Friday Night Lights panel: the DirecTV deal, two departures, and a new school year - TCA Report
NBC and its various cable stations are making their presentations today and tomorrow. Since it is Sunday, the critics got a little bit of a break and didn't have to start until noon, when a lunch session was held for Friday Night Lights. This session had a little bit of added juice, due to the unique deal NBC struck to have DirecTV shoulder the cost of producing the series in exchange for the rights to air new episodes on the satellite service first, before they air on NBC. Thirteen episodes will be produced and will air in October on DirecTV's 101 Network, and they'll air in February on the Peacock network.
Not surprisingly, there were as many questions about the new arrangement as there were about the creative aspects of the show. Show-runner Jason Katims and DirecTV entertainment head Eric Shanks fielded most of those questions, and the cast of the show fielded the rest.
The first question put to the panel was about fans' patience: If they were rabid fans and didn't have DirecTV, would Katims want them to wait until the show aired on NBC or view it via, um, other means? Toeing the company line, Katims replied "If I were you I'd like to think I'd wait, be patient and watch the real version when it was available. It's definitely something we've had conversations about. The most important thing for us is that we'd be able to do show as we've always done it."
What Katims did mention is that there were creative posibilities that they might explore because they're on DTV. When he was pressed by more than one reporter to elaborate, he couldn't really put a finger on what they were going to do, mainly because they haven't shot any episodes yet. "Running time is one thing, having more story time. There are other possibilities concerning content that we'll consider." He said there might be NBC content that was unique to that version, as well. We know that there will be one new wrinkle, though: a Friday Night Lights Live show that will air on the 101 Network after an episode's premiere. In it, two or three stars of the show will take calls from viewers about the show. Not sure how well that's going to work, but more power to them.
On the creative side, Katims mentioned that two characters, Jason Street (Scott Porter) and Smash Williams (Gaius Charles), will be in four-episode arcs but will not be series regulars. Why? Well, the season starts at the beginning of the new school year (a leap from the end of the strike-shortened second season), and Street and Williams have graduated, according to Katims. "We felt like this is what the show was always about from the very beginning, as true to life and authentic as possible. As much as we love Scott and Gaius we had to be true to what's happening to these characters." He said that the arcs the two are in are the "most emotional stories we're going to be doing."
Aging the students is something that Katims said he'll be more vigilant about going forward. "Being in the thrid year of the show and have it live to this point, it was time to start to take things seriously about what grade they were in. We blurred the lines a little bit to tell stories, but now we're making a commitment" to keeping the timeline real. The young cast members, according to Adrianne Palicki, who plays Tyra, were briefed on that when they took the roles two years ago. "From the beginning, (Jason) said we'd do show for only a few years."
Why jump ahead to the beginning of the school year, rather than pick up where they left off at the end of the abbreviated second sesason? "We fely like if we started from where we left off, there was an arc of stories we could tell, but it felt too weird to tell those stories," which would take half a season, according to Katims, "and then move forward eight months. We didn't plan for it, but there was something interesting about cutting ahead."
Both Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton were happy with the new arrangement, mainly because to them it meant that the show could keep going. "Having to cut the season short in December (because of the strike), that was kind of devestating," said Britton, who's said it was painful despite the history she and Chandler (and perhaps the rest of the cast) has with the whims of TV executives. "We didn't get to finish the season. We said goodbye and we didn't know if it was last time or not." Chandler likened the deal to a "life ring" that hoised them from a listing ship to a "sleek life raft."
What's in store for the Taylors this year, anyway? Chandler said, to knowing laughs from the audience, that "I think I'll be faced with marital problems for sure." He'll also still be dealing with his daughter Julie and having to figure out who's going to be his quarterback. As for Tami, Britton let it slip during the post-panel scrum that she'll be the Dillon High School's principal this year. "With the ego on that one," she said, referring to Coach Taylor, "you can imagine what that's going to do."