It’s that time of the year once again – that time when every self-described expert tries to put together a winning fantasy football league team. Fantasy league participants range from the casual [select the players, deal with the results] to the extreme [preparing for the draft means ignoring friends and family and doing as little at work as is required to not get fired].
FX’s The League [Thursdays, 10:30 /9:30C] is built around a league composed of the latter – and extreme members even for the latter. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference Q&A session with the show’s creators: Jeff and Jackie Schaffer. What transpired follows the jump.
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Jackie: We’ve had such a good time. When we got picked up before all the episodes had aired last year, we already had a slew of stories that we knew we wanted to do. For example, when Jeff and I first pitched the show we knew that FX wasn’t going to give us the budget to do a Vegas draft in year one, but it was always the hopes that we would get to do it in year two and really play out that sort of ultimate wish fulfillment boys weekend.
But we start with the stories. We have a giant white-board and we started with the stories. Then we start weaving them together and it’s very similar to Jeff … on Curb.
Jeff: We have, what we call, the big board of bad ideas and you should see it. It’s literally just a giant dry erase board of just all the sort of ideas that we keep piling on and piling on. Then there is another giant erase board where we try and turn these ideas into an actual show. We work a lot like we did on Seinfeld and Curb, which is you get funny ideas for the characters and then try to weave them and intersect them in this sort of comedy geometry to just form of, hopefully, a satisfying end.
Jackie: We try to do it in this way where we put a lot on the page so that the story is really clear and that the arc of each character, and the arc of each show is clear, and that the point of the scene is clear. Then people can relax. They don’t have to worry when they get there on the day that they’re improv.
We’re relying on their improv for structure. We just want people to sound natural, to be funny, and to bring ideas to the table. But we don’t want to stress the crew or the cast out on the day with if we don’t figure this scene out this show is not going to work. We’ve done all that heavy lifting in advance so everybody can participate with a safety net.
Jeff: The idea is funny stories and then get funny people to talk about them.
Obviously, knowing that you two are married it’s very easy to think that maybe Kevin and Jenny are you guys. How close are they to you or are they from people in your lives? Can you talk about that relationship?
Jackie: Kevin and Jenny are such a great couple. Jeff and I love writing for them because we feel like there’s a lot to say in the relationship where you can push the boundary but you know these two are going to be together. Where we started season one, with ‘Pete’ sort of splitting up with his wife last year. In this relationship, it’s the same idea as the safety net is we could push the boundaries knowing that we’re always going to bring them back.
I don’t know, speaking for Jenny, my fantasy football draft last weekend was so awesome that I don’t mind taking a little bit of credit. If a little bit of Jenny’s fantasy football expertise has somehow seeped into my real life team than sure I’ll say there’s a little bit of me in Jenny and vise versa.
Jeff: I think that’s the thing, Kevin and Jenny, our big mantra for them is they work as a couple. No matter all the stupid things that they do to each other and around each other, they actually work as a couple. The one thing with Jackie and I is even with all the stupid stuff that we do to each other, I like to think that we work as a couple too and working as a couple, while working as a couple, is not always the easiest thing. You get these sort of strange, funny conversations.
It’s like, we’ve been shooting all night, it’s four in the morning, we need to go to bed and there are things like Jackie’s saying like, “Okay, tomorrow we’ve got to talk to the editors. We’ve got to talk to the production designer. And you’ve got to lift the toilet seat. I don’t care how late it is.” There’s always this sort of strange of melding of domestic and professional stuff. But somehow, oddly enough, it’s actually been working.
Jackie: Yes, and by the way, don’t blame FX. They only sent you what they had. To speak … in that way, Larry and Jeff and … Dave, when they were working on Curb, they write them all, then they would shoot them all, and then they edited them all. It’s a luxury that Jeff has gotten use to it on HBO that we don’t have at FX. It’s hard when you’re in the middle of writing them and shooting them to then stop and edit because we like to really focus on every single night, before we shoot, to make the shows better. So, this is sort of to everybody, they gave you what they’ve got, so blame us, don’t blame them.
In the first episode we get this guest star in turn with Chad Ochocinco. I was wondering has any other players approached you or do you have anybody in mind that you would just die to get to guest star in the show?
Jackie: We actually have Josh Cribbs and Terrell Suggs, speaking of further episodes. When you all see episode three, you’ll see that Josh Cribbs and Terrell Suggs—Josh is on the Cleveland Browns and Terrell Suggs on the Baltimore Ravens—they’re on the show.
It’s been an amazing thing for Jeff and I because we are such die-hard football fans and without naming names, yes, the phone calls have been rolling in this season. People we cannot have ever imagined would have approached us to be on the show are now coming to us to say they want to be on the show. Let’s just say that there are a couple of people who turned us down in season one and now they’re asking to be on it. So, we feel like the players must have embraced it or that wouldn’t be happening, which is cool.
