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VOL. 35 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 29, 2011

A farewell to Friday Night Lights

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For some time I’ve wanted to write about Friday Night Lights. I’ve been streaming it on Netflix for a while, watched the first four seasons and became a fan.

Now I learn that it’s over. ‘Sup with that? I’ve done some research, and I’ll tell you ‘sup with that. You blew it, you guys out there in TV land!

A quick digression to tell about the show: Premiering in 2006 on NBC, “FNL” followed a book and a movie of the same title. Adapted for TV by Peter Berg, Brian Grazer and David Nevins, the series portrays life in the small town of Dillon, Texas, where folks take their high school football seriously.

The initial focus is the Dillon High Panthers, coached by Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), whose wife Tami (Connie Britton) becomes DHS’s guidance counselor. The Taylors’ daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), is a DHS student.

In season one, the team’s quest for the state title is highlighted, but there is much more going on: Star QB is sidelined with a spinal cord injury, back-up QB starts dating coach’s daughter, shops for condoms, star QB’s girlfriend and best pal get more than acquainted, and local booster club head is constantly in coach’s headlights, threatening discharge if games are not won.

The small-town backdrop facilitates treatment of school funding, racism, drugs, abortion, poverty, health care and more. Tami and Eric become parents again after a 15-year hiatus. Tami becomes principal. A wealthy newcomer takes over the booster club and, to ensure his son’s success, gets his chosen coach installed. Eric is reassigned to a school on the poor side of town.

Seasons one and two were aired on NBC. Seasons three through five went first to DirecTV and then were rebroadcast on NBC. The problem is/was that the show, while critically acclaimed, never “obtained a sizeable audience.”

Speculation is rampant about why that happened. Some say its title and initial impression convey such an overwhelming image of football that two huge groups never opted in: those who are not into football and those who are so into it that they dare not take on another hobby or habit that smacks of it.

“FNL,” though, is about much more than football or coaching. It’s about life and making things up as we go. Important things. Like child-rearing decisions, mentoring, trust, overcoming adversity, families and interpersonal relationships among like and unlike folk. And this brief list only scratches the surface.

Beyond the substance, there is the style. The method of taping was unusual. Three-camera shoots, no rehearsals and lots of improvising. The result? Tremendous performances by a vast array of cast members! Significant, in-depth character development. Scenes that look and feel just all too real!

The show’s final episode, shot last August, aired first in February and again earlier this month. The entire five-season run was history before I saw the first episode. Ironically, it has finally been nominated for the outstanding dramatic series Emmy.

Chandler and Britton were nominees last year, but did not win. They are nominated again this year. I hope they and the show win. Send them out in style, Emmy voters!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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