This July marks the 30th anniversary of the Penny Marshall-directed A League of Their Owna cinematic classic that reintroduced — and in some cases, merely introduced — American audiences to one of the most distinctive periods in US sports history.
It’s also just one month ahead of when Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s co-created series of the same name — based on the same group of women who played in The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II — will debut.
“I think it’s as original as we could make it being based on that real league,” Jacobson told The Hollywood Reporter during the show’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere. “Penny Marshall watched a documentary about the All-American Girls League, and then the movie came out of her viewing that and being, ‘Oh, I want to make a film about this.’ We saw the doc and then saw the movie and were like, ‘We’re gonna make our own thing about that.’”
Jacobson said viewers can expect a “couple nods” to the film. Specifically, when it comes to the cast, Jacobson noted “there’s little bits” of the film characters, but “everyone is unique.”
“I don’t think any characters are really mapped on to anyone. Darcy’s character has a Madonna vibe but is nothing like that character, at all. Melanie Fields’ character Joe is a little bit of a Rosie visual,” Jacobson said. “In the pilot, we nod to the movie the most, and there are nods as you keep going.”
“It was really fun to get to nod to it,” she added. “People are coming in being like, ‘Are they gonna do it?'”
Fans should also be ready for Nick Offerman’s coach Casey “Dove” Porter to not follow exactly in the footsteps of Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan. That’s because Jacobson and Graham wanted their take on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to revolve around the players.
“In some places where you go to watch the film, the description is that it’s about a washed-up player who goes to coach a women’s league, and it’s like, ‘That’s what this film is about?’” Jacobson said. “Tom Hanks is one of my favorite parts of that movie, but with this telling the coach is not and Nick knew that coming. It’s a different cartoonal.”
While the way the show positions Porter will be different than Hanks’ film character — Jacobson noted that the Prime Video series is “not about the coach’s redemption story” — it doesn’t mean he won’t play a significant role in the show.
“Going into the writers room we were like how do you approach this coach character? That character is just so big and full-out,” she said. “He actually is really impactful, especially to my character later in the season because of what happens in the beginning.”
The coach role will look different and, as previously reportedso will another memorable presence from Marshall’s film: Black female baseball players.
The show’s co-creator and star said her take on A League of Their Own will expand on one unnamed player featured in a famous sequence through an amalgamation of three real Black female baseballers — Connie Morgan, Toni Stone and Mamie Johnson — who competed alongside and against men in the Negro League.
“I think my character Carson [Shaw] and Chante [Adams] character Max [Chapman] are really the hinge of the show. Those are the two worlds you’re ping-ponging between,” Jacobson told THR about how its inclusion of Black women would be different than the film’s. “Max is based on three real women and their stories are incredible fucking and Penny Marshall, in the film, was nodding to them when that foul ball is thrown back by a Black woman. So it’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’
Understanding “what happens there,” and how white and black female players navigated this period of both opportunity and exclusion, is something Max’s storyline will provide for viewers. But her character’s specific journey is not simply about the discrepancies in treatment between white and Black players in the game and will explore the world of Black women, queer and gender nonconforming people — through characters like Gbemisola Ikumelo’s Clance Morgan and Lea Robinson’s Bertie — off the field.
“She is many things and does not want to be labeled as just one thing,” Adams told THR about her character. “She’s also trying to figure out exactly who she is. There are multiple opinions from people about who they think she is supposed to be and she’s trying to listen to them but she also has to find out herself.”
“I think so much of the show is about finding your team and your team, it’s not just on the field,” executive producer Desta Tedros Reff said. “I think that’s the real story and that’s a story we’ve always talked about wanting to tell — the real people that transcend the game. For me, it’s the story the movie didn’t get to carry.”
That exploration of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s relationship to LGBTQIA+ identity is arguably one of the biggest ways it will differ from the film — “a queer film where no one’s openly queer” according to Jacobson — alongside its centering of Black Americans’ experiences. “That story is fascinating and we really wanted to dive into that and my character is your into what that was like. That was a big percentage of the League and that is not told at all in the movie,” Jacobson explained.
“I grew up on the movie, I love the movie. As a little queer kid, I was like, ‘You can be on the field,’” co-creator Graham said. “As we started to look more into the stories underneath it, we were like, ‘Oh, there’s a gigantic story here that hasn’t been told about queer women and women of color and ultimately joy — the work that goes into joy and finding a way to do the thing that you love in a world that doesn’t want you to.”
The impact of the show’s decision to include the League’s historical relationship to lesbian, bisexual and queer women has already been felt through one of its very own consultants, original AAGPBL player Maybelle Blair, who told THR, “I’m 95 now and I’m finally thinking maybe I should come out.”
She did just that during the show’s Tribeca Film Festival post-screening conversation with the A League of Their Own cast and creatives, sharing how the show had inspired her to publicly discuss her sexuality for the first time. The Prime Video series, which Blair helped inform, “is really accurate” according to the former player.
“The only thing I would say [people don’t really know] would be the sexuality of the people that drove what actually took place and what was real,” she said of what may have gone under the radar about the years and players of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. “When Penny made the movie, they left out a lot of that because it wasn’t the time to reveal it as much. This is telling the real, truthful story.”