UPDATE: On Monday, March 30, NBC and DirecTV inked the deal that will bring us two more glorious seasons of this remarkable show!
At long last, here are the answers to your questions for “Friday Night Lights” showrunner Jason Katims (pictured accepting a Vision Award in June).
Loyal readers will recall I first opened up the opportunity for questions prior to the NBC show’s third season premiere on DirecTV's 101 Network back in October. At the time Jason was too involved working on our favorite show to get to your questions. Then, he was swamped with writing “Parenthood,” his pilot for NBC and Imagine.
I was persistent (some may call it annoying) and with the help of his marvelous assistant, we’ve received the answers we’ve been waiting for. A big thanks to both Jason and Jamie. And I can’t thank you readers enough for your patience.
Those who love "Friday Night Lights" know that the level of devotion you feel for the show can become an obsession. There’s nothing quite like it on television. The show can break your heart every time out. This piece from the Canadian Press does a great job of summing up fans’ feelings.
And yet, the ratings have never taken off (go figure) and as each season approaches its finale, we fans are left wondering if there will be more. Well, recently there has been scuttlebutt on the Web about a two-season renewal in the works. That’s right, TWO seasons. Nothing has been decided thus far and I don’t know any more than you folks, but if you read Jason’s answers carefully you’ll see that he seems optimistic about the future of the show. I have complete confidence that if/when it returns it will be every bit as riveting as it’s been for the first three seasons.
Of course, not all our favorite characters will be back if the series does complete yet another Hail Mary. It is, after all, a show with high school at its core. Kids graduate; people leave small towns.
EW’s Ausiello Files hints at which cast members we could count on seeing in seasons 4 and 5.
Indeed, already this season we fans have had to say goodbye to two favorite characters. At EW’s PopWatch, Scott Porter blogged about leaving the show and Jason Street behind. And Gaius Charles talked about Smash’s exit with TV Guide.
I used the questions that were most relevant at this point in NBC’s airing of the season and Katims answered 10 for us. I'll start with the question Jason and I chose as our favorite. Congratulations Anne, your signed DVD of Season 2 is on its way.
Q. If you could choose one episode/moment (excluding the pilot) that captures the very essence of the show to sell the show to a new viewer, which one would you choose, and why? — Anne
A. I’d choose Episode 304 — “Hello Goodbye.” It’s the episode that bids farewell to Smash and has such a poignancy to it. But what makes the episode recommend itself is that there are so many other things going on simultaneously. Tyra meets Cash; Landry confronts Tyra as he is recovering from dental surgery; Tami loses the Jumbotron battle. It’s meaty and smart and all the characters and stories seem to be firing on all cylinders. Gaius Charles and Jesse Plemons give two of their finest performances.
Q. The show is incredibly respected by critics and there is a fan-base who loves this show and would do anything it could to keep the show from going off the air. As the person running the show, what is it like when you hear that people love your show, but the viewership just isn’t there, or that you may not get picked up for another season? As fans, we all know how much we hate to hear these things, but when you have to go to work every day and hear these things, how does it affect you and the cast and crew? — Alyson
A. The spirit of the cast and crew on "FNL" is ridiculously positive. It’s the most relaxed, sane, happy set I’ve ever walked onto. Everyone feels such passion for the show. I think that comes partly from shooting in Austin. Everyone’s one step removed from Hollywood, and I think for us that’s allowed us to hunker down, make a show that we love, and appreciate every second of it.
And you also have to realize that while our ratings could be a lot better, the passion from our fans and critics is incredibly important. While the show isn’t a numbers success, we feel that we have been very successful in making a show that affects so many people in such a deep way.
Q. What can we, the fans, do specifically to help save “FNL” and make sure that the new deal that’s being discussed with DirecTV for two more seasons happens? — Elizabeth (also Robyn)
A. Hearing from the fans of a show can often have a powerful influence over a show’s fate. This would be a good time to write to NBC and DirecTV and let them know you have to have the show back.
Q. What affect did the DirecTV shared window have on the way the writing staff approached the show if any? — Kathy
A. There were a couple of distinct differences in doing Season 3. The first is the nature of the deal between DirecTV and NBC made it clear that we would be doing only 13 episodes. That was actually very exciting to me creatively. It reflected about the amount of games in a season of high school football. It created a very nice structure for us in breaking stories. We could build the “FNL” season around the football season. There was the initial quarterback controversy arc (Eps 1-5); then the movement toward Playoffs (Eps 6-8); and then the movement from Playoffs to State (Eps.9-13). It kept our storytelling very distilled and energized.
The other difference is the timing of the deal allowed us to get into the writer’s room much earlier than we normally would. We started breaking stories early April and didn’t start shooting until early August. That was a very luxurious period to break story, especially when we were only doing 13 episodes. It was great to be able to start production and already have an idea of what we would be needing toward the end of the season. From very early on we knew we were planning a New York trip in Episode 8, the State game in Episode 12, and Billy and Mindy’s wedding in Episode 13. We had the advantage of being able to plan for things way ahead of time, which was very important considering our budget constraints.
Q. The distinctive 360-degree shooting style of "FNL" gives the show such realism and energy. Did you go into the show from the beginning with that approach in mind, or did it evolve on the set? Any details on that shooting technique would be interesting to hear, as well as insights into how much/little the cast members ad-lib and do you ever change course of show because of an improv? — CL
A. The shooting style was started in the pilot by Pete Berg. My goal, along with our director-producer Jeff Reiner, was to try to honor Pete’s vision for the show. And eventually, as Pete would have done, to let the style evolve. And over the course of the three seasons the look of the show did evolve.