Jeff: The crazy thing is that they’re players—we won’t name names—but let’s just say a whole bunch of players that would be top five fantasy draft picks now want to be on the show, which is very, very, very exciting. To have these guys on your actual fantasy football team and knowing that they actually want to work with you is about as special a feeling you can get.
As I watched the show, I was reminded of anecdotes I’ve heard, friend of a friend stuff, people who were really overboard on fantasy sports leagues of all kinds. I was just wondering how much of the show is hyperbole and how much is rooted in things that have actually happened that you know about?
Jeff: One of the challenges that we had doing the show was, it wasn’t like, “Oh, how can you do a show about fantasy football?” The challenge is making someone else’s fantasy league seem interesting because we always say no one wants to hear about another man’s fantasy team. It’s like hearing about someone else’s dream. You’re like, “Yes, okay, I get it. Yes, then you were swimming, then you were drowning, then you woke up, who cares.”
For us, the challenge to make this particularly interesting to an audience was to make it as relatable as possible. That meant taking stories from our own fantasy leagues and from friend’s fantasy leagues and from stories that we’ve heard and sort of taking those and then blowing them out of the water and blowing them up with our characters.
I think one of the reasons this show works with the fantasy football audience is that everybody recognizes someone like that. They go, “Oh, my league has a Ruxin. Oh, my league has an Andre, that poor […] is never going to win.” You know, “My league has a Kevin and a Jenny. Oh, his wife definitely controls his team.” Or a commissioner who’s set up this league because he thought it would be fun and now it’s just babysitting seven other kids, these seven other adult man-children. So it’s a long way of saying that there’s a lot of the stories are based in reality. It may just not necessarily be our reality.
The aspect of the show that I really enjoy the most are the actors. They are so perfectly cast in their roles. So my question is…were the roles written, originally, and then you cast the actors who would fit the best or did you find the actors and then kind of morph the roles around their strengths?
Jackie: It was the most amazing process and I think I can speak for both Jeff and I. Both of us having worked on, obviously, other movies and other television shows, casting other pilots, in the past, this has been—it’s that lighting in a bottle thing. We definitely wrote the show and the very first person—to give you a perfect example—that we cast was Jon Lajoie as ‘Taco.’
Jeff and I had literally written the Taco character that he sort of was a guy, who maybe a little entrepreneurial in spirit, bounced in and out of maybe like a casual sort of band. Sometimes we’d sort of have these message board posts that were in song that would be a good way of trash talking. When we met Jon, it was mind-blowing because it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit because what Jon was doing on the internet in his own way—with all the songs and the videos he was making—was exactly what we conceived of being the kind of thing that Taco would do in the way that he participates in relating to these guys in The League with his message board post and the kind of character that he was.
I think it just continued for Paul Scheer, with Andre. We had written Andre as a character. We’ve met Paul Scheer and thought he has to play Andre. He’s the only perfect person to play Andre. It was one of those things where, I guess, we can both say we got a pretty single first choice prom date. We didn’t have to dip into the deep reserves. Every person that we got was the first person that we wanted for the role and we’re so lucky and happy that they all agreed to come on this ride with us because we couldn’t have imagined it any other way.
Jeff: To continue the prom analogy there are no pity dates here. We’d been sitting with the show and we couldn’t do the show until I was done with the other season of Curb. So our casting was sort of meeting with people. We’d have lunch with some of them. We had coffee with Nick or we grabbed a drink with Paul. We would just sort of talk to these guys and as we sat and down and had like a lunch with them and got to know who they were, they were so perfectly attuned to the characters we were writing. And them, yes, every day we morphed the script to our actors.
That’s the beauty of the semi-improvised nature of the show is, hey, here’s a funny script. Then, we’ve got these amazingly, amazingly talented performers and every day we walk onto the set and they’ve looked at the outline and we’ve looked at the outline and we all start talking about things. The reason why the actors seem so perfect for the characters is because the actors, themselves, are bringing so much to the characters every scene.
I think it definitely comes through. I’d rather say Nick Kroll as Ruxin is my absolutely favorite. He is just hilarious. So, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season.
Jeff: Nick Kroll, he is the dark heart of the show. He is amazing.
Jackie: He is really unbelievable.
In the first season there were these guys that were missing. It was a league of at least 8 to 10 but we only saw 5 guys. Here, you’re kind of addressing we’re adding a new member to the league. Will there ever be a time when the whole league is seen or will it always be the mystery guys that never show up?
Jeff: The out-of-town idiots?
Jackie: I would say, it’s an interesting question not only for fantasy football, but for how to make a show on basic cable, which is Curb exists in the land of 30 minutes or sometimes more when they …. But basic cable exists in the land of 20 minutes and 45 seconds. We thought it would be so nice, at some point, to figure out how to get the shows to time and also bring in more people to flesh out that world and see some more, sort of, supporting characters in their league.
