It’s beloved by fans, and stands as one of the greatest sporting films ever made. So it’s no wonder expectations were high when it was announced that Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson was teaming up with director-producer Will Graham to bring A League of Their Own to the small screen.
The 1992 film, directed by Penny Marshall, was a huge hit with both critics and fans, who embraced the story of a group of women playing in a professional baseball league during WWII.
Starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna, it was based on the real story of a group of ladies who stepped up to play in the All-American Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) during the war.
It also went on to become a commercial success, grossing more than $132 million worldwide, and catapulting lesser-known stars like O’Donnell to the mainstream in the process.
For Jacobson, who saw the film as a child, it certainly made an impression.
“I loved the film as a kid. I don’t remember exactly when I first saw it, but I know it was one of the first movies I saw in a theatre,” she tells Today. “It just really struck a chord with me.
“I’d never seen a team of women on screen like that playing sports — and playing professionally.
“I played a lot of sports as a kid and seeing that team of women, all so different, but funny and athletic and out on the field like that, really left an impression on me.”
Graham had a “first-look” deal with Amazon Studios, and approached Jacobson in 2017 with the idea of collaborating on a small-screen adaptation of the film.
As the creator and star of the award-winning comedy series Broad City, which screened from 2014 to 2019 on Foxtel, she already had her hands full (the show’s fourth season was in full swing at the time).
Starring alongside her friend and fellow co-creator Illana Glazer, Jacobson was already writing, producing and directing for Broad City, but League piqued her interest and she began researching the baseball backstory.
“I really only knew about it from the film,” she says of the fascinating true tale. “The more we researched — and there is a lot of research — the more we learnt about the real stories of a generation of women playing ball in the 1940s; the more we got excited about expanding the scope of characters in the show.”
Jacobson began to envisage what the re-imagined League story might look like, and what themes they’d be able to extrapolate 20-plus years later.
“We wanted to infuse the show with the spirit and the joy from the film, while telling more stories that the film couldn’t at the time,” she explains. “There are so many homages and nods and Easter eggs from the film in the show, but we were able to expand on it so much.
“I think fans of the film will see there’s totally new characters, but that energy and tone of the film remains.”
On the surface, the show — like the film — tells the story of the ladies who played for the Rockford Peaches, a baseball team that took part in the AAGPBL. But Graham and Jacobson have fleshed-out the interpersonal relationships between the women, and issues of gender and race also get a look in, as well as a number of queer stories that weren’t able to be told in the original film.
As pop culture site The Cut explains in a profile they did with Jacobson for the show’s launch, “The queer and Black stories here aren’t supplemental to the story; they are the story.”
In 2020, TV powerhouse Ryan Murphy produced a documentary called A Secret Love, which was all about the true story of two women who played in the League at the time, and their 65-year-long secret relationship; A League of their Own picks up on several of the themes discussed in that.
As well as focusing on Jacobson’s character Carson, a woman escaping her sheltered life in the country for a shot at following her dream, it also tells the story of Max (played by Chanté Adams), a woman of colour who is initially rejected at try-outs on racial grounds. She fights her way into a factory job in order to play on their in-house baseball team.
Jacobson says she enjoyed delving into the backstories of all the women featured in the series.
“It was so fun diving into what it would have been like for Carson — what her life would have been like,” she explains, before admitting that it was “in a lot of way, upsetting to see the limitations and realities.”
There’s no word yet on whether we might see more than one series of A League of Their Own, but early critical response has been great.
Jacobson, who plays producer AND leading lady in the series, has a lot riding on its success, but as she explains, she’s used to wearing several hats in her professional life.
“(League) wasn’t that different from Broad City in that regard, but this show is just much bigger in scope, and we shot during COVID and there were a lot of twists and turns in production,” she explains.
Speaking of Broad City — are we ever likely to see her team up with Glazer again for a rebooted version of the popular series?
“I don’t think I would say no, but I can’t say a definitive yes either!” she tells Today. “I loved making that show so much, and I can’t imagine not working with Ilana again. So . . . who knows!”
For now, fans will have to contend themselves with immersing themselves into the world of 1940s women’s baseball instead. Something tells us they’ll like what they find.
A League of Their Own starts on August 12 on Prime Video.