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'The League' Uses Fandom To Explore Friendship

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'The League' Uses Fandom To Explore Friendship


'The League' Uses Fandom To Explore Friendship

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host: And the cable network FX is no stranger to controversy either. In fact, they're inviting it. The network show "The League" about a group of guys in a fantasy football league is jaw-droppingly vulgar for basic cable. It's so crude we can't play most of the show's scenes on the radio, and much of the show isn't even about football but the good nature and not so good nature of ribbing that goes on between adult, mostly male friends. Here's a scene from last season. One of the main characters is confronted by two of his friends for having a secret library.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) "Stretching for Dummies."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) "Holiday Entertaining for Dummies."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Those things are high-pressure situations.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) "Cryptography for Dummies." Three seconds, what is cryptography?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) You know what? That one came in a set.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Jesus. "Mexico's Beach Resorts for Dummies."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) How hard is it to hang out in a beach in Mexico? Is there a how to hide your glaring lack of knowledge from your friends for dummies? Because that's one you should have bought.

RAZ: The third season of "The League" premieres tonight. It was created by Jeff Schaffer, an executive producer of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and his wife, Jackie. And if you're a fan of "Seinfeld" or "Curb," it's the same style of humor but taken to new heights.

JEFF SCHAFFER: We always say that to enjoy "The League," you don't have to know anything about fantasy football. You just have to have friends that you hate.

RAZ: But fantasy football is what brings these guys together, right? So how did the idea come about?

SCHAFFER: Well, the idea was all Jackie. We were actually on vacation. We were skiing in the French Alps. We were at this amazing restaurant for a Christmas Eve dinner, and that was a Sunday night. And Sunday night in France is game time back in L.A. And I was in two fantasy football championships, basically the fantasy football Super Bowls of two leagues. So I kept pretending that the rich French food was making me sick to my stomach, and I had to go to the bathroom. And I would leave the table and run out into a snowdrift to call at great expense - this is pre-Skype - to do what, I don't know. Just to find out how I was doing.

RAZ: And how were you doing?

SCHAFFER: Well, it was touch and go at first, but about the third time that I had to go to the bathroom, Jackie followed me. And literally, I'm standing in a snowdrift, she is standing in the doorway of the restaurant, and she catches me. She just starts laughing, and she just goes: This is the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. This is a great TV show.

RAZ: And, Jackie, were you sort of like a fantasy football widow, or did you kind of just decide to embrace it?

JACKIE MARCUS SCHAFFER: I'm both. I mean, I play fantasy. I'm a giant football fan, and I think anybody is a widow if your partner is in four to five fantasy football leagues. So - but I totally embrace it. And it seemed to me that fantasy sports were really, really growing. And there's so many things about it that make it such, you know, a sort of more contemporary book club, if you will, that brings both men and women together in a really organic way.

RAZ: Can you guys describe the characters in the show? I mean, are they a reflection of the kinds of people that you guys are in fantasy football leagues with?

SCHAFFER: Yeah. I mean, I think when you're saying - when we hear things like, boy, these people are awful, we sort of take awful to mean authentic.

RAZ: You - and you give your actors a lot of leeway. And let's face it, I mean, you can get pretty vulgar, really vulgar in some episodes. And I wonder, how you do you guys get away with that on basic cable?

SCHAFFER: You know, I have a really good friend - I won't name the person or the network - who is a reporter on basic cable, and she frequently calls and emails me and says to me: I am on basic cable. There's no possible way that we are both on basic cable. And this has been going on for three years. And, you know, when we first started with FX, they gave us a very clear list of five or six words that we were not allowed to say that bent their standards and practices.

SCHAFFER: But I don't think they thought we were going to say every other one.

SCHAFFER: And they didn't expect us to make up so many to sort of compensate.

RAZ: So these characters in the show, they are ostensibly friends and - but are consistently kind of like backstabbing each other. And there's a scene in this new season where they kind of get together and confront this issue of trust. Let's hear it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) I've been thinking about this a lot, and I think our league is lacking something.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) A giant.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) No, guys. Trust. Every league gets to this point where we've cheated each other so many times over the years, we don't trust each other enough to make a simple trade. We've crossed the distrust horizon into the land of no trades.

RAZ: These characters, obviously, continue to lie and cheat and steal from each other. Why would they be friends at all?

SCHAFFER: I think they are friends because they have been friends. And there are very few opportunities in life to actually win, right? Can you win at work, you know? Can you really win at home? But with fantasy football, every Sunday, you have a chance to actually defeat someone. And better yet, you have a chance to defeat someone that you've known for a long time, who, you can then tell your other friends I beat him. And I think that's the wish fulfillment of the show is and that's the wish fulfillment of fantasy football is on any given Sunday, you can be a baby or a villain or a genius. You know, and you may be all of those in the course of the six hours of the games.


RAZ: That's Jeff Schaffer. He was joined by his wife, Jackie. They were talking to us about "The League," the show they co-created for FX. The third season premieres tonight.

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