Friday Night Lights is an American drama television series about a high school football team set in the town of Dillon, Texas. It was developed by Peter Berg and executive produced by Brian Grazer, David Nevins, Sarah Aubrey and Jason Katims, based on the 1990 nonfiction book by H. G. Bissinger, adapted as the 2004 film of the same name. The series' primary setting, Dillon, is a small, close-knit community in rural Texas. Team coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his family, Tami, Julie and Grace, are featured. The show uses this small-town backdrop to address many issues facing contemporary American culture, including family values, school funding, racism, drugs, abortion and lack of economic opportunities.
Produced by NBCUniversal, Friday Night Lights premiered on October 3, 2006, and aired for two seasons on NBC. Although the show had garnered critical acclaim and passionate fans, the series suffered low ratings and was in danger of cancellation after the second season. To save the series, NBC struck a deal with DirecTV to co-produce three more seasons; each subsequent season premiered on DirecTV's 101 Network, with NBC rebroadcasts a few months later. The series ended its run on The 101 Network on February 9, 2011, after five seasons.
Though Friday Night Lights never garnered a sizable audience, it was a critical success, lauded for its realistic portrayal of Middle America and deep exploration of its central characters. The show appeared on a number of best lists and was awarded a Peabody Award, a Humanitas Prize, a Television Critics Association Award and several technical Primetime Emmy Awards. At the 2011 Primetime Emmy Awards, the show was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton also scored multiple nominations for the Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress awards for a drama series. Executive producer Jason Katims was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Chandler and Katims each won the Emmy in 2011.
- Main article: Friday Night Lights (film)
Friday Night Lights was inspired by H. G. Bissinger's non-fiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream (1990) and the 2004 film based on it. The book, which explores the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, was a factual work of documentary journalism. The people featured were not renamed in the book. The Universal Pictures film, which stars Billy Bob Thornton and was directed by Peter Berg, Bissinger's second cousin, based its characters on the residents of Odessa c. 1988.
Once filming on the movie was completed, Berg began to explore adapting the story for television. Berg later said he had regretted having to jettison many of the interpersonal topics from the book because of the time constraints of a feature film. Creating a TV series, particularly one based on fictional characters, allowed him to address many of those elements in-depth.
He decided to set the series in a fictional town of Dillon, Texas, with some characteristics of Odessa. The football team was given the Panthers name. Berg deliberately carried elements from the film to the series, particularly for the pilot, which was closely related to the film. He cast Connie Britton as the wife of head coach Eric Taylor, and Brad Leland as Buddy Garrity, a major businessman and football booster, in roles similar to those they played in the film.
Filming for the show's pilot began in February 2006 in Austin, Texas. Berg said he required filming the pilot and eventually the show in Texas as "a deal breaker" in order to agree to participate weekly in the project. The show features homages to its Texas heritage. In the pilot, Berg featured former Texas Longhorns football coach Mack Brown as a Dillon booster and had a caller to the fictional Panther Radio compare Panthers' coach Eric Taylor to Brown. The pilot referred to much of the surrounding area in its scenes. Football scenes were filmed at Pflugerville High School's Kuempel Stadium and at the RRISD Complex. The Dillon Panther football team and coaches' uniforms were based on the uniforms of the Pflugerville Panthers. Some of the scenes were filmed at Texas School for the Deaf.
Berg's observation of local high school students while preparing to film the movie inspired his development of some of the characters. For example, Jason Street, the character whose promising football career is ended by a spinal injury in the pilot, was inspired by a local event. David Edwards, a football player from San Antonio’s Madison High, was paralyzed during a November 2003 game. Berg was at the game when this accident occurred; he was profoundly affected by Edwards' injury and how it overturned his life. Berg set up a similar incident in the pilot.
While relying on a script each week, the producers decided at the outset to allow the cast leeway in what they said and did on the show. Their decisions could affect the delivery of their lines and the blocking of each scene. If the actors felt that something was untrue to their character or a mode of delivery didn't work, they were free to change it, provided they still hit the vital plot points.
