Showrunners Q&A: 'The League' On FX

Jeff and Jackie Schaffer, the showrunners for FX’s The League, had to deal with an NFL lockout which delayed production of the 3rd season episodes of their comedy about a group of friends obsessed with fantasy football. Then the October 6th season premiere, with guest star Seth Rogen, was the show’s most-watched telecast ever for women 18-34 and its third most-watched among total viewers. FX has just renewed The League for a fourth season. The Schaffers talked to Deadline contributor Diane Haithman the day after this season’s premiere:

DEADLINE: OK, I have to admit major sports ignorance – how do you play fantasy football?
JACKIE SCHAFFER: We’re always happy to explain it, because clearly we’re obsessed.
JEFF: Fantasy football is actually an amazing American pastime, because it takes the ultimate team sport, NFL and football, and turns it into the quest for individual achievement. Your fantasy team can be pulled from any team in the NFL. You can have Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, but you can also have Matt Forte, the running back of the Chicago Bears. And how they do is how you do. If your running back scores a touchdown, you get those six points. And you play head to head with the other people in your league. What this is really about is gloating and bragging rights. The heart of every league is the message board where you can just trash-talk and dredge up any embarrassing thing about any of your friends since you guys were in high school. That’s what we always say about the show: You don’t have to like fantasy football, you just have to have friends that you hate. Fantasy football leagues become a social unit. It’s a way for old friends, high school friends, or people at work, or families to get together.  It’s like a book club, except you would never tell people in your book club to take a ride on your suck stick.

DEADLINE: Why did you think fantasy sports would make a good comedy series?
JEFF: We thought it would be an opportunity to explore what friends are really like, especially friends with deep history. It doesn’t matter if you are now a successful doctor or lawyer, your friends are going to dredge up stuff you did when you were 13 and will never live down, and what better way to do that than in the form of fantasy football?
JACKIE: In the television business, I don’t think anyone will let you go in and pitch a show unless you use the words ‘organizing principle’ or ‘this is the prism through which we see their lives’. Everything needs a hook. This is something that provides a great way to see people interact.  Every week, because there’s a game to be won and rankings, there are always winners and losers. Watching people experience victory and defeat week after week in different combinations is a great dynamic for the show.

DEADLINE: Do enough people play fantasy football to make this a viable TV series?
JEFF: People always say to us: ‘It’s such a niche show’. But 35 million people aren’t a niche. There aren’t 35 million doctors or lawyers or priests that solve crimes, but there are plenty of shows about them. Whether you are in a league or not, everyone knows someone who is in one or acting like a maniac during a meaningless game because they want to beat their friends.

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