12:42pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Pitch' Team Says They're Making 'The West Wing' in Baseball
Fox's Major League Baseball-produced dramedy Pitch will depict real big-league action — as well as the incredible dramatic stories that take place behind the scenes, producers told reporters Monday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour.
Pitch centers on Ginny Baker (Under the Dome's Kylie Bunbury), a young female pitcher who defies the odds when she becomes the first woman to play in the major leagues. The series is being produced in partnership with Major League Baseball, which is offering the project unprecedented access to its stadiums, logos and more.
"We're making The West Wing in baseball here," said showrunner and former sportswriter Kevin Falls, who counts the Aaron Sorkin political drama among his credits. "We're making a show that shows you how it works but makes it personal. There's not as much baseball in the episodes we're doing [now]; we found different ways to do these stories that are creative. We're filming in the minor leagues for flashbacks and showing different aspects of baseball. It won't be if she wins or loses — there's more to baseball."
Falls noted that The West Wing lived in a parallel universe that didn't crossover with reality. Pitch will dip into that, with exec producer/co-creator Dan Fogelman comparing it to Jerry Maguire. The series features the San Diego Padres as Ginny's team and filmed an episode at the MLB All-Star game that took place at San Diego's Petco Park, where the pilot was filmed.
"Ginny is pitching in the All-Star Game and that's based on real [MLB] rules," said Falls. "We are wading back and forth."
"If the show were all about baseball, I wouldn’t be here," exec producer/director Paris Barclay (Sons of Anarchy, Glee) said, noting the third episode features a two-page monologue from co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the Padres clubhouse that the series re-created on the Paramount lot, as well as a love scene between co-stars Mo McRae and Meagan Holder. To that end, the show — like Fogelman's NBC's dramedy This Is Us — does feature a big emotional twist (which we won't spoil here). "There's a life here outside of the ballpark. We have a show set in baseball, but what's really come out and attracts me is humanity, humor and what's happening off the field is what people are going to really be talking about. This show has a lot more going on than what's on the diamond."
Pitch originally started as a film script a few years ago with series co-creators Rick Singer and Tony Bill, who met with Fogelman and, after he signed a deal with producers 20th Century Fox TV, quickly realized that the premise would make a great TV series. They hope the show, which will film at other Major League Baseball parks including Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium in episode two, serves as inspiration for a young and likely female audience. Early feedback, they said, has included both men and women asking if the show is based on a true story.
"It's a true story on the cusp of happening," Fogelman said. "I think it's going to happen in my lifetime," he said of whether a woman will break MLB's gender barrier. "The human anatomy makes it a challenge — and that's addressed in the pilot — but if the right woman comes along, I think it's going to happen sooner rather than later. If and when it happens, that young woman will become the biggest story in the country overnight. The amount of eyeballs on her … that's interesting drama for us. And it could happen in multiple sports."
Pressed about why Pitch isn't specifically about a women's sports league but instead about a woman entering a male-dominated field, Fogelman stressed that if (or when) a woman breaks into one of the four major North American professional sports, "it would be a national story."
Added star Bunbury, who worked with a former big-league pitcher for more than two months before the pilot was shot (or even picked up): "She also likes baseball. I know a lot of girls who like baseball and got to a certain age and had to play softball. That [baseball] is what she wants to do."
Said exec producer Helen Bartlett: "As a woman, entering a male world, it's tough. Ginny's character is really trying to not only be herself, be a woman, but also be a ballplayer and be taken seriously as a ballplayer and that brings a lot of conflict. What it's like for us to enter a male world creates tension and adds to the series."
Barclay also made a point of addressing the dual layers of the show's diversity — the fact that Ginny, the Padres' fifth starting pitcher, also happens to be African-American.
"It was never our intention that she would be black; she just happened to be best person for the part," Barclay said. "That adds a whole other level to our story. … My family loved it because it's about a black family without it being a story about a black family, which is the way I'd love to see TV evolve."
In terms of the show's structure beyond the pilot, Falls noted Pitch will follow Major League Baseball's calendar and plans to find drama in subjects including beanball and the trade deadline.
"The second episode is four days between [Ginny's] starts," he said. "A pitcher has a routine and that is important. But with Ginny, she isn't a normal pitcher preparing. The calendar itself gives us our own stakes and it builds up that the Padres are — spoiler alert! — not going to the World Series, but they have to be relevant toward the end and that gives us more to do."
Watch a new clip from Pitch, below.
Pitch is set to premiere Thursday, Sept. 22, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.