This freedom was complemented by filming without rehearsal and without extensive blocking. Camera operators were trained to follow the actors, rather than having the actors stand in one place with cameras fixed around them. The actors knew that the filming would work around them. Executive producer Jeffrey Reiner described this method as "no rehearsal, no blocking, just three cameras and we shoot."
Working in this fashion profoundly influenced everyone involved with the show. Series star Kyle Chandler said: "When I look back at my life, I'm going to say, 'Wow, [executive producer] Peter Berg really changed my life.'" Executive producer and head writer Jason Katims echoed this sentiment, saying: "When I first came on [the FNL] set, I thought, it’s interesting – this is what I imagined filmmaking would be, before I saw what filmmaking was."
All five seasons of Friday Night Lights were filmed in Austin and Pflugerville. With the show yielding roughly $33 million a year in revenue, other states courted the production company after the state of Texas failed to pay all the rebates it had promised to the show's producers. The Texas legislature authorized funding to match the offers of other states, and the production company preferred to stay near Austin, so the show remained in Texas.
Friday Night Lights is unusual for using actual locations rather than stage sets and sound stage. These factors together with reliance on filming hundreds of locals as extras, gives the series an authentic feel and look.
The producers used a documentary-style filming technique. Three cameras were used for each shoot and entire scenes were shot in one take. In contrast, most productions film a scene from each angle and typically repeat the scene several times while readjusting lighting to accommodate each shot. The first takes usually made the final cut. By filming a scene all at once, the producers tried to create an environment for the actors that was more organic and allowed for the best performances.
The series borrowed the uniforms, cheerleaders, fans and stadium of the Pflugerville Panthers. Producers shot Pflugerville games and used them as game footage in the series. University of Southern California football announcers Peter Arbogast and Paul McDonald provided off-screen commentary during the football game sequences. The facilities, colors and bobcat logos of Texas State University in San Marcos were used as the setting and creative inspiration for the fictional Texas Methodist University. The show features the fictional Herrmann Field, named for George Herrmann, the head coach of the Pflugerville Panthers.
Some scenes were filmed outside Texas. On June 20, 2010, scenes were filmed at Temple University, which was to portray the fictional Braemore College. An episode from Julie's senior year in high school was filmed in the Boston area, at Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts University.
Some scenes at fictional Oklahoma Tech University were filmed at Gregory Gym at The University of Texas at Austin.
Initially targeted at the youth market, the show emphasized the football element. NBC teamed with social networking site Bebo to create a site that allowed students to upload video and photos, as well as create blogs about their local football teams. Students who participated were eligible for one of 10 $5,000 scholarships. NBC had negotiated with Bebo for network and series promotion on Bebo’s network of youth-oriented sites including Piczo, Hi5, Tickle, Ringo, and FastWeb.
To complement this promotion, NBC sent out “School Spirit” kits to 1,000 high schools around the country. These kits included posters, pom-poms, mini-footballs and disposable cameras, all bearing the show’s logo. The kits also contained copies of the show’s pilot episode on DVD. The network repeated this promotion for its second season promotion, when it teamed with HouseParty.com to send out 1,000 "Party Kits," which contained advance copies of the Season 2 opener along with other promotional material.
NBC also paired with Toyota to create the "Hometown Sweepstakes", in which students could earn cash grants of up to $50,000 for their school’s athletics program. It was open to high school students ages 14 to 18 and was designed to draw people to the show’s official website, where they could download AOL Instant Messenger icons, screensavers and desktop wallpaper. Students who registered could also download free movie theater passes to special early screenings of the pilot episode. These movie theater screenings took place in 50 cities nationwide and ran until a week before the show premiered on NBC.
In the later part of the season, NBC chose to switch course and pursue the female demographic. The network designed a strategy based on the personal elements of the show, giving the show the tagline, "It’s about life". NBC Marketing President Vince Manze stressed that the goal was to ensure viewers that the show was family and relationships as well as athletics. The network ran 30-second spots in movie theaters that featured cast members and fans being interviewed about the show.
