from The Wonder Years as the grizzled manager (why are the managers always grizzled in these shows), and Kylie Bunbury as Ginny, the first female pitcher to make a major league baseball roster. Currently this show holds the record for most baseball-themed episodes to actually air, lasting a full TEN shows before Fox asked for the baseball back.
And surprisingly, the idea for A League of Their Own: The TV Series has already been accomplished.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Yep, in 1993 CBS thought that the 1992 movie deserved its own sitcom treatment, and even brought in Jon Lovitz, Tracy Reiner and Megan Cavanaugh from the original movie to appear in this film. The TV show was about as funny as a four-pitch intentional walk, and CBS clipped the show five weeks into its six-week run.
So yeah, I hope A League of Their Own, Version 2.0 has some success. It’s got a lot going for it – but it’s also got a lot going against it.
NOTE: I previously wrote this blog post for the DeadSplinter blog portal.