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Pitch: Showrunner recaps season one, episode three

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Ray Mickshaw/FOX; Michael Tullberg/Getty Images (inset)

Every week, a member of the cast or crew of FOX’s Pitch — the fictional story of the first woman to play Major League Baseball — is taking EW behind the scenes. For each episode, a cast or crew member is sharing thoughts on what went down, what’s coming up, and walking us through the ins and outs of the show. This week, showrunner Kevin Falls walks us through the third episode, “Beanball.”

Beanball: The Idea

It’s easy to get your mind around dickhead antagonists like Tommy Miller (played so well by Ryan Dorsey), who find it hard to accept the reality of a woman displacing them or hanging out in the locker room. But what about the teammates/friends who want to coddle and protect Ginny Baker from getting hurt? Their hearts are in the right place, but it’s one more barrier for Ginny in her quest to be accepted. That excited me as a writer because it was a fresh take on the obstacles facing Ginny (performed by the terrific Kylie Bunbury). Although I must say, everything we do on Pitch is fresh because a show like this has never been attempted on this scale before.

I’ve been fortunate to write a lot of television episodes, but as I look back, my favorites are when the writers’ room contributed the most to the story (or as our splendid EP/Director Paris Barclay calls us, “the Writing Division”). I say this not to share the light, but out of frustration that God didn’t give me more talent to pull it off alone so I could bask in all the glory, which now means I have to publicly mention contributors by name — like writers Ester Lou Weithers, Eli Attie, Becky Hartman Edwards, J. Holtham, Jonathan Igla, Katie Mathewson, Tanner Bean, and Michael Ross. Even P.A. Aeryn Williams and script coordinator Todd Weinger, also writers, sit in with us. My associate Amy Meisner pitches in on every level, too. Our talented co-creator Rick Singer (who, along with our EP’s Tony Bill and Helen Bartlett, developed this as a feature back in the day) sparked the idea of “Beanball” when a scene he wrote was cut from the pilot in which Blip talks about how Ginny had to prove herself in a minor league game by throwing at a hitter. (So, yeah, even the idea wasn’t mine.) And if there’s a line from the series you quote to friends, chances are, the great Dan Fogelman came up with it. (Or, more than likely, his producing partner Jess Rosenthal.)

Ken Burns Had It Easy

Shooting baseball for a one-hour drama is hard — and it’s also not cheap, in case you’re thinking of writing a spec pilot called Punt or Dunk. First, you have to find actors with some athletic skills, and athletes with some acting skills. Then you have to coordinate and choreograph the action (thank you ‘Moneyball’ Mike Fisher) and then, if you’re really ambitious and have a corporation with deep pockets, you stage the action in a major league ballpark and have David Beedon, Chris Martin, Matt Hunt and CoSa provide jaw-dropping VFX to turn 400 extras into 40,000 people like so many loaves of bread.

That’s what we did in August at Petco Park when we shot scenes for five episodes in five days. Whenever we shoot at Petco, it causes a great deal of stress for our indispensible line producer Neal Ahern, whose already large head ticks closer to exploding. The guys who keep Neal out of the ER are stadium consultant Mike Wiggins and UPM Joe Lotito, who work with the Padres to make sure we don’t leave Petco Park like Zeppelin left hotel rooms in the 1960’s.

Shooting baseball for our show meant our director Ken Fink had to channel his inner Chet Forte (look him up) and not only direct intimate scenes between actors, but large scale sports action, and in this case, a bench and bullpen-clearing brawl. He can thank First AD Jennifer Wilkinson and Director of Photography Bobby La Bonge for getting Ken his cinematic shots. Also important to our storytelling is using Fox Sports cameras to deliver the visual verisimilitude of a real MLB game. Guardians of Authenticity John Reynolds and Rob Menschel have shot countless All Star and World Series games, and are always tapping me on the shoulder with advice. (JR: “Kevin, it’s a day game. The Cardinals would be wearing sunglasses on the field…” KF: “I know, John. Not my first prom,” as I blindly text a panicked SOS to props.)

Now, A Few Words About Our Actors

There’s no one better on television, thanks to Susan Vash and Melissa Ventura in casting. It’s a Murderers’ Row lineup with a deep bench of supporting players. They are as talented as they are prepared, and thanks to them, we rarely have to “go back to one” because they never fumble lines. But do not tell them any of this, because they’re actors and they have egos, and, well, you get it.

The Brawl

I was in the Padres’ bullpen finishing up the scene where Buck and Al watch Tommy Miller warm-up when I saw “Moneyball” Mike Fisher choreographing the fight scene between the Padres and St. Louis Cardinals on the infield. So, I decided to go check it out. I found myself in front of the visitors’ dugout when Mike called “action,” and was nearly trampled by a stampede of Cardinals, which doesn’t seem that terrifying when you read it as a sentence. But the actors were big guys (most of them ex-minor league ballplayers), and I was struck by the sound of their thundering feet as they stormed the infield.

As I watched the rehearsal, I knew immediately there was a problem. Our Cardinals were practicing in their cleats. This choice of footwear caused “stress” to the infield grass, which is a nice way of saying tiny chunks of turf were coming up. The Padres’ infield looks as finely manicured at the 18th green at Augusta, thanks to the supremely talented head groundskeeper, Matt Balough, and his hardworking and patient crew. If you see them on the street, thank them for making Petco the most beautiful ballpark in the major leagues.

Anyway.

Wardrobe made a heroic effort to find sneakers to replace the cleats — no simple task, since they all had to be red. Crisis averted, we spent most of the day shooting the  brawl, a magnificent battle, rivaled only by that scrum in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

Humblebrag Alert

I see here that I’ve written 1,008 words and haven’t dropped Aaron Sorkin’s name, or that I worked on The West Wing, and as the Writing Division will tell you, that’s an extraordinary amount of time for me not to do so. I learned a lot from Aaron, and he learned a lot from me, seeing as he now teaches a Master Class (you’re welcome, chief). One thing Aaron loved was writing stories in a contracted time period. That’s what we did in “Beanball” — all the storylines take place over seven hours. This forces the protagonists to move and think quickly to achieve their goals and ratchets up the pressure, like:

  • Ginny has a small window to prove that she can “nut up” to take on men.
  • Al has to save his job during the course of a game he’s supposed to manage.
  • Oscar has to find a translator to send Woo Jin, not to mention deliver heartbreaking news to his daughter.
  • Owner Frank Reid wants to fire Al today.

If the episode had to take place over three days, it wouldn’t have had the sense of urgency and pace.

Post Game Show

I wrote this five days before “Beanball” aired. While you’re all enjoying your weekend, our post production team, led by producers Nick Pavonetti and Matt Laudermilk and editors David Greenspan and Revis Meeks, have sifted through endless takes of baseball action and did what’s called “the last rewrite,” which means I have to give even more people credit for telling this story.

But this much is fact: At one point in the process, I typed the whole damn script and put my name on it, and if anyone thinks I’m sharing residuals, they are sadly mistaken.

Pitch airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.

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