Cast and characters
As a show about the community of Dillon, Texas, Friday Night Lights has an ensemble cast. The show features Panthers' football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), who strives to balance his work, family, status in a sometimes confrontational community and his personal ambitions. His family – wife Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), a guidance counselor turned principal at Dillon High, and teenage daughter Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden) – are also central to the show. Coach Taylor and Tami are the only two characters to appear in every episode.
Outside of the Taylor family, the show explores the lives of the Dillon high school football players. In the pilot, Coach Taylor's protege and star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter), suffers a spinal injury that ends his football career. He faces life as a paraplegic. At first, Street struggles with these disabilities and the upturn of his life. Gradually, he copes with his new reality. Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), his girlfriend, undergoes her own changes, making a transition from a Panthers cheerleader to a Christian youth leader.
Because of Street's injury, sophomore Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), who is quiet and reserved, becomes the Panthers' starting quarterback. He eventually dates the coach's daughter, Julie. Viewers learn that Saracen's father is serving as a soldier in Iraq, and Saracen is the sole caretaker for his grandmother Lorraine Saracen (Louanne Stephens). Saracen receives little help, except from his best friend Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) and eventual live-in nurse and love interest Carlotta Alonso (Daniella Alonso). Star running back Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) works to get a college football scholarship. Fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) struggles with alcoholism and complicated family problems. His brother Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips), while not his legal guardian, serves as Tim's caretaker. Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) stars as a town vixen who wants to leave Dillon for a better life. Involved with Riggins, Tyra eventually develops a complicated relationship with Landry Clarke.
- Main article: Season 1
Season One revolves around two main events: Coach Eric Taylor beginning as head coach and the injury and paralysis of star quarterback Jason Street in the first game of the season. Coach Taylor's career depends on his ability to get the Dillon Panthers to the state championship, despite the loss of Street. If the team suffers a losing streak, he knows his family will no longer be welcome in Dillon.
His wife Tami Taylor begins work as a guidance counselor at the local high school. Over the course of the season, she becomes a support and a mentor to many of the students, and her position plays a pivotal role in the season finale.
Jason Street and Matt Saracen each struggle within extremely difficult conditions. Street must learn to live with his disability in a town that worships athletics. Saracen has to face new challenges as a lead athlete. As Street's friendship with Herc, his rehab roommate and wheelchair rugby teammate, grows stronger, so do his will and independence. For the quiet Matt, who seldom plays football, his new role of QB1 calls for a different part of him. Motherless, he also cares for his grandmother while his father is fighting in Iraq. Matt falls in love with Coach Taylor's daughter, Julie, who loathes Texas small town life and dislikes football. She falls for Matt and their relationship slowly blossoms over the season.
Also explored is the pressure on the cocky, driven Brian "Smash" Williams. Easily the most promising player on the Panthers' roster, he works hard to achieve excellence and sees his future career as instrumental in gaining a better life for him and his family. Since his father was killed in a car accident, his mother Corrina has taken multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. Smash decides to take performance-enhancing drugs to ensure he can gain a college football scholarship.
Tim Riggins is struggling with alcoholism and absentee parents, with few prospects beyond high school. He is portrayed as a loyal friend with a good heart.
Tyra Collette also comes from a broken home; her mother suffers abusive relationships with men. Tyra begins the season as Riggins’ girlfriend. Thanks to counselor Tami Taylor and Landry Clarke – the school math geek and Saracen’s best friend – Tyra starts to see hope that she might get out of Dillon and break the cycle of women in her family.
Meanwhile, Lyla Garrity undergoes significant changes. Faced with Jason's injury, she begins seeing Riggins for some comfort. Jason begins growing closer to another woman. Lyla learns about her father's many adulterous affairs and begins to establish her independence.
- Main article: Season 2
Season Two begins with Coach Taylor living and working in Austin as an assistant coach at TMU, while wife Tami remains in Dillon with daughter Julie and newborn baby Gracie. Tami is struggling with the demands of the new baby and Julie's rebellious behavior. The Panthers' new coach, Bill McGregor, creates friction between Smash and Matt by showing blatant favoritism to Smash, drives Tim so hard he passes out during practice from dehydration and is hospitalized, alienates assistant coach Jason Street by his condescending manner, and alienates Boosters president Buddy Garrity by barring him from team practices. When Smash and Matt actually come to blows on the field and a crucial game is won by Smash, Buddy engineers the firing of the new coach and persuades Taylor that both the team and his family are suffering in his absence. Taylor agrees to return.
