Wednesday, April 03, 2013

One of those great network stories

 ABC has a pilot in development.  Here's the logline:  When Terry Gannon, a recently divorced, single mother, temporarily moves in with her estranged father, a beer swilling former baseball player, she reluctantly starts coaching her son's underdog little league team and is drawn back into the world of sports she vowed to leave behind. 

This is not the first time this basic premise has been tried.  I wonder if the ABC pilot gets the same note as the CBS version. 

Right around this time in 1979 CBS premiered a new sitcom called THE BAD NEWS BEARS. It was an adaptation of the terrific movie of the same name. (If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, and a young very weird Jackie Earle Haley) In the TV version Jack Warden played the Matthau part.

Here’s that premise: a little league team of rag tag junior high misfits is coached by an alcoholic former minor leaguer down on his luck. Hilarity and dropped fly balls ensue. 

The series debuted and did well enough to get renewed for the Fall of 1980. It was on Saturday nights. Most of the shows were filmed on Westside little league fields.

Research was conducted based on the audience and the time slot, and once the show was picked up CBS gave the producers one note.

Cut out any baseball.

The (then) Saturday night audience was largely women and women didn't like baseball.

The producers reminded them this was a show about baseball. The Bad News Bears were a little league BASEBALL team. CBS said, “make it more about the relationship between Jack Warden and the kids.” And they said, “Yeah, but he’s their BASEBALL coach.” They countered with, “Well, then do more with the romance between Warden and Catherine Hicks, who played the junior high principal. So it should be a romantic comedy even though the premise is about baseball and kids and now neither were emphasized?  "We don't care as long as there's no baseball."

Try that for a writing exercise future-showrunners. 

BAD NEWS BEARS had their season debut in September, and for whatever reason, tanked in the ratings and was soon cancelled. Remember, when it debuted in the spring it got good enough numbers to be renewed. So what was the difference? Could it perhaps, just maybe, by some slim chance be… BASEBALL?

Good luck with the ABC pilot.

33 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

I remember watching the Bad News Bears show! Corey Feldman! Meeno Peluce! Billy Jacoby! And I definitely recall being irritated that the baseball seemed to vanish in the second season (along with a good chunk of the original kid cast, I beleive).

Wendy M. Grossman said...

That's interesting. The premise of EVENING SHADE (also CBS, wasn't it?) was that a retired football player (Burt Reynolds) married a much younger, ambitious career woman (Marilu Henner), and found himself coaching the perennially losing high school football team and looking after their four kids. I really liked a lot of that show (Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley, Hal Holbrook, Michael Jeter, Ossie Davis...what's not to love? Even one of the kids, Jay R. Ferguson, is on MAD MEN now) - and IIRC there was barely any actual football. And it did pretty well.

wg

Stormy said...

So does this relatively famous Terry Gannon have any recourse if this goes forward?

http://espnmediazone.com/us/bios/gannon_terry/

Terry Gannon joined ABC Sports in 1991 as an expert commentator for college basketball. Since then his work has spanned an extensive variety of sporting events for the network...

AndrewJ said...

Eh, after a while, even CHEERS rarely referred to Sam Malone's Red Sox career...

Dana King said...

True, but CHEERS was never ABOUT am as a baseball player. It was about the people in the bar.

unkystan said...

"Are you laughing??? There's no laughing in BASEBALL!!"

John said...

Based on that CBS memo, how bad must the NBC programming department have been in 1980 to lose to these guys?

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan, can I talk about the GoT books here?

Seriously, this is a great post, perfect timing.
But in a way this is the Fright Night Lights model. There was very little actual football, especially in the latter seasons, because Katims didn't know anything about the game. And the series stayed afloat, showing the bonds between Coach (and Mrs. Coach) and the team.

Brian O. said...

Evening Shade wasn't an established name that had a preconditioned audience expecting football. BNB fostered an audience expecting to view kids and baseball.
Castrating the BNB series would be like producing Apollo 13: The Series but have it take place in a candy factory.

RockGolf said...

@BrianO: Both could involve a mission to Mars.

Mac said...

Wow! How did Taxi ever got made? After all, who likes Taxi depots? Or Mash? Who likes military hospitals?

Mike Bell said...

TO: Burt Metcalfe
FROM: CBS
RE: M*A*S*H

Drop the war stuff.

Mike said...

30 years later this was the premise of a Clint Eastwood movie.

Bill Taub said...

Several years ago I had the good fortune to have a meeting with the late Leonard Stern (who was alive at the time)about -- I forget what -- but it resonated with him and he gave me a copy of his book 'A MARTIAN WOULDN'T SAY THAT' -- a classic compilation of stupid network notes. If your story isn't in it -- it should be.

KenNYC said...

On the other hand, the show Coach aired for nine seasons, without any actual football being shown. I don't recall ever seeing any shots of a football field, until they moved to Orlando, and even those were only establishing shots.

chuckcd said...

