ABC has closed a deal for Men In Shorts, a single-camera comedy inspired by the life of professional soccer player Robbie Rogers, who became the first openly gay man to compete in a top North American professional sports league. The project hails from writer Claudia Lonow and producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, whose Storyline Entertainment, along with Universal Television, optioned Rogers’ story rights for a comedy series in July.
Written by Lonow, who serves as showrunner, and Jordon Nardino (Desperate Housewives), Men In Shorts centers on a young pro soccer player who takes one small step out of the closet and one giant leap into the spotlight. Zadan, Meron, Lonow and Nardino will executive produce, while Rogers will be a producer and Storyline VP Mark Nicholson, who developed the project, a consulting producer. The project falls under Storyline’s deal at Universal TV.
Lonow admits she wasn’t that familiar with soccer or Rogers before meeting with him, Zadan, Meron and Nicholson this past summer, though the 2014 World Cup was playing in her house as her college-age daughter is a big fan. “I was absolutely captivated by his charm and his humor, and I just thought it could make a great show,” Lonow said.
Men In Shorts will combine elements of a family and workplace comedy. “To me, a sports team locker room is a workplace we haven’t seen before,” she said. Like in real-life, the protagonist comes from a conservative family. The project naturally takes liberties — on the show, the guy’s parents are still together, and, while Rogers’ father had been completely supportive and accepting, the soccer dad on the series “has more of a journey to go,” Lonow said. The comedy will chronicle how the soccer player’s teammates and friends interact with him after his coming out and how they start evaluating their own secrets that are keeping them from “being happier and more authentic.”
Rogers spent one season at the University of Maryland, helping the college team win an NCAA Championship. He quickly turned pro, joining the Dutch team Heerenveen. He then spent five seasons with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, winning the MLS Cup, and competed in the 2008 Olympics. Following a stint with English team Leeds United, on February 15, 2013, Rogers announced his retirement from professional soccer at age 25 and revealed he was gay. He said he was retiring to avoid the scrutiny from the press and fans, but after speaking at an LGBT youth event two months later, he decided that stepping down is a cowardly thing to do and he should use his platform to be a role model. The next month, he joined the LA Galaxy, becoming the first openly gay man to play in a top North American professional sports league (NBA player Jason Collins, who had come out earlier that year, was a free agent at the time of his announcement).
After keeping their sexuality private for decades, professional athletes have started speaking out in the past couple of years, with Rogers, Jason Collins and football player Michael Sam breaking ground. While Collins and Sam have struggled establishing themselves post-coming out, Rogers has flourished, emerging as one of LA Galaxy’s key players. His book, “Coming Out to Play,” will be published by Penguin on November 25th.
Zadan and Meron also recently sold multi-camera comedy Eat Sleep Poop to NBC. They are currently in rehearsals for the broadcast of Peter Pan Live!, which will air on NBC on December 4, and are also embarking on their third consecutive turn as producers of the Oscars.
Men In Shorts is Lonow’s third project this season. The How To Live With Your Parents and Accidentally on Purpose creator also has comedies Big Kids and Assisted Loving at NBC. Nardino’s credits also include GCB and Smash. Rogers, Lonow and Nardino’s deals were brokered by WME. Zadan and Meron’s deal was negotiated by CAA.