Yes, the actors are given a tremendous amount of freedom with the words. There is also a looseness to the way the show is shot. It’s mostly hand-held, with minimal lighting. We never rehearse or block a scene ahead of time. We just start rolling and the scenes get worked out as we go. It’s really a unique and wonderful process.
Q. If there is one thing you’d go back and change in any episode, in any season of “Friday Night Lights” that has to do with plot? In retrospect, is there anything you look back on and wish you’d gone in a slightly different direction? Is there something you wish you could have shown more of, a relationship or backstory perhaps? — Chloe
A. Is this a clever way of getting me to apologize for the murder story?
Of course there are stories that I wish I had done differently and characters that I wish I had taken in different directions. The beauty and curse of network television is how quickly it goes and how many stories you tell in a season. There’s rarely an episode that I don’t regret something — big or small — but I love TV, particularly having the privilege of being on a show as rich as "FNL." I wouldn’t trade it.
Q. I am a huge fan of the show, but I must admit there is one thing that always bothered me: the portrayal of African-American men. Smash is certainly presented as a three-dimensional character, with his ego being his major flaw. Could have been a stereotype, but you manage to balance it out. But it seems that other “FNL” African-American males have stereotypical flaws/personalities, as well (VooDoo, the cocky college football player Coach has to “babysit” at his hearing, and the football player who chases Smash after Smash almost sleeps with his girlfriend on a college visit.) Combine this with egomaniac Boobie Miles and the almost animalistic portrayal of the all-black football team from the “Friday Night Lights” movie, and you’re left with a brand that could have (should have) been more balanced with its depictions of African-American males. Do you have a different perspective on this? — DJ
A. I must say I’m very proud of the stories we have told about African-American men. I will say, the conceit of network television is to tend to write toward our series regulars. In this way Smash Williams, played by Gaius Charles, has received most of these stories.
Gaius has played this character with such love and conviction and has brought an integrity and honesty to everything he has done. We have seen him as an athlete, a role model, a Christian, a son, a brother, a boyfriend. We have seen him make bad choices (though understandable) and honorable ones. We have seen him grow and evolve. We’ve watched him learn to embrace his race while dealing with the subtle and at times not so subtle racism in this small Texas town.
I also feel that the character of Smash’s mom, played magnificently by Liz Mikel, is one of the most heroic characters on the show.
I do understand your frustration that there aren’t more three dimensional African-American characters on the show. Hopefully, the show will live on, and we will try to correct that in the future.
Q. Did it ever enter into consideration to give Eric and Tami a baby boy in “Last Days of Summer?” Was that always in your intention to have Coach, father to two daughters, to serve as a contrast to his role as football coach in which he acts as a father figure to many of his team? — Linda
A. There’s something about the guys on the team being Coach’s sons that is very powerful to me. There’s something interesting about the fact that he doesn’t have a boy of his own. There’s also something interesting about someone who’s in such a male world at work and comes home every night to a house of women. Also, I liked the dynamic it created for Tami and Julie — that Julie would feel a little bit replaced by Gracie.
Q. How much of the show was mapped out before filming began, and how much came out of other factors such as the actors chosen, their chemistry, or the response from critics and fans? — Danielle
A. We try to have the broad strokes mapped out ahead of time as much as we can. We leave room for changing the nuances and details as we see what comes back in the cuts. As far as the response from critics and fans, we’re usually so far ahead in shooting and writing by the time the show airs, that most of the stories people are responding to have already been committed to film.
Q. At the heart of the show is the wonderful relationship between Eric and Tami. What I would like to know is their backstory. How they met, fell in love, got married etc. Are we going to get more backstory on this great couple should the show, indeed, get picked up? — Christi
A. To me Kyle and Connie bring such a rich backstory with every scene that they do. You can just feel the history between them. In terms of learning more about their history, it’s a tricky thing to dramatize. As a writer you always have to be careful of lines that begin, “Remember when...” It’s a good cue for the audience to go pee or something. So we try to introduce it to have their past come back into their lives. For example when Tami’s sister visits, or when Tami’s old boyfriend (played by creator-executive producer Pete Berg) comes back to town. We’ve played with the idea of bringing Coach’s dad in. If we come up with a great story for it, I might do that.
And here’s a bonus answer, courtesy of Jason’s absolutely amazing assistant Jamie:
Q. What is the countryish song that is played in Episode 301 when Riggins and Layla are walking down the school hallway? E
A. ‘Hand it Over” by James Hunter.
While I have all you "FNL" fans here, I'd just like to give a shoutout to the amazing supporting characters who've been with the show since season one. It wouldn't have been the same without: Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity; Kevin Rankin as Herc; Louanne Stephens as Grandma Saracen; Liz Mikel as Corrinna Williams; Blue Deckert as Mac Macgill; Stacey Oristano as Mindy Collette; Derek Phillips as Billy Riggins; Dana Wheeler-Nicholson as Angela Collette; and, of course, David Cowgill as Slammin' Sammy Meade, who's mostly heard and not seen.
PPS. Check out reader Blake's "FNL" podcast here where he also has some nifty links to news and interviews with cast members.