Take 5: 'A League of Their Own' Series
September 12, 2022
Thirty years ago, a script about the first female professional baseball league was produced and released in theaters. A League of Their Own captured the hearts of countless movie-goers then, just as the adapted TV series of the same name does today.
In August, A League of Their Own premiered as a series on Amazon Prime. How did creator, writer and star Abbi Jacobson face the challenge of writing A League of Their Own in a way that introduces a new set of characters and constructs a modern take on a historical subject, all while meeting the expectations of those who loved the film?
Here are five screenwriting takeaways you can learn from A League of Their Own.
1. Use Familiarity to Set Expectations
Creating a TV series or reboot based on a popular piece of nostalgia from the 1980s or 1990s is extremely common nowadays. It’s also quite difficult because you’re essentially taking something most people loved and putting a new spin on it.
There is a lot of familiarity between the A League of Their Own TV series and the movie. This nod to the classic film is a way for the creators to express their understanding of the expectations of the audience. The opening scene shows Carson Shaw (Abbi Jacobson) racing after a moving train similar to the scene from the original screenplay in which Dotty (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) run to board the train so they can head to tryouts. Shaw is even a catcher, the same position as Dotty. This gives a snap-familiarity that the audience can grasp onto.
The next scene has Shaw meeting two other players vying for spots in the female professional league who are similar to Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell’s role in the film.
These references, and many others, serve many points. One, in particular, is the creators telling the viewer that while this TV series takes inspiration from the movie, it is not the movie. It sets up both the expectation that there is respect for the original IP while also indicating that the TV series will be different.
However, many of the similarities end there…
2. Differentiating Your Version from the Original
A League of Their Own, in just its first season alone, is four times longer than the movie, creating more time to explore the characters more deeply. In the film, there was a focus on the dynamic between the two sisters, Dotty and Kit. In the TV series, there is more depth to the supporting characters and storylines that move away from playing baseball but explores their personal lives.
It becomes more than just a snapshot of a season focusing on the main character and the supporting characters around her. Baseball is the main focus though and the game impacts the lives of all the characters in the TV series, including some that are not even in the league.
For instance, the show highlights a Black woman’s desire to play baseball through Max (Chanté Adams). Because of segregation and racist and sexist attitudes of the time, Max can’t play on the professional team due to the color of her skin, but also can’t be on a company team because she is female.
The TV series has the advantage of exploring stories and characters more deeply as the creators are not beholden to as many time constraints as the film. From Bates Motel to Ratched to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a series allows you to spread a character’s arc across multiple episodes, take more time introducing characters and storylines, and add layers that a two-hour film never could.
3. Same Time Period, Different Time
1992 was simply a different time than today. Even though both the TV series and the film take place in 1942, the creators recognize that they’re telling the story in a different modern time. Not only that, but theater-goers were different 30 years ago than the series-streaming audiences of today.
Back then, network shows like Murphy Brown, Cheers and Northern Exposure were Emmy nominees and winners of outstanding series. Compare it to the 2022 Emmy nominees of Barry, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Hacks to name a few. Murphy Brown was notoriously controversial for the lead character’s decision to have a child out of wedlock! It’s doubtful that would even make it onto a critic’s radar nowadays.
When you create an updated version of a TV series or film, it must be relevant to its present day. And as the consumers of the world desire customized experiences, a TV series has the benefit of not needing as large an audience so it can become more specialized in its storytelling. Back in 1992, Murphy Brown was bringing in over 14 million viewers per episode on average, whereas the season finale of This is Us was considered impressive at 6 million viewers. While there is more content being created, fewer people are watching it en masse.
This opens the door to expanding your writing to be more niche. The stories that take place in A League of Their Own are more specific and focused than in the film. What the PG-rated film didn’t do 30 years ago was tackle more adult-oriented themes such as race, infidelity and sexuality.
4. Always Put your Character in Conflict
Every character needs conflict or else the story just isn’t interesting. Every scene needs it. If you look at Shaw, the lead character, she is constantly in conflict either on an internal level or against something external, whether it’s with a coach, a husband at war, or her role on the team - or internal, which includes extramarital romantic feelings and her abilities to lead the team as a coach.
In every scene, you can see how the conflict plays out. Sometimes it’s massive like fighting physically, emotionally and mentally with a teammate, other times it’s more subtle. Conflict is a must for all of your characters, but you also don’t want to overload every scene with life-altering conflict — it just needs to advance the story.
5. Part of a Team
Writing a team sports film or TV series involves juggling a lot of characters. Each one must be recognizably different and bring something to the table. In A League of Their Own, this is extremely complex because not only do you have the entire team but coaches, spouses, parents, other storylines with other characters and more.
Ultimately, they’re part of a team. And whether that team is a literal sports team or family or coworkers at an office, there is a point where everyone comes together for the cause. While there are conflicts and falling out amongst the players, achieving the goal involves everyone coming together.
The lessons in A League of Their Own regarding teammates with different lives and personalities forced to be with each other, solving problems, failing, and succeeding are great to study for building your ensemble cast.
You can now binge watch A League of Their Own on Amazon Prime.
Written by: Steven HartmanSteven Hartman is an award-winning, optioned screenwriter. He was a Top 5 Finalist in Big Break’s Historical Category in 2019 and won Best Action/Adventure in Script Summit’s Screenplay Competition in 2021. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College and had internships at Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Village Roadshow Pictures. Steve is a full-time writer and creative video producer by day and a screenwriter and novelist by night.