Julie continues to act out. She ends her romantic relationship with Matt, whom she sees as turning into a replica of her father, and pursues an older man, "the Swede," who works with her as a lifeguard at the local pool. When she finds the Swede has no interest in a serious relationship, she begins a friendship with a young teacher that her mother feels is inappropriate. Tami confronts the teacher at school, but some students overhear the conversation and spread rumors about Julie; Julie is mortified and furious at her mother.
Meanwhile, Coach Taylor attempts to win games with the Panthers but faces a number of issues.
Tim is kicked off the team after missing a week of practice when he leaves on the spur of the moment to go with Jason Street to Mexico to look for a treatment for Jason's paralysis. On returning to Dillon, Tim finds that a neighbor woman, with whom he had a brief affair, is now seeing his brother Billy and has all but moved into their house. Tim moves out but has trouble finding another place to live and ultimately returns. Coach Taylor allows him to rejoin the team after he shows up at practice and on his own initiative apologizes to everyone on the team for his lack of commitment.
Lyla Garrity becomes increasingly involved in an organization for young Christians. As part of a religious outreach program, she befriends a young convict, Santiago Herrera, who is released from juvenile detention shortly after they first meet. She gets him a job at her father Buddy's car dealership. Buddy encourages Santiago to try out for football after noticing his superior speed and coordination. When Taylor expresses interest in the boy, it is discovered that his legal guardian has left town and he has no adult in his life. Buddy agrees to take legal responsibility for him.
Smash is courted by a number of college recruiters. He makes it clear his priority is a quick route to the NFL, leading to tension between him and his mother, who insists his priority should be getting an education. Smash accepts a scholarship to the prestigious TMU. However, Smash punches a white teenager who sexually harasses his sister when they're at the movies. This turns into a blown-out-of-proportion racial incident, and Smash is deemed someone who has "character issues." His scholarship to TMU is revoked. He later commits to Whitmore University, a smaller historically black college that is more highly regarded for its academics than its athletic programs. The football coach at Whitmore has a strong relationship with Coach Taylor, and had been scouting Smash since he was in middle school.
Matt begins a relationship with a cheerleader before leaving her for his grandmother's new live-in nurse, Carlotta.
Additionally, the early season follows an arc where Landry kills and hides the body of a man who attempted to rape Tyra, leading to a romance between the two. Eventually, guilt builds within Landry and he confesses. Charges are not pressed, although tension between him and Tyra remains. Landry also joins the football team.
Jason Street impregnates a woman in what was supposed to be a one-night stand at the end of season two. Jason pleads with the woman to keep the child and promises to take care of the two.
This season ends on a cliffhanger due to the Writers' Strike. The show's head writer and executive producer, Jason Katims, stated that this last episode was “not in any way viewed as the season finale... If we were leading to the end of the season [under normal circumstances], we would have most likely brought the story around to the coach and his family again,” and there would have been a strong football element as well, Katims said. Seven of the 22 episodes NBC ordered for Season 2 weren’t made.
- Main article: Season 3
The season began with Coach Taylor failing to lead the Panthers to another State championship the year before, creating new pressure for him. Quarterback Matt Saracen's position is threatened by the arrival of freshman J.D. McCoy, an amazing natural talent who comes from a rich family with an overbearing father, Joe. Matt moves to wide receiver after Taylor names J.D. starting quarterback. Tyra starts dating a cowboy named Cash, leading to complications in her relationship with Landry. Tim and Lyla start dating. Tami Taylor becomes the principal of Dillon High School and fights with Buddy Garrity about the allocation of funds toward a Jumbotron.
