The Challenges Facing Amazon’s A League Of Their Own TV Series

Amazon has announced that they are creating a new A League Of Their Own TV series for their Prime streaming service. Not many details have been released, but the show faces tough challenges. The 1992 film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is an iconic movie that has continued to be popular twenty-six years after its release. The long shadow of Penny Marshall’s movie and the infrequent history of compelling sports television shows create long odds for Prime’s baseball bet.

The Rarity Of Scripted Sports Shows On Television

There is not an overwhelming list of sports dramas and comedies on TV. If an A League Of Their Own TV series is successful, it will be one of the few sports-based shows to do so. Sports Night, Friday Night Lights, Eastbound and Down, Coach, Ballers, Brockmire, and Arliss are among the few sports television series that have been renewed for more than one season over the last thirty years.

Baseball, in particular, does not have a long history on a scripted television. FOX’s single-season of Pitch in 2016 was the last time a major broadcast network had even aired a baseball show. Prior to Pitch, the number of shows to focus on baseball are few and far between. George Costanza’s run with the Yankees on Seinfeld is the most notable association between baseball and scripted television (even George tried to get fired by the Yankees).

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Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Jason Alexander on Seinfeld

A positive format attribute in favor of A League Of Their Own that it will be on a streaming channel. The series will be free from the restraints of network television. Most enduring sports television shows have followed a short season format and stick to a half-hour time slot. A season of eight to ten thirty-minute episodes is just enough fake baseball to compete with the 162 regular season MLB games that are broadcast from March to September.

The Challenges Of Rebooting A League Of Their Own

One of the toughest issues facing the A League Of Their Own TV series is the movie itself. Not only is it a classic baseball movie like Bull Durham, it is easily the most famous movie about women’s sports. A League Of Their Own spotlighted a time in which women in athletics were pioneers, making the movie and its story culturally iconic.

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Bitty Schram and Tom Hanks In A League Of Their Own

A League Of Their Own is also the rare sports movie to have a superstar cast. Many sports movies are comprised of younger actors in the role of the athletes, but A League Of Their Own was powered by an impressive group of actors. The cast included Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell, who were all near their peak stardom in 1992. The magnitude of the cast translated to the screen. The film is filled with iconic scenes and characters that cannot be replicated without coming off like a cheap copy.

The CBS A League Of Their Own TV series

Speaking of copies, this is not the first time that A League Of Their Own TV series has been attempted. CBS struck out on their own A League Of Their Own show in 1993. The network shot six episodes of the series, but only aired five. After watching the pilot, it is hard to believe that a major television network ever aired a single episode.

If you thought that Marla and Dottie leaving the team during A League Of Their Own stretched the story too much, the TV series took things to another level. The series took place in Rockford’s second season. Somehow Kit is back with the team. Dottie left again (even though her wounded husband Bob went back into the army). Mr. Harvey is threatening to shut down the Peaches unless things gets turned around.

Some people from the movie are in the pilot. Gary Marshall and Jon Lovitz both reprised their roles. Their appearances are not helped when they enter a room to pre-recorded applause befitting an episode of I Love Lucy. Tracey Reiner (Betty Spaghetti) and Megan Cavanagh (Marla Hooch) are also in the TV Series.

The pilot of CBS’ series lacks the feminist spirit that is entrenched in the movie. The women seem like second class citizens waiting for someone to rescue them. Even though the team was without their best player in the movie, they were not sitting around waiting to be saved. The change in tone is a complete reversal from the film.

Carey Lowell as Dottie Hinson on the CBS A League Of Their Own TV series
Carey Lowell as Dottie Hinson on the CBS A League Of Their Own TV series

Finally (and most importantly for a sitcom), none of the jokes are funny. In one instance Jimmy Dugan is ripping into his Peaches, only to lay off Betty Spaghetti. After being polite to Betty, he continues his tirade “for those of you whose husbands weren’t killed during the war.” How that joke ever made it on network television is mind-boggling. This is also a complete reversal from the movie. Dugan displays some empathy for her situation when the Western Union man delivers the telegram from the War Department.

(The CBS A League Of Their Own TV series pilot is available at the end of the post. Watch at your own risk.)

Don’t Be Like The CBS Series

It is not an exaggeration to say that the first episode of A League Of Their Own is one of the worst television shows that I have ever watched. It was a relief when the credits rolled and an announcer mentioned that Bob Newhart is moving to Mondays.

Compared to the CBS series, the Amazon version certainly has a low bar for competency. It should veer away from trying to recreate the movie for television. It has to be its own thing as much as possible. Whoever is cast as Jimmy Dugan should not try to be Tom Hanks. There is only one Madonna. There is only one “there is no crying in baseball” scene. A League Of Their Own will have to take those Rockford Peaches and give them an entirely new look.

Why Amazon’s A League Of Their Own TV Series Could Work

Amazon’s A League Of Their Own is not expected to be a mirror adaptation of the 1992 movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It is allegedly taking the central premise of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and turning it into a half-hour comedy. A League Of Their Own is being written by Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Will Graham (Mozart In The Jungle). No casting choices have been announced yet. Dottie and Kit will not be characters in the series.

Jacobson is a brilliant choice to undertake a project like this. The brash style of Broad City should work well with the defiant attitude that the Peaches displayed in the film. The blend of comedy, feminism, and unique historical setting could make A League Of Their Own like another Amazon series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

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Mrs. Maisel follows a 1950s New York City housewife who stumbles into a career as a stand-up comic. Mrs. Maisel also wields a brazen style as she attempts to establish herself as a comedian. If Amazon can tap into that same vibe, then their A League Of Their Own TV series could become a successful addition to the movie. If the TV series feels more like a reboot that recreates scenes from the movie, then we could be looking at another one-season sports show.

A League Of Their Own will also come at a unique time in entertainment. The growth of streaming platforms is leading to more diverse programming. A series like this could become very popular because viewers have been embracing this diversity. Amazon has the chance to sell the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s story (and merchandise) to a younger generation.

This is an interesting project to follow. I am anxious to see if Amazon can defy the history of previous sports series and create a quality baseball comedy that belongs in the same league as the film.

The CBS A League Of Their Own TV series pilot:

www.flatcircleblog.com is a Philadelphia pop-culture blog that covers television, music, podcasts, and movies. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, or subscribe by e-mail to catch all posts and conversations. 

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