Inside the fan movement to save 'Pitch,' and getting Ginny Baker back on the mound
When Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) took to the mound for her first Major League Baseball game in the Fox television series "Pitch" in September, the moment felt heavy with anticipation.
Baker was the fictional first woman to pitch in an MLB game, and "Pitch" was unique in being a sports television show led by a woman.
The series aired its season finale in December, and there has yet to be any news as to whether the show will return. Its fans are getting antsy. However, instead of waiting for the Fox executives to make the decision regarding the show's fate, enthusiasts are mobilizing to put pressure on the network to save their favorite scripted series.
"On Sept. 22, I rushed home from a meeting to watch the premiere of this TV show," Kelci Williams said in a phone interview. "I never expected to lead the movement to save this show."
Williams, a woman of color in her late 20s from Cleveland, fell in love with "Pitch" from the moment she saw the trailer. Seeing a black woman playing baseball convinced her that this show was one she absolutely needed to watch.
Sabrina Lopez, 24, a woman of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in New York City, found the show through following actor B.J. Britt on Twitter. Britt plays Baker's brother Will in the series. As a lifelong baseball (and Yankees) fan, Lopez needed no further convincing to tune into each and every episode.
However, they both knew the fate of their beloved show was on the line.
"We would've loved to see a bigger audience," Fox chairman and CEO Gary Newman said at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January. "I don't think the performance level enabled us to make an early decision about it, but as we get to May, we're certainly going to consider it."
Once Williams and Lopez caught wind of the lackluster statement, they decided to mobilize and the Pitch Street Team was born.
The two women connected through a group chat of "Pitch" fans. Neither of them have ever been so engaged with a show that they felt compelled to save it, but both are determined to help bring the series back for a second season. The duo is organizing fans from across the globe to write letters and send baseballs to Fox management, in hopes of grabbing their attention, and helping them understand how important the show is to its viewership. The street team, which currently has about seven core members, also produced a #KeepHerInTheGame video, in a similar vein to the show's #PutHerInTheGame fan video to get Baker into the All-Star Game from the fourth episode.
Yet, the question remains: Why?
Why wouldn't such a critically acclaimed show with a dedicated fan base be considered a home run for the network?
That boils down to numbers. Ratings for "Pitch" were not great, but that also has to be taken into context. According to Screener TV, "Rosewood," the lead-in show for "Pitch" averaged a 0.7 Nielsen rating, the percentage of U.S. TV households tuned into a program in the average minute for the 18-49 demographic. "Pitch" averaged a 0.85. That means that Ginny Baker and crew not only retained the audience, but also built upon it. On top of the less than desirable lead-in, a sport-heavy fall created a competitive environment for a show that might have been popular with sports fans. Oh, and there was a presidential election, which dominated television viewership last fall.
All of that made it tough for "Pitch" to gain traction. But, those that tuned in and loved the show keep fighting to ensure its return.
"We started to put together ideas. We rallied and got people excited about keeping the show on the air because we know that if we fade into the woodwork, then Fox is just going to forget about us," Lopez said. "'Pitch' is super important. I don't think it's intended to teach lessons, but I feel like I learn something new each episode. This is the kind of stuff we need to see on TV."
The street team's work has not gone unnoticed. Actors and writers have shared their efforts on social media and even Rick Singer, the show's co-creator and executive producer has taken notice.
"I sit there with a big smile on my face." Singer said. "It's been amazing and great to see. With every tweet and every act of love, it's further ammunition for Fox to realize how devoted and wide an audience there can be for the show."
Singer added that Fox could make a renewal decision at any point, and that he's staying positive.
"The network has to have faith that the numbers will grow and that word of mouth will be strong," Singer said. "I know there is love and affection at the network for the show. I think everyone understands how special it is, and that it's about something. They're very proud of it."
Lopez and Williams want Fox to understand how much Ginny Baker means to them. As a female athlete and woman of color on major television network, the character is not easily replaced, and the fans aren't ready to let her go.
"On the surface it seems like we're saving a TV show, but it's so much more than that," Williams said. "We've got lawyers, doctors and police procedurals a dime a dozen on TV, but nobody like Ginny Baker."