Smash Williams, who injured his knee during the previous year's playoffs, rediscovers his love for the game. Billy, Tim, Herc, and Jason decide to flip Buddy Garrity's house for a profit. Matt and Julie reconcile and rekindle their romance. Smash gets a tryout with Texas A&M, and succeeds in winning a spot on their team. Lyla helps Tim pursue a college football scholarship. Tim initially puts off the recruiter and is concerned Lyla is trying to turn him into someone he's not by encouraging him to pursue college, but he sees she's looking out for his best interests. Buddy loses money, which is Lyla's college fund, in a bad business deal and he retaliates by trashing the strip club, The Landing Strip. Lyla wants to attend Vanderbilt University and after Buddy loses the money, she considers going to San Antonio State University, the school that gives Tim a scholarship. Lyla moves in with Tim after she and her father have a fight. Billy Riggins gets engaged to Tyra's older sister Mindy. Mindy is pregnant at the time of their engagement. Jason Street eventually finds a job at a sports agency in New York City, after visiting a former Panthers player who is now playing professionally, and moves to the northeast to be close to his girlfriend and newborn baby.
Matt is pushed back into his former football role in the playoffs. While Eric Taylor and Buddy Garrity were making a visit to a possible recruit who just moved into town, the coach learns of a plot to have him replaced as head coach of the Dillon Panthers. They learn that Joe McCoy wants Taylor replaced with Wade Aikman, J.D.'s personal coach. After the school's administration meets to decide who gets the coaching job, Aikman is offered the job at Dillon High School, while Taylor is offered the job of coaching at recently reopened East Dillon High School. Billy and Mindy's wedding ends the season.
- Main article: Season 4
Season 4 kicks off with Eric Taylor struggling as the East Dillon High coach. The team, field and conditions are a complete change from the privileged and sparkling conditions at West Dillon. East Dillon High resembles Odessa High from the source novel Friday Night Lights, Permian High's sister school and the home of the Odessa Bronchos, with whom they have an annual rivalry match which divides the town. The East Dillon Lions and Odessa Bronchos both wear red uniforms and are considered underdogs to the Panthers. Additionally, Odessa High and East Dillon are both underfunded and considered inferior compared to their rival school, and serve a predominately poor minority community. Additionally, the school district boundaries between East and West Dillon were intentionally drawn to ensure the majority of talented players would be zoned for West Dillon; the districts between Permian and Odessa High were drawn in a similar manner.
As Coach begins putting together his new Lion team, he realizes he's in for more than he bargained for. The players who try out are less than desirable, but Coach gets a lucky break with a couple of new faces. The first is Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a student who has gotten in trouble with the law too many times. He is given one last chance if he plays football for the East Dillon Lions. Although he has no prior football experience, he has natural talent and becomes the team's first star quarterback. The second break comes to the Lions when Buddy Garrity reveals to Eric that the address on file for the Panthers new prodigy running back, Luke Cafferty, is nothing more than a mailbox in front of an empty lot, and Luke is really zoned for East Dillon. Tami is faced with a struggle as the principal of West Dillon. A new character on the show, Becky, is introduced when Tim Riggins rents a trailer on her mother's property. Although she is in love with Tim, she and Luke are both shopping at a convenience store and she allows Luke to drive her home. The two have sex and Becky becomes pregnant. Even though she is a student at East Dillon, she seeks out Tami's help with the situation. Tami discusses all of the options with her and Becky decides to get an abortion. Her mother goes with her to the procedure. Parents find out about this and led by Luke's mother, seek Mrs. Taylor's dismissal as principal. When Tami refuses to apologize, as she followed procedure, she is put on leave. She decides to return to her role as a guidance counselor, but at East Dillon.
The football season is one focused on growth and reestablishing a sense of Lion pride. The culmination of their hard work is tested in their last game of the season as they play the Dillon Panthers led by J.D. McCoy. In an amazing show of perseverance, the East Dillon Lions defeat the Dillon Panthers, ruining the Panthers' playoff chances.
In season four, Matt Saracen struggles with staying in Dillon and living as a townie. He turned down an art school in Chicago and is instead studying art at the local technical college. After returning from a hunting trip with Tim Riggins, he finds out that his father was killed in Iraq. The episode "The Son" shows Matt going through the five stages of grief as he comes to accept the death of his father, a man he claims to hate. This episode garnered much buzz online and resulted in a failed campaign for Zach Gilford to get an Emmy nomination in the guest actor category; however, the episode did get an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. After this emotionally charged episode, Matt abruptly moves to Chicago without saying goodbye to his girlfriend or best friend. He returns briefly in the finale and makes amends with both Julie and Landry, who ends up flying back to Chicago with Matt.
