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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season one finale of Fox’s Pitch.]
Ginny Baker’s historical first season in Major League Baseball — along with the freshman run of Fox’s bubble drama Pitch — came to an end Thursday with a season finale that was not designed as a series finale.
Instead, showrunner Kevin Falls tells The Hollywood Reporter that the series created by Dan Fogelman and Rick Singer intentionally went with a cliffhanger of sorts because producers are so confident in scoring a second season.
With seven days of DVR returns, Pitch — produced in a groundbreaking partnership by 20th Century Fox and Major League Baseball — has averaged a 1.4 rating among adults 18-49 (up .5 from its live tune-in) and 4.8 million total viewers (up 54 percent). It’s a far cry from Fox’s September expectations, when Pitch was considered among the most anticipated new fall shows. Originally eyed for a midseason run — and timed to Spring Training — Fox brass moved its buzzy drama to fall, taking advantage of Scandal‘s delay and slotting it on Thursdays at 9 p.m. behind Rosewood. While the Pitch returns have been lackluster, the series has managed to build on the struggling sophomore drama (1.1 in the demo and 4.8 million total viewers).
Here, Falls opens up about MLB’s finale change — why Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) blew out her arm throwing to first vs. delivering a pitch — the show’s plans to introduce a gay character in an era where MLB does not have an out player and the show’s “bullish” season two chances.
This episode was promoted as a season finale. Was it always meant to be a 10-and-out run or could there have been a back-nine?
People think we didn’t get a back-nine and that’s not the case; it was supposed to be 10 episodes. We were supposed to be a midseason show and they pulled us up to fall. It was always going 10 because there wasn’t enough real estate [at Fox] on the back-end of the schedule. We wanted more episodes and creatively felt like we figured out the show. We knew that it was a long shot. The ratings haven’t been robust and that made it harder to make that case. There was some talk about putting us on again in the summer [with original episodes]. Fox, 20th Century Fox TV and MLB love the show. Our fate will be determined in the mid- to late-spring. We’re a bubble show but I do feel like they do like the show.
How soon would you need to know about a summer run if you were to come back that quickly to play off of baseball’s return?
Dan Fogelman is important to Fox and that helps. Viewership in the summer is lower and shows get lower budgets — and they’re often genre shows like Wayward Pines [which has not yet been renewed]. Pitch isn’t any of that. Even though it would take place in the summer and it is a summer sport, the feeling is it’s still more of an event show. It’s an expensive show with high production value and would play better in the fall. I think the window closed for us being on in the summer. That’s the feeling I’m getting.
Hindsight being what it is, would you have rather launched in the fall or the original January/February midseason debut?
It’s hard to say; midseason is a crapshoot, too. For every Empire [which launched out of the gate midseason], other shows get lost because a lot of fall shows are bigger. But in hindsight, no. There were a few barriers to entry. People who liked baseball, liked the show. Others dismissed it because it was a baseball show. We could have been positioned better and had some more promotion during the World Series.
Was there any conversation about moving Pitch elsewhere on the schedule or sampling it with repeats?
Fox has been a great partner. They moved Pitch to fall because they liked the pilot. Yes, there were certainly discussions [about moving it] but I was not privy to what they talked about internally.
Why do you think the show didn’t catch on with a larger audience?
I think people come in with preconceptions. I worked on Sports Night and people thought it was only about sports or like an ESPN nightly sports news show. It could have been some version of that. Creatively, there were some things we couldn’t touch — steroids and gambling — that didn’t interest us. We wanted to go behind the scenes and do baseball on the field and make it look believable and we did all those things and did them well. I don’t think our final chapter has been written. Thank God we’re at an age where people can go to Hulu and discover it. I feel like this is a show that will be checked out over the next three or four months. Our studio and network don’t want to leave a show with a great cast from Dan Fogelman on the shelf. I’m bullish on our chances of coming back.
If Fox passes on a second season, is there a chance the show could continue on? You mentioned Hulu but co-producer MLB has MLB Network and a desire to continue (and expand) in scripted. Could a second season air there? Or repeat the first season on MLB Network during the off-season in a bid to broaden the audience?