We also really like to spend as much screen time as we have with these amazing actors that we’ve already cast. There’s so much fun stuff to do with them that sometimes it’s hard to bring in too many people and give away that screen time when we feel like the stories need to be sort of completed with our guys. I would honestly say that’s the biggest challenge.
Jeff: That being said, this season, one of the out-of-town idiots drops out, if you saw, and there’s going to be a big power struggle for who is actually going to be in the league or not. I think the other thing that you are going to see this year, you are going to meet more of our group’s sort of friends from the past. You’re going to see the guys back in college. We’re going to explore the mythology of the … and explain the origins of that. There’s going to be another trophy that’s introduced. So you’re going to see their world expand a lot this year because we have 13 episodes to play with them. Also, we are going to go back to reunion. So, you’re going to get to meet a lot more of these guys’ friends.
With 13 episodes now, how much of it is in real time that you save to be relevant to the current season? Because I know that last year you had Antonio Gates come in who had a bad week. With more weeks and you have more of the season to play with, how much of the real season actually will work its way into the show? How logistically does that work?
Jackie: Well we try to think about the course of our season with the leagues. So for example, in show three we have Josh Cribbs and Terrell Suggs as guest stars on the show and actually that’s the week that the Brown’s play the Raven’s in Baltimore. We’re actually going to take the cast—while we’re on the East Coast doing our live tour, live comedy tour and some press—and we’re actually going to go to the game and see Suggs and Cribbs play live.
We try to sort of think about those stories so that, over the course of people watching the season, as it matches up with the NFL season, people can sort of enjoy those match-ups. I think episode three is a good example of that of people will see Cribbs and Suggs going head-to-head on the show before they see them going head-to-head on the field that Sunday.
Jeff: I guarantee that we are the only show, currently shooting, where the NFL schedule is like on everybody’s computer. We’re always looking at that. We’re always making sure that when we see our guys on their computers on The League‘s site that it’s the right week. We are very clear what week we’re in, every week we’re shooting, that the match-ups are correct, that their opponents are correct. We are always making sure that all that stuff is completely accurate.
The thing that’s killing us this year doing 13 is that we started so early. Things like Glen Coffee retiring out of the blue? Are you kidding me? It’s like that doesn’t just affect the 49er’s, that doesn’t just affect fantasy football players. That affects our production. So, players need to be much more sympathetic to our needs when they consider their retirement.
That’s really funny and then as a Brown’s fan I just got really excited for episode three.
Jackie: Cribbs, Cribbs, Cribbs.
Jeff: He’s great. He’s really funny. He and Ruxin have some great scenes together.
Jackie: Jeff is from Cleveland, just so you know.
Jeff: I’m from Warren. Just outside of Cleveland. I went to High School in Hudson.
Can you talk about the separation that it took to get The League off the ground?
Jackie: First Jeff had to be available and pry himself away from Curb, because every season Larry says, “It’s the last season,” and then it’s not. So it’s really hard to do another show when you keep thinking that you might have an opening. But then that wonderful show keeps going, and going, and going, which is a high-class problem to have. So, first it was Jeff’s availability.
Jeff: Even high-class problems are still problems.
Jackie: So we were speaking before about the casting process, the whole time we were meeting with actors like Jon Lajoie and Nick Kroll and all these people. Jon was the one who signed on the do the show without ever reading the script. Jeff and I sat on the script and wanted to make sure that we kept it, sort of, fresh until we were ready to do it. We didn’t want it floating around. We didn’t want it to get diluted with too many opinions. We wanted to just put it out there when we were ready to go and have it be evaluated right at the moment we were ready to pull the trigger. So no one got sick and bored and tired of it. Honestly, we were very lucky that the one network that we felt would be the perfect fit for the show, which was FX, was game to do it.
Jeff: We talked to them in like June, or something. We said look, “Curb is done. Basically, Larry goes to the Vineyard in July, so we can shoot the show in July. So we’re going to shoot the show in the end of July, you’ll get it in the middle of August, the pilot, and we want to be on-air in the fall.”
Jackie: We told them they had to tell us by September 1st. We … in the middle of August, so we said you have tell us by September 1st if you want to make the season one or not, or we have to move on or go elsewhere or something because this is our only window. So you have to make a quick decision and they were totally game and said, “Let’s do it.”
Jeff: We’re laughing. …, “Oh those fools, they’re actually going to do this. They’re going to let us do this.” Then when we realized we had to shoot an entire—like last season we shot the entire season in 20 days, basically, between September 20th until we aired October 29th. So, it was a crazy, crazy fall.
