Jeff and Jackie Schaffer – Creators: The League
When did you realize you wanted to work in television?
In college I was writing for the Lampoon (the college humor magazine) and all of a sudden these older grads were writing for the “Simpsons” and it dawned on me “Wow, that could be an actual job.” It also dawned on me that I was way too irresponsible to do anything else.
What advice do you both have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
If you want to be a writer – write. If you want to direct – shoot things. There is no substitute for actually doing it. Writing for TV is not an art, it’s a craft – like building a barrel. And the more barrels you build the better you get at it.
And if the TV thing doesn’t work out, hey, everyone always needs a cooper.
What is something you wish someone would have told you about working in television?
When you are writing and producing and directing your own show there is not a lot of time during the day to go to the bathroom.
First job in entertainment? What you learned from it?
My first job was writing an episode of a show on Fox called “Great Scott!” starring the then unknown Toby Maguire.
My writing partner, Alec Berg, and I had gotten the chance to write a script from the show runners, the brilliant Tom Gammill and Max Pross. But by the time our episode was getting shot, Fox had already cancelled the show so they were tearing down the sets as they were shooting our episode, which never aired.
Then we were staff writers on another Fox show, “Exposed,”, and another, “My Kind of Town” (starring the then-unknown Jeff Garlin). Six episodes each. And none of those ever aired either.
I learned you can be on a real show, with real actors, real cameras, real craft service, and when it never airs people don’t believe you actually work in TV.
How did you both first come up with the concept for the show?
We were on vacation in the French Alps over Christmas along time ago, 2006 I think. Jackie had planned a great Christmas Eve dinner at a fancy French restaurant.
But Sunday night in France is Sunday afternoon in the States, and I was in the Super Bowl of two fantasy leagues. So I kept telling Jackie that the rich French food was upsetting my stomach and I needed to use the bathroom. But I didn’t go to the bathroom. I slipped outside to stand in a snow drift out in the cold night to call back the states at great expense (this was pre smart phones) just to find out how I was doing. I couldn’t affect the outcomes but I had to know.
So the second time I am out in the snow, I look up and see Jackie standing in the doorway of the restaurant looking at me and shaking her head and laughing. “This is so pathetic,” she said, “This is a good idea for a TV show…”
How has it been working together on “The League?” What is the main thing you both took away from doing this show together?
If we didn’t work on the show together we’d never get a chance to see each other. We’ve been married seven years and working on the show for seven years. It’s basically been a threesome – us and the show.
It’s such a scrappy little show, it’s basically a mom and pop organization but instead of making organic cranberry jam that we sell by the side of the road, we make a basic cable TV show.
What show made you both fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
Growing up I really didn’t like sitcoms. I liked “Monty Python” and “Peter Sellers.”
And I still really don’t like sitcoms.
The television I fell in love with was “The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld” and “Larry Sanders.” They didn’t feel like those other tired, sentimental shows. There were flawed characters, aggressive jokes, and no mawkish life lessons. These were the shows for me.
As for what we are watching now, another thing about making television is that while you’re doing it you don’t have time to watch television, and have to play catch up during the off season.
I am finally catching up on “Orphan Black” which I love.
And another favorite of mine is “Vikings.” I can’t believe how real it feels.
I think two of the funniest shows out there are “Veep” and “Silicon Valley,” and I am not just saying that because they are run by my “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” writing partners David Mandel and Alec Berg, respectively. The casts are amazing and the shows are comedy-first, which many “comedies” these days are not. In fact, of the time, “comedy” now just means “Not a drama” or sometimes just “it’s a half hour”. Comedies should be funny.