The character of Tim Riggins has developed over time from an unfocused and moody alcoholic to a young man of character and dependability. Sometimes that dependability is reflected in his uncanny ability to make the wrong choices for the right reasons, which usually involve his brother. Even though he has proven his ability to help others correct their misguided choices, unfortunately there is no one who does this for Tim. In this season, his irresponsible, headstrong, but lovable brother again entices Tim into another wrong choice by convincing Tim that the only way they can make any money is by transforming their newly opened garage into a chop shop. Just as they finally end this side business and Tim has enough for the down payment on a large amount of land he's been dreaming about, the police show up to arrest him at the garage. The police officers recognize Tim as "number 33" giving Tim no chance to deny that it's his chop shop. True to his character, he makes the decision to take the rap and allows his brother to be with his new wife and child. The season ends as Tim walks toward the jail.
- Main article: Season 5
Season 5, the final season, opens with summer wrapping up in Dillon: Billy Riggins joins Coach Taylor as a special teams coach for the East Dillon Lions. Tami is the new guidance counselor at East Dillon, where she is faced with the challenge of a particularly difficult student named Epyck. Landry is departing for Rice University, and Tim Riggins has three more months in jail. Becky experiences turmoil in her living situation and moves in with Billy and Mindy and develops a family of her own with them, while also developing a closer relationship with Luke. With Vince leading the Lions, along with Luke Cafferty, new recruit Hastings Ruckle, and the rest of the team standing strong behind him, Eric Taylor has strong hopes for the team to go to state. But as Vince's past comes back to haunt him, it seems that the team will have to deal with struggles off the field, as well as on. Vince's troubles also cause his relationship with Jess to take a hit. Julie's college experience is nothing like she imagined, and after she experiences a difficult situation involving her history TA, she is forced to take a good look at what she wants. Buddy Garrity becomes a father again when Buddy Jr., who developed problems in California, is sent back to Dillon to get help from his father. He's pleased when his son becomes a Lions football player.
Julie looks for support first from her parents, and then from her old boyfriend Matt Saracen, who is living in Chicago and attending art school. Julie drives up to spend some time with him, but leaves still confused about her future. Tim is up for parole, and with the help of Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity, is approved for early release. Buddy gives him a job as a bartender at his bar. Tim is angry with his brother Billy and threatens to move to Alaska to work on a pipeline but Tyra Collette comes back for a visit to Dillon and tells him he needs to repair his relationship with Billy. After they spend the night together, she asks Tim to show her his land, and the episode closes with Tyra asking, "Alaska, Tim?" to which Tim smiles a guilty smile.
In the last episode, East Dillon wins the state championship after Coach Taylor and Vince share a moment of respect for each other. Coach Taylor then moves with his wife to Philadelphia as she accepts the job as Dean of Admissions at a prestigious school, and the show ends showing them living happily. Tim and Tyra talk about their dreams and a potential future at his new home site. Julie is engaged to Matt and lives with him in Chicago. Vince is the quarterback of the Dillon Panthers "Superteam", consisting of Both East and West Dillon High School athletes, joined by Buddy Jr., Tinker, and possibly Hastings. Jess is living in Dallas, and helping to student coach a team and is following her dreams. Billy is expecting twins with Mindy. Luke Cafferty is seen with Becky at the bus depot departing for the Army. The second to the last scene is of Tim and Billy, taking a break while putting up the frame of Tim's new house. They sit back, crack open a beer, and Billy toasts, "Texas Forever?" to which Tim responds emphatically, "Texas Forever" and they clink their beers. The series ends with Eric coaching a new high school team in Philadelphia (in a noticeably smaller stadium than those in Texas). After practice, Eric recites the phrase: "Clear eyes, full hearts..." After not getting the normal response of "Can't lose," he says, "We'll deal with that later." Tami then shows up and the two walk off the field as the lights turn off.
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