I think that’s a good question; we talked about that. Like when Friday Night Lights got a new deal with DirecTV and then aired on NBC. There have been some conversations about that, too. There are people who don’t follow baseball who watched the show who now follow baseball. This is an hour drama that aired to 5 million people that was basically an advertisement for baseball and I don’t know if you would want to revisit it considering that you could produce the show for about half as much as a free agent closer! I’d love to see it on MLB Network. That’s certainly a conversation. If they suddenly had to pay for it, would they change anything creatively? That’s a concern but that’s a conversation you have before you close a deal with them.
The finale ends with Ginny getting hurt. What was behind the decision to end with that? Was that always the plan?
That was always the plan. We knew early on that we wanted her to end [the season] on an injury. MLB didn’t want her to blow out her arm pitching and didn’t like that message, which we understood. We also didn’t want an injury that would take her out for a year and a half — like a Tommy John surgery — since she had to be ready to pitch next season. We modeled the story after [the show’s on- and off-screen pitching coach and former MLB pitcher] Gregg Olson, who hurt his arm fielding a bunt. What you see in the finale is based on his injury, which he came back from the following year.
What kind of message did you want to send with that season-ending injury?
We don’t ever start an episode with, “What’s our message going to be?” Sometimes we find it thematically. Dan wanted at the end of the season for Ginny to get her sea legs, get in a fight with [her publicist] Amelia (Ali Larter) where she didn’t want Amelia interfering with her family issues even though Amelia’s heart was in the right place. Ginny sent her brother off because he “borrowed” some of the restaurant budget to pay off a debt. And she distanced herself from [catcher, romantic interest and confidant] Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). Her recent love interest (played by Tyler Hilton) said she had to sing her song. She had gotten her voice back, and we came back to the speech Mike gave her in the pilot where he talks her up and she says she can do it herself and then does it. Then the people who mean so much to her have been dispatched. Ginny is very much alone and doesn’t have a lot of allies. We wanted to go into season two with the question of how did she pick up the pieces? Who came to her side? Did she do it alone? Are there new people trying to help? She got over an obstacle when she became the first female pitcher in MLB and we wanted to set her up with significant obstacles in the second season.
Have you pitched season two yet?
We have some ideas and have pitched some ideas to the studio and network as we were writing the finale. We want to start with Spring Training and that first day you arrive at camp. There are four or five months between the end of the season and Spring Training when a lot of personal things happen to players — injuries, surgeries, marriages, changes in the teams, firing of managers. Who is at Spring Training? Who didn’t come back? Who was traded?
Would you be satisfied if this had to serve as a series finale?
No. There was a point where we talked about shooting the finale two ways where we had something that would have been a satisfying series finale. But I don’t want to make someone’s [renewal or cancellation] decision easier for them. This injury could have happened to any other rookie in the same situation. But for Ginny, it’s harder. We did the idea of her being the first female player in MLB. That’s still part of her but she’s no longer a rookie [in season two]. She goes into next season as someone who has to win her job back with obstacles there and you know she’ll rise to the occasion. We’re not going to make it easy for her, but she’s going to do it. My message is that you’ll love it that much more going in because of what she has to come back from [with the injury]. But as a series finale? We wouldn’t design it that way. I did a show called Journeyman and I knew when it was on that it wasn’t going to come back and it was easier to do it that way. With Pitch, people were saying all the right things that we were going to come back and I still feel that. We’re bullish and positive and feel like whether we get a second season, let’s put our character in a position where she has to fight back and you’ll love her that much more.
Was there a storyline that you didn’t get to do this season?
We were at one point and still want to do and will do, if allowed, is introduce a gay player. We ran that by MLB and that was the quickest approval we got on any storyline. MLB has a department of inclusion. I love that because it’s like they built a landing pad for a spaceship that’s coming and they’re ready for it. And they’re going to welcome it when it happens. That’s the kind of partner they are.
You had a fun Cubs joke about the franchise never winning the World Series. Was that put in before or after they won?
We broke the story for the finale and it was never scripted. We were following the baseball calendar and said we had to get a Cubs mention in there when we were filming. [Co-creator] Rick Singer found the right spot for it when we were on set. It was one of the last things we did. It was after they won and was our nod to the Cubs and a wink to the audience. It was a fun way to break the fourth wall that we know the Cubs won.
What did you think of the Pitch season finale? Do you want a second season? Sound off in the comments section.
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