The League

Fantasy Check

Fantasy football hits small screen

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A few years ago around this time, I wrote a story about how fantasy football was moving from a niche hobby into the mainstream and that even Hollywood wanted a part in its expanding popularity.

On Thursday night, FX Network became the lastest player in the entertainment industry to join the fantasy revolution with the premiere of "The League." The half-hour comedy is about several friends in a fantasy football league and how the addictive hobby tugs at their lives and thus the lives of their wives, girlfriends and whomever else may get in the way of their football gratification.

"What could be better than to explore male dynamics with the ultimate male social unit, which is fantasy sports," Jackie Marcus Schaffer, one of the show's co-creators, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "It's the book club and the cooking club for men and [also] women, and when I started doing the research . . . it seemed like the perfect backdrop to do an ensemble comedy with a group of young guys."

Although the characters in the "The League" are fictional, the concept for the show spawned from a first-hand fantasy football episode in the lives of Marcus Schaffer and her husband Jeff Schaffer, the other co-creator whose credits include "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The husband-wife team also serve as executive producers.

"One of the stories that sort of led to this happening is we were on vacation in the French Alps having a lovely, romantic trip, and Jeff kept running outside from this beautiful restaurant on Christmas Eve to check scores on his BlackBerry," Marcus Schaffer said. "He was in the Super Bowl of two separate leagues that year, and he could not stay away. He had to know what was going on."

Sound familiar? Many fantasy football enthusiasts no doubt have encountered similar circumstances trying to check the status of their teams at a wedding, funeral or any other formal event at which constant viewing of a mobile device would be considered a severe breach of ettiquette.

"At the most inconvenient times, fantasy rears its ugly head," said Marcus Schaffer, a Georgetown graduate whose other projects include "Old School" and "Disturbia."

Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax even discussed one of those absurd fantasy football moments in her hugely popular online chat when presented with this comment:

"Last week my husband wrote me an e-mail at work to ask me if I would mind moving the appointment we currently have to induce our daughter (I am due next week) to a later time that evening . . . to ACCOMMODATE his fantasy football league draft that evening!!! I would just like you to know that I am not in jail right now and very proud of myself."

The best part of the exchange was Carolyn's response: "Hey, isn't that the beauty of inducing? You can schedule it?"

It's exactly those uncomfortable situations that make the "The League" so much fun to watch. It has mass appeal because most of the estimated 20 to 30 million who play fantasy football have resorted to nefarious means for the sake of their teams.

Take Episode 1, for instance, in which one of the central characters must confront the unfortunate reality that his wife thought he wasn't going to play fantasy football this year. Hardcore fantasy football players know relationships -- and in some cases marriages -- have ended for less.

Then there's the scene in which a defense lawyer, speaking with the district attorney, is attempting to arrange a plea bargain for his client. Both play in the same fantasy football league, and the heated discussion includes a proposal for trading picks in exchange for leniency. In the end, the client gets five years in jail, and the lawyer loses Adrian Peterson.

"It's not necessarily based on our personal reality," Marcus Schaffer said of the show. "There's definitely some stories in the show that come from our own relationship and our lives, but I won't point out which ones. . . .

"I think some of the situations where we both sort of get in trouble for our love of sports, Jeff particularly, has caused a delimma on where to spend our time between our real life and following fantasy teams."

From concept to reality, "The League" didn't take long to get to Thursday night. The Schaffers wrote the script during the summer, the pilot was shot in July, the show got picked up in August for six episodes, and the cast and crew finished shooting on Tuesday.

"What we're really excited about is if we were to get picked up again in the future, we're excited about having a longer run of episodes to be able tell those stories," Marcus Schaffer said, "because obviously a fantasy season runs more than just six weekends. It was a real challenge to fit in all the stories that we wanted to tell in just six episodes this season. We're really looking forward to the opportunity, hopefully if the show does well, having another crack at doing more episodes."

By Gene Wang  |  October 30, 2009; 1:00 PM ET  | Category:  Fantasy Football Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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