Kelly Leake!
How did that kid not get signed?

KenNYC said...

I should have said "hardly any football being shown." There was a little bit, here and there, sprinkled across nine seasons.

VincentS said...

You know, Ken, I used to watch that show and your posting made me realize something - I don't remember a single episode that had baseball in it! No wonder.

Guy said...

One of the great unshot movies was the fourth Bad News Bears. The studio wanted to get Matthau back, and the plot would involve the team going to Havana to play the Cuban national team. Castro was to have played himself. I'm not making this up.

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phillip B said...

The powers that be have even removed much baseball from baseball broadcasts - like the time Fox asked their play-by-play team to eliminate all references to "dead white men."

And consider this great passage from Robert Parker's 1999 novel "Hush Money" ....

"I was listening to a spring training game from Florida between the Sox and the Blue Jays. Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano were calling the game and struggling bravely to read all the drop-ins the station had sold. They did as well as anyone could, but Red Barber and Mel Allen would have had trouble with the number of commercials these guys had to slip in. The leisurely pace of baseball had once been made for radio. It allowed the announcers to talk about baseball in perfect consonance with the rhythm of the game. We listened not only to hear what happened but because we liked the music of it. The sound of a late game from the coast, between two teams out of contention on a Sunday afternoon in August, driving home from the beach. The crowd noise was faint in the background, the voices of the play-by-play guys embroidering on a dull game. Now there was little time for baseball talk. There was barely time for play-by-play. And much of the music was gone."

Ken - any interesting "notes" from your time doing baseball broadcasts?

jcs said...

I watched the Bad News Bears in the early 80s on German TV when I was in my early teens. I can still remember the pretty good cast lead by the perfect curmudgeon Jack Warden and the charming Catherine Hicks. The show aired on Saturday afternoons and was quite an exotic fare for German kids TV: Los Angeles! Baseball! In my case it caused a severe case of wanderlust and I was disappointed when the series ended.

Laconic said...

Eddie Izzard had a comedy bit where he said what would happen to Upstairs Downstairs if it was remade in Hollywood. In the Hollywood version they would add flying monkeys with machine guns.

I went through a similar experience with a new show. It is so unrecognizable that I can re pitch it despite a series contract being signed.

There is nothing left from the original material except the star. Nothing can surprise me anymore.

Johnny Walker said...

This post would be much better without all the Baseball in it.

benson said...

Mike Bell-Funny!
Bill Taub-thanks for the clarification. LOL

But to my point. One of the finest series never seen by most people was Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night, which had very little do with sports, but that title scared off women. Even though much of the story lines were things that women love.

pumpkinhead said...

I remember this show too. And I remember wondering why they suddenly stopped playing baseball. That network exec was a total dinkus.

Anonymous said...

I thought the outfield stiff was shot @ a park near Paramount, & home plate & the benches were shot on the soundstage? My friend Darlene was one of the Bears...not long after she died it was strange to flip on Comedy Central on Sunday morning & see her 90year old self alive as can be...

Greg Ehrbar said...

This is such a coincidence -- I was thinking about asking you a Friday question along the same lines: What do you thing about TV series that do one or two episodes that feature baseball, or even softball? Are there any that are favorites, or do they seldom do the game justice?

Daniel Saks said...

Worked on the American Version of the British show Never Better. Loose the down and out stuff they live in a beautiful house. Loose the crappy little used car her drives a Prius. Loose the recovering alcoholic stuff. Why even but the property in the first place?

DBenson said...

Just to show it's not solely TV executives, Al Capp had a story about trying to launch the comic strip "Li'l Abner." One syndicate exec was interested, but only if Capp moved the setting to the city, made Abner and Daisy Mae office workers with appropriate English and modest wardrobes, sweetened up Mammy (and lost the pipe) . . .

Mike said...

"Romantic relationship" between: Warden, born 1920, Hicks, born 1951. Sisters, I feel your pain.
The execs were right, but if you're gonna adapt to a new audience, do it properly.
Lose Warden, bring in "Hot Rob" from yesterday's post, playing the hitch-hiker character from Thelma & Louise.
Lose the baseball, bring in football and an all-girl team.
Or reschedule.

Sebastian Peitsch said...

This sounds oddly familiar.

Could it be that the writers of "Episodes" know this story? It sounds like the script advice the showrunners got for "Pucks".

You could just do a search and replace "baseball" with "hockey".

cadavra said...

Some years ago, the studio I work for produced a very expensive movie version of a popular old TV series, but they changed it so much it barely resembled the series. The pre-opening tracking was horrible, and I told my boss that the problem was that the trailer didn't make it look anything like the show. He said, "Yeah, but nobody remembers the show." I replied, "In that case, why did we spend all that money acquiring the rights?" He just stared at me for a minute and at that moment realized that the picture was in fact doomed.