Showrunners and other creatives marvel that the quality of the work that the "Friday Night Lights" team pulls off on its modest episodic budget of about $2 million and change. On a day when showrunner/exec producer Jason Katims were celebrating the clinching of a two-season, 26-episode pickup, Katims took a moment to answer the "how" question.
Although everyone associated with the show raves non-stop about his talents as a showrunner, Katims (pictured left with "FNL" star Connie Britton) was humble in spreading the credit around.
It starts with the video verite 360-degree shooting style that Peter Berg (helmer of the 2004 "FNL" feature who also created and exec produces the series) established when the pilot was shot. Multiple cameras are going all of the time, and moving all around, in any given scene. Actors never know where they're next shot is coming from, so they just focus on the nailing the scene from any angle. (Katims didn't say so but you get the feeling there's a strict no-whining policy on"FNL" sets.)
"The way Pete Berg directed the pilot allowed us to do the show in a very timely way," Katims says.
Then there's the "incredible team in Austin," says Katims, who supervises the writing from L.A.
Helmer-in-chief Jeff Reiner and producer Nan Bernstein plot out the shooting sked with a military precision. Katims notes that they often shoot footage for more than one football game at a time, to take advantage of the time and coin spent on elaborate setups.
"It saves a lot of money," Katins says, particularly when your show is blessed with a talented and dedicated crew.
Another big help in the savings department is getting scripts done on time thanks to "a great writing staff that is able to stay ahead on scripts," Katims says. "When the scripts are available early you can figure out what you're going to need for two to three episodes ahead. It allows you to combine locations and combine other things."
And then of course, there's the cast. Talented as they are good-looking, and as kind and warm-hearted as you'd expect from good citizens of Dillon, the "FNL" troupe "is so invested and passionate about the show -- they'll do anything for us," Katims says.
"They know their characters so well and the shooting style so well, they’re able to come in and more often than not be right there, and in a very short amount of time put together these amazing performances," he says, with genuine awe.
Now that they have the certainty of keeping this machine together for another 26 hours, what's next?
Well for one thing, they won't have to hedge their bets in season four on "writing a season finale and a series finale at the same time and trying to serve two masters," he says.
Without giving way any plot points (the third-season finale airs April 10 on NBC), Katims says he feels like "we set up what I think is going to be an interesting and compelling way to go."
Details of when the show will resume production still have to be sorted out with NBC and DirecTV execs. On Monday, Katims and his "FNL" writing staff were allowing themselves a mud-bowl moment to exult in joy of a two-season pickup. Katims at the moment is also preoccupied by a pilot he's doing for NBC and Imagine TV, a new spin on the 1989 pic "Parenthood."
"We're very excited to get back in there and start breaking stories," Katims assures. "We're happy to now be able to look forward to getting the troops back together."
Katims' resume as a TV writer goes back to the early 1990s with ABC's "My So-Called Life" and the short-lived Bruce Paltrow family drama for CBS, "The Road Home." He created ABC's "Relativity," and the WB/UPN drama "Roswell" (which has a serious cult following these days, and not just among Katherine Heigl fans). And sometime in between those shows he co-wrote the 1996 David Schwimmer-Gwyneth Paltrow comedy pic "The Pallbearer."
Katims then served a long stint in the David E. Kelley camp ("Boston Public," "girlsclub," "The Wedding Bells," other pilots). He produced the forgettable "Pepper Dennis," one of the last original shows to bow on the WB Network, and then segued to greatness with "Friday Night Lights." (And then there was that "Bionic Woman" business last season, but that was not a mess of his making.)
I remember hearing Katims' name as one to watch back in the "Roswell" days from 20th Century Fox TV execs. Smart executives know a get-'er-done showrunner when they see one.