Well, they can’t all be home runs.
Back in 1992, America fell in love the Rockford Peaches all over again. Once the winningest team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL)—which began during World War II and lasted until 1954—the Peaches were the inspiration for Penny Marshall’s A League Of Their Own, a fictionalized account of the league’s first year.
Three decades on, A League Of Their Own is widely regarded as one of the best sports films ever made, one that holds a special place in the heart of LGBTQ audiences who were drawn to its eclectic ensemble of stars, lovable characters, and barely hidden queer subtext. That’s why it’s no surprise that the nostalgic favorite is the latest to receive the reboot treatment, arriving to Amazon Prime Video next month as an hourlong dramedy series.
Of course, this won’t be the Peaches’ first television trip around the bases…
Riding high off A League Of Their Own’s critical reception and strong box office performance in ’92, Sony was quick to greenlight a half-hour spin-off series on CBS for the following spring. With television legend Marshall and the film’s writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel on board as Executive Producers, the sitcom was meant to pick up where things left off, more or less, following the ongoing adventures of the team and its beloved players—albeit with (mostly) different actors.
But it seems fans weren’t excited about the extra innings. Reviews were poor (The Miami Herald called it “wretched”) and viewership continued to drop across its first three episodes that aired in April ’93—so much so that the network waited to dump the following pair of episodes during the dog days of August, and left a sixth unaired entirely.
So where did CBS’s A League Of Their Own go wrong? Let’s play some ball and discuss…
Its first strike-out was the obvious fact the TV cast couldn’t compare to the movie’s heavy-hitters. Filling in for Geena Davis as star catcher Dottie Hinson was former License To Kill “Bond girl” Carey Lowell, one of the series’ biggest names at the time. In fact, the entire team looked different, with the exception of Megan Cavanaugh as tomboy Marla Hooch and Tracy Reiner as the widowed Betty Horn.
Without stars like Davis or Madonna or Lori Petty or Rosie O’Donnell around to play ball, audiences found it hard to invest in the Peaches on television, even if it was technically the same team. The sitcom came so soon after the movie that its iconic performances were still fresh in everyone’s mind. The rookies barely stood a chance.
(Notably, Tom Hanks did return to the League, but only behind the camera as the director of the third episode—veteran TV actor Sam McMurray took over his role as the cynical manager Jimmy Dugan).
The second strike was the fact that the show was never sure how to position itself. This was a much more traditional time for television, before streaming broke all of the network rules, and A League Of Their Own‘s 30-minute runtime meant it was classified as a sitcom. That should make sense, considering the movie was well regarded for its sense of humor, but it also deftly moved into dramatic territory, addressing sexism and the realities of life during war time. The series attempted the same tonal balance, but wound up whiffing it.
It was an “identity crisis,” The Hollywood Reporter said at the time. “It’s either a sitcom chock-full of dramatic elements, or a drama chock-full of sitcom elements. Either way it doesn’t give you much reason to like it.” Again, we’re used to TV shows toeing that line nowadays, but the genre confusion made it difficult for folks in the ’90s to cheer for the small-screen Peaches.
The third strike? Well, it’s a little more subjective, and that’s where this extended metaphor starts to fall apart, admittedly. Was it as simple as a bad time slot, airing at the wrong time of the week against stiff competition? Or was it something more? How about the fact that, in the early ’90s, television—especially the sitcom—was still seen as a “man’s game,” as was the critical field that was quick to pan the series.
Back in ’93, film and series star Tracy Reiner—Penny Marshall’s daughter—was very frank when she spoke with The Washington Post about the show’s uphill battle: “The sitcom is a male medium, and we don’t want to lose the esteem these women deserve. These were really successful women at a time when the world was not okay. Because of men… It makes me understand what my mom went through [when she starred on Laverne & Shirley in the ’70s and ’80s].”
We’ll also take into consideration that notion that maybe (just maybe) CBS’s version of A League Of Their Own was bad—a regular old foul ball. Even with some of the film’s creative talent behind it, it’s possible that the whole thing was just rushed into production far too quickly. And, hey, television is hard. In the words of Jimmy Dugan: “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”
Thankfully, it looks like Amazon’s A League Of Their Own put in the hard work. Returning to the first year of the AAGPBL, the series wisely introduces an exciting new crop of characters—led by Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobsen and Roxanne Roxanne‘s Chanté Adams—as we watch this version of the Rockford Peaches find their magic. With hour-long episodes, there’s also hope that this League will better capture the movie’s tone, exploring new stories about racial inequality and queer awakenings while maintaining a sharp sense of humor. Oh, and did we mention Rosie’s back? Let’s play ball!
A League Of Their Own will have its season opener on Amazon Prime Video on August 12.
For those curious about the A League Of Their Own series from 1993, three of its episodes are included as bonus features in Sony’s 4K Ultra HD collection of Columbia Classics. And, for those a little less discerning about quality, *hint, hint* there are some low-res versions of the episodes uploaded to YouTube.