Creatives are, by necessity, driven by passion. When writers, producers, actors and directors are interviewed, invariably, the words “labor of love” consistently emerge. When you invest blood, sweat, tears and yes, money into something you believe in, you despertately want to at least be given a fair chance to pursue your dream as long as possible.
Which is why the degree of emotion that has emerged from those that have supported and followed the journey of the modern iteration of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN has been so strong, so impassioned, and so determined. And why the news that broke yesterday was so frustrating and disappointing to those who have been championing it. As FORBES’ Marc Berman reported:
Amazon Prime has pulled the plug on the comedy-drama A League of Their Own, which was the second reboot of the beloved 1992 Penny Marshall film of the same name. The streaming service had previously announced an abbreviated four episode second – and final – season.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN has fought doggedly for its existence since it was initially conceived by a Sony team that I was a part of in 2018. Internal support, particularly from one senior executive, was exceptionally strong. Being Sony IP with previous incarnations, it also presented the economic upside that was in favor with top Sony management then and now is even more in vogue at practically every shop. It had a modestly successful first season, but was hardly a breakout. and joined another Prime show on what they define as a bubble, THE PERIPHERAL, as announced casualties. As DEADLINE’s Nellie Andreeva reported, the double strike provided a convenient alibi, one with precedence to boot:
Due to the strikes, production on both A League Of Their Own and The Peripheral was delayed and could not start before 2024, pushing the Season 2 premieres to 2025. That would create a logjam in Amazon’s 2025 pipeline and would stretch the gap between A League Of Their Own‘s first season and the four final episodes to three years.
In a story earlier this week, Deadline reported that there may be more series whose renewals could be rescinded or pending pickups not happen if the work stoppage stretches past Labor Day, with freshman series going into Season 2 the most vulnerable. There was a similar string of unrenewals during the pandemic. Series renewed for a second season comprised the bulk of pickup reversals and cancellations during the pandemic, when Covid shut down production for months, leading to big gaps between seasons. The list included Netflix’s The Society and I’m Not OK With This as well as Showtime’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida and ABC’s Stumptown.
And I was on the network side when the last prolonged work stoppage, the 2007-08 writers’ strike, saw two other series with middling numerical success despite strong internal support, Courteney Cox’s DIRT and Minnie Driver’s THE RICHES, both had their sophomore seasons’ orders truncated and their chances to continue mortally wounded. As was the case with these Amazon series, one was from an outside studio, one was from an internal production source.
Those are the cold, hard facts. Certainly the ones that Prime would like the world to accept as gospel.
But THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Lesley Goldberg, who has been an unabashed advocate for LEAGUE and a trusted ally for the Sony executives who rallied for this version to be produced, has reported this cancellation with a somewhat more impassioned narrative:
In the works since early 2018, Graham recruited Jacobson (Broad City) for the more modern take on Penny Marshall’s beloved 1992 feature film that starred Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks. Graham and Jacobson received Marshall’s blessing on their updated take before she died. The duo also recruited several members of the former AAGPBL to serve as advisers — including the legendary Maybelle Blair, who at age 95 came out as gay during the press tour for the show.
The series starring Jacobson, D’Arcy Carden, Chante Adams, Melanie Field and Kate Berlant builds on the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them nods to sexuality and racism that were briefly featured in Marshall’s movie. In addition to featuring stories of queer players from the league, the Amazon take also examined the plight of Black women who were not permitted to join the league and were part of another contingent of teams that traveled the country.
The decision to cancel the series from co-creators/showrunners Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson (who also starred) comes as Hollywood’s first dual strikes since the 1960s has brought production to a standstill. Graham and Jacobson fought to get the series a second season as Amazon and producers Sony Pictures Television negotiated to lower the show’s licensing fee.
Jacobson, who starred as a married woman who discovers her sexuality, addressed the cancellation in a post on Instagram. “To blame this cancellation on the strike is b******* and cowardly,” she wrote before thanking the show’s vocal fan base. “But this post isn’t about all that. About all the ways this show has been put through the ringer. Not today.”
If that sounds like the Sony narrative and playbook, you wouldn’t be wrong. Indeed, I helped write many of the talking points that were cited. Not to mention a fervent supporter of the narrative that Graham crafted to call Amazon out on its inclination to not renew the show at all that subsequently led to the consilliatory short order. As Goldberg retold:
The eight-episode first season bowed at once in August to positive reviews; it currently boasts a 94 percent rating among critics and 87 percent score with viewers on Rotten Tomatoes. The show also has earned recognition from GLAAD (outstanding new TV series), the Independent Spirit Awards (for supporting actress Gbemisola Ikumelo) and the NAACP Image Awards (costume design). It was also honored by the Critics Choice Association, earning the women’s committee seal of female empowerment in entertainment, the National Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, and the Voice and Visibility Award from the National Council of La Raza.
