Cullen Brothers, James Caan Preview ABC's 'Back in the Game'

Back in the Game

Stars: James Caan, Maggie Lawson, Griffin Gluck, Ben Koldyke, Kennedy Waite, Lenora Crichlow, J.J. Totah, Cooper Roth
Team: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen, EP Aaron Kaplan; directors - John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

When Terry Gannon, a recently divorced, single mother, temporarily moves in with her estranged father, a beer-swilling former baseball player, she reluctantly starts coaching her son's underdog little league team and is drawn back into the world of sports she vowed to leave behind.

The Cullen Brothers are relying on Back in the Game co-star James Caan to channel their "horrifying" father.

Robb and Mark Cullen's latest ABC comedy will center on Maggie Lawson’s Terry Gannon Jr., a former all-star softball player turned single mom who has moved in with her estranged father (Caan) and is now coaching her son’s below average Little League team. 

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Here are six things that the executive producers and actors suggested during  there are six things in store during their turn before .

1. Life Imitates Art

Both the show’s co-creators Robb and Mark Cullen (Las Vegas, Work It) and Caan have experience as baseball coaches. The Cullen brothers coached Mark’s sons nearly year-round for five years, and the series is inspired by "real parents, real kids and real situations" from that experience, says Robb Cullen. As for Caan, the actor reveals that he quit the business for six years to coach his son, who proved to be an incredible ball player. Caan, himself a former player, had a batting machine at his house and was hitting ground balls with his son for some two hours each day. Like the character that he plays on Game, Caan suggests he grew very intense, even thrown out of a game on a couple of occasions. (The one he recounts from the TCA stage featured him chasing two young guys over a fence with a baseball bat.)

2. A Familiar Dad

The Cullen brothers have source material from their own father, who passed away a few years ago. Robb Cullen acknowledges that their dad, who coached their Little League teams growing up, was somewhat "horrifying" as a coach. Robb Cullen remembers one instance in which he got hit in the leg with a baseball and his dad suggested he couldn't come home that night unless he punched the kid who hit him. He adds that he and his brother wrote the role for Caan, noting that the series gives them an opportunity to "have a conversation with our dad every week."

3. More Than Baseball

The Cullens insist this show won’t be an “underdog story,” nor will it be all about baseball. According to Mark Cullen, the kids on Game are “never” going to be particularly good at the sport. In fact, they cast a collection of actors who had no experience playing baseball for just that reason. “They’re not going to win a game all year,” he reveals, noting that the audience is more likely to see the team experience milestones like first hits and first runs. He adds: “We’re going to celebrate achievement, not the underdog elements.” At its core, the brothers say, Game will be a family show with baseball as its backdrop, with much of the show existing around the games as opposed to on the field.

4. Playing it "Happy"

The sexuality of Terry Jr.'s son, Danny Gannon, will not be addressed. "We're playing him as happy on the show," says Robb Cullen of the young character who struggles with sports and appears to lack the masculinity of her grandfather. He adds: "We're not going to hang anything on his sexuality. He is who he is." The goal, say both exec producers, is to celebrate the uniqueness of each of the characters, including Gannon.

5. No More Fake Boobs and Panties

Having won over the Cullen brothers with his turn on their short-lived, cross-dressing comedy Work It, the exec producers say Ben Koldyke was an easy choice to play Dick Slingbough in Game. That the actor “brought it every day” on the former ABC show, which required him to play a man-as-woman, was both impressive and appealing, says Robb Cullen. “That’s all you can ask of an actor,” he adds. Koldyke suggests that Work It, which was universally panned by critics, was a risky role for him to play. “Creatively, it was difficult. It was challenging to have to show up and give absolutely everything that you had to something you didn’t know was going to fly,” he acknowledges, joking that it's "nice to be wearing jock clothes and not panties and fake boobs."

6. Silver Screen Motivation

Pressed on why he returned to TV, Caan said bluntly: "Bad movies." The veteran actor says he got together with the producers and "this was far more exciting and far more fun than anything that I've been doing." Among the draws was the opportunity for comedy. "I'm really excited about laughing a little bit, and that's what we all swore to do," he adds, after joking that the Cullen brothers had come to him pretending to be the Coen brothers.