Another in a long line of critically-lauded but ratings-anemic TV shows is NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Executive producer Jason Katims is frequently complimented and told that he has a great show but not many people seem to actually watch it. The show was saved from cancellation last May when NBC announced that it was entering into a co-venture with satellite provider DirecTV to bring it back for a third season. If the show doesn’t return for a fourth, are viewers left hanging?
Based on a book and movie of the same name, Friday Night Lights follows the local high school football team and community of Dillon, Texas. Panthers coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) tries to balance his devotion to work and to his family, wife Tami (Connie Britton), teenage daughter Julie (Aimee Teegarden), and infant Gracie. Drama also unfolds around team players like Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons), Brian Smash Williams (Gaius Charles), Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), and Jason Street (Scott Porter). Other castmembers include Minka Kelly, Adrianne Palicki, Gaius Charles, Derek Phillips, Blue Deckert, Brad Leland, Liz Mikel, Stacey Oristano, Nieko Mann, Kevin Rankin, and Kate Krause.
Though loved by most critics, Lights has struggled to find a substantial audience. Its first season averaged just 6.1 million viewers, a far cry from a ratings success. Still, NBC prez Kevin Reilly believed in the quality show and renewed it for a second year. Shortly thereafter, Reilly was fired.
Under new network management, Lights’ ratings didn’t improve for season two and the episodes only attracted an average of 6.2 million. Year two was shortened because of the writers strike and NBC’s new chief, Ben Silverman, made statements that led many to believe the show would be soon cancelled. Lights was saved once again when NBC Universal made a deal with DirecTV to share production costs for season three. The agreement gave the satellite provider the exclusive rights to air the 13 episodes, commercial-free, well in advance of NBC .
DirecTV has just completed airing season three and an estimated 600,000 subscribers watched. NBC will start airing episodes tonight. There’s no word on whether Lights will be back for a fourth season or not. Series star Chandler says he doesn’t expect to hear about Lights’ fate until March or so. If the drama isn’t renewed, he’s satisfied with the way things finished.
“What a genius job they did!,” the actor tells the San Antonio Express-News. “It does wrap things up, but it also sets up all kinds of opportunities for the show to expand and bring in a whole set of new characters.” Not that he’s in any rush to be done with the show. The actor says, “It would be sad to see it end. We’ve formed quite a family these past three years. We and the children have grown up together.”
Katims is optimistic about Lights’ future and says that ball is now in NBC’s court. The executive producer tells the LA Times, “The first half of the experiment has gone very well. DirecTV is very happy with the viewership that they’ve gotten, and how it’s been perceived. The question is how it’s going to do on NBC…I feel really proud of this season, and I think it’s a really strong season from every perspective. I’m hopeful that we will be strong once we’re on NBC.”
He notes that, “This was an arrangement made in the eleventh hour for one season. This was an experiment. There really hasn’t been any specific discussion about going further. I think this is all going to be up to NBC. If our numbers are solid and stay somewhere within the range of where we were with previous seasons, then I do think we’ll be fine.”
Katims was well aware that this could be the end and took that into consideration when shaping the final arc of the season. He said, “Because so many characters are graduating, it led to a certain sense of resolution. We wanted to balance that with putting questions out there. Without giving the story away, I’m very happy with the way the season finale came across, and there are a lot of questions that arise in that episode that make you want to see more. That, beyond anything, was what I wanted. I feel satisfied creatively that we did our job. Now it’s just a question of whether or not this model is going to work for further seasons.”
Image courtesy DirecTV/NBC.