As THR reported earlier this year, several insiders at the streamer said its reliance on testing and data led to a clash last summer between Graham and marketing execs after data showed audiences found League’s queer stories off-putting and suggested downplaying those themes in materials promoting the show. Graham expressed concern about bias built into Amazon’s system for evaluating shows, which multiple sources said often ranked broad series featuring straight, white male leads above all others. According to the report, Amazon took the issue seriously and dropped the system of ranking shows based on audience scores.
So it’s not all that surprising, at least to me, that some attempts were made to connect this decision to the more existential battle that was cited when this news dropped earlier in the day via THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster:
The Writers Guild of America West has released its latest antitrust report, which warns that the ongoing consolidation of Hollywood will lead to Disney, Netflix and Amazon becoming the “new gatekeepers” of the entertainment industry, to the detriment of creative talent.
And if one delves in the report itself, the concerns about Amazon are particularly emotional, most notably when it comes to how it rewards writers:
Though Amazon is a newer entrant, in a short period of time it has gained a sizeable footprint in multiple media
businesses. Amazon has utilized the well-documented playbook of anti-competitive business practices that have
been critical to its ascendancy as a tech company to also become the third-largest video subscription service in the
U.S.16 and a leading gatekeeper in the entertainment industry. Amazon claimed that Prime Video had fewer than 45 million domestic subscribers
for years—even after analysts estimated it had crossed that threshold30—in order to underpay the higher
residuals that would be due to writers if the service had more than 45 million subscribers. Only after the Writers
Guild of America West (WGAW) filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company with the National
Labor Relations Board demanding subscriber information did Amazon finally concede to pay higher residuals
based on higher subscriber numbers beginning in July 2021.
So it’s quite easy for some to conflate this two emotionally charged narratives and heap piles of vitriol and anger, and perhaps flaming dog poop, directly onto the Culver Steps where one can find Prime Video’s executives these days. And as Goldberg further reminds, the ever-tenacious Sony team will follow their own playbook and not yet take no for an answer:
Sources say Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, plans to shop League with the hopes that the series can find a new home for season two. Scripts for all four episodes of what was planned to be the conclusion of the series were completed before the Writers Guild of America went on strike May 2.
I personally championed several of these efforts for Sony properties, some of which were successful (COBRA KAI moving from You Tube TV to Netflix, ONE DAY AT A TIME from Netflix to POP, TIMELESS being renewed for 15 additional hours twice by NBC) and some of which were not (the aforementioned ON BECOMING A GO being aborted by Showtime and the Prime drama GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, which also had a whole lot of data to support its continuation. In the case of GOOD GIRLS, as is the case with LEAGUE, Prime chose to ignore those signposts and forged ahead with projects they believed were more worthy.
Disappointing? Of course. Biased? Perhaps. Draconian? Not likely. And maybe there is another platform that will succumb to the flames and arrows of Graham and Jacobson and those who feverishly believe in the honesty and representation that LEAGUE demonstrated. It’s pretty clear how strongly Goldberg feels about this as well. And more power to those who are fighting for it. Seriously, I wish those that remain at Sony to fight that battle all the luck in the world, though it might take a whole lot more haircutting to even get its ambitious period piece budget in the range of something that others less deep-pocketed than Amazon could stomach.
And it can’t be avoided that Amazon’s issues of late have more to do with self-inflicted wounds that any sort of exercising of control and fudging the likes of which the WGA narrative tells. Like many, I’ve reported at length at how much has been sunk into the likes of CITADEL, LORD OF THE RINGS and even Sony’s WHEEL OF TIME that have yielded underachieving results. Amazon topper Andy Jassy has turned up on the heat on Mike Hopkins, and especially Jen Salke, to make better and more responsible decisions. And frankly, he carries far more weight than Graham and the Sony team carried when they accurately pointed out the kind of biases and flaws that perhaps helped that team make the ones that put them in the kind of hole they now see themselves in.
So maybe what is needed is not antitrust legislation, but rather an infusion of passion that is perhaps more grounded in facts than emotion. On both sides. And an acknowledgement that we’re all, for the moment, still in the same dimension?
Until next time…