Most of us know The League as a quick-witted laugh factory of a show about a group of friends and their obsession with fantasy football. Recently Heavy had the opportunity to spend a few minutes talking with League creators, Jackie and Jeff Schaffer.
Fantasy Football League Affiliation Not Required
One of the things about The League that strikes us as cool here at Heavy is that you don't need to be in a fantasy league, or even a football fan in order to enjoy the show.
Of course it helps if you don't hate football.
Interestingly, one of the things that Jeff and Jackie run into every now and then is that people accuse them of having a niche show, to which Jeff replies with the fact that there are 35 million active participants in fantasy leagues each year in the U.S. That's hardly a niche. Like Dunder-Mifflin or Paddy's Pub, the fantasy football league is more of a vehicle for the relationships in the show than anything else. Jeff puts it like this, "you don't need to be a football fan to enjoy the show, you just need to have friends that you hate." And that's where the show makes its money, with enough trash talk and pranks to rival any locker room.
It's All About the Improv
On the more technical end, Jackie believes that there are two basic but important reasons that The League is a success.The first, is that it's semi-improvisational. It's a technique that Jeff learned while working on the set of Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David. You've also seen it if you've ever watched The Office, so they're in good company.
Every line is written down, every moment scripted, but when it's time to shoot, they essentially have bullshit sessions with the actors where the dialogue gets shaken up and made into a more organic thing. It's something Jackie refers to as having a scene "shoot its self." Jeff points out that it only works because they have absolutely hilarious actors that know how to riff off of each other and the script.
This improvisational style isn't limited to television alone. Audiences can expect to start seeing this non-traditional method make its way into the world of feature films as well. Jeff's work on The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen gave us a peek. Though it will be in another of Jeff's collaborations with Larry David in a new film, which is currently being shot in Boston, that promises to deliver that off the cuff feel that Curb and The League have perfected.
Pay No Mind to the Network
The Schaffer's have figured out a magical way to shake the suits. But it's not likely that many other shows could benefit from their method. Jackie and Jeff essentially shoot the show so fast, and it changes so much from write-up to production, that FX has stopped sending people to table reads, which rarely happen anyway. Jeff says that the network doesn't care "as long as it's funny" which comes with the underlying caveat of people returning to watch the show.
The unconventional nature of the show doesn't stop there. In order to keep costs down they do things like use their own cars. Ruxin (Nick Kroll),uses Jeff's car, for instance. As a result of that and other cost cutting measures, the show is being shot for a fraction of what other shows are shelling out. It certainly makes it easier to see why FX lets them do their own thing.