I think the other thing was we just sort of sprung on everybody. No one knew that we even existed last fall. We’re sort of laughing about it. Last year we sort of came on the air like—you know those girls who don’t know they’re pregnant and then they go into the bathroom and then all of the sudden there’s a baby? That was sort of like how we appeared on the scene last fall. So, we are much happier this year to have had a summer to prep for writing and shooting and also a little bit of late summer to be able to talk to all of you guys.
I’m a huge fan of the show. I’m also a big fan of Jon Lajoie and was just thrilled that he was picked for your show. Are we going to get more Taco this season? I felt like he was there last season but you just wanted more Taco. Are we going to get some?
Jackie: Oh, yes, we want more Taco too. It’s the same thing as I was saying before in a sense that the fun challenge for us is making sure that we are very wise about the screen time given to each character and also parceling out the other episodes where certain characters get to sort of take the lead in certain episodes. And make sure that we get to capitalize in all this amazing talent on the show and all the stories we want to tell with them.
So with Jon, Jon’s got some crazy adventures this year. The thing that we love about Jon is his point of view on the world is so off and yet so accurate. There’s a couple of really great moments with Jon that we are so thrilled with. That Jon gets to come in and Jon’s point of view on the way the world works is so, absolutely, it makes you scratch your head. But it’s so absolutely true, and—
Jeff: That’s exactly what I was going to say, you’re going to get to see Taco is going to have a whole bunch more songs. He’s going to go on an adventure. He’s going to get into a tangle with a monkey. He’s going to be a little bit of a documentarian. We’re going to get to see some videos from Taco’s deep past, also. So fans of Taco will be very, very happy.
You were talking about the affects of things in the NFL on the show. What about the extension of the regular season in the whole debate about that? Is that going to make itself known?
Jeff: Well what we’re hoping is that if the NFL expands to 18 games then maybe next season we can expand to 18 shows. So, all I can tell you is this—I can’t let you in on all the back tail conversations—but FX, us, and the NFL are working very closely together on a new … season three agreement.
My question is more fantasy geared. So, obviously, Andre had a bit of a fiasco with Shiva last season. It ended up as a fiasco. It started off pretty well for him. I think he needs a new good luck charm for this season. What fantasy football expert would his character like to sleep with? And you can’t say Matthew Berry.
Jackie: Oh, yes, I don’t know. All I have to say is he was getting pretty chummy with John Hanson and Adam Caplan on the set last week. So you just got a little bit of a scoop, Liz. John Hanson and Adam Caplan are going to be guest stars on the show and I’ve got to tell you, like everybody showed up early to work that day. It was an absolute vulture fest, those poor guys, from the hair and the make-up department to the actors. But you know what? None of them had Hanson’s cell phone. And I was the one texting him during our draft and he was giving me …. But yes, I think Andre gets a little bit of that.
Jeff: The FantasyGuru did come on set, he was the prettiest girl to dance. Everybody on our show, as Jackie was saying, from our hair and make-up girls are in leagues. So they were just getting … with questions from the minute they walked in. But, yes, you’re going to see our guys, just like fantasy players all around the nation, looking for any edge, calling into shows, calling for advice. This season we get to explore what happens when the advice doesn’t quite go the way you hoped. Basically, the show is exploring what depths they’ll go to to get on the air and call in and get advice done and also how angry they get when the advice doesn’t pan out.
Being that when FX first put the show on after It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is obviously a huge hit, and there had been previously shows put into that time slot that were there one minute and gone the next. One of them was Testees, I can’t even remember the other ones off-hand. When you guys were first put into that time slot did you ever feel any kind of strange pressure because that time slot had such a high turnover?
Jackie: Not at all, as … with the Sunny billboard roars past. I think it’s one of the dirty little secrets of why we wanted to be at FX. It was no secret around town that FX, the network, was just blowing up. Sons of Anarchy was kicking …. They had all these great shows and Sunny was in season four at the time—it just finished season four, on its way to season five. It was no secret that FX had been really trying to find a companion piece for Sunny to build up that hour and for all the people who love making half-hour comedy and are geeks about television scheduling, it was this hidden little gem of a time slot that everybody was excited about trying to fill.
Jeff and I, just not only creatively at FX, but the way that the network was growing, we thought, “God, if we could make a show that could be a good companion to Sunny and that could turn into a great comedy night for FX, what a terrific outcome for all of us this would be.” We just feel very happy to be partnered with them. I know we’re even sharing our premiere with them this year. We’re going to do a joint premiere together this year by next Tuesday. If I were to watch—I did watch Sunny and I do watch Sunny—I would be happy to see those two shows back-to-back. So we hope that’s the experience that viewers have.
Jeff: For us, it’s like when Jordan was on the Bulls and like Luc Longley could go to the bar and say, “Hey, Jordan and I scored 52 points.” Luc, … got his 2 and Jordan got his 50, so yes they go 52 points. So, we’re just happy to be part of Sunny and us scoring 52 points.