Friday Night Lights by Bill Records/NBC Friday Night Lights by Bill Records/NBC

Score! On Wednesday, NBC officially let slip what is sure to go down in TV history as one of the worst-kept secrets ever: It has sealed a deal with DirecTV to bring Friday Night Lights back for a third season. The deets: DirecTV will get to run with 13 new episodes beginning on Oct. 1, with NBC picking up the ball with repeats in February. But, on closer inspection, is the agreement more a field goal than a touchdown? I mean, if we're only guaranteed 13 episodes, what does that say about the prospect of a back-nine pickup? Will the show look different when it returns? And what about the cast - will any of our favorites have been benched? Let's see if we can get executive producer Jason Katims to tackle the tough questions.

Why did it take so long for this deal to be made official? I feel like we've been talking about this for months.
Jason Katims:
Obviously, a lot of details had to be worked out because there is no model for it. And for DirecTV and NBC, it was important that it work for both of them. And from our perspective, the economics of it all changed and we needed to feel confident that we could deliver the same show, the same quality and the same auspices. So that's basically what took so long.

When you say economics, do you mean the budget? Has it been slashed?
I wouldn't say they slashed the budget. We essentially had to revisit everything, which included the budget. The reason this worked is that all the parties wanted it to work. Everybody's very passionate about the show. You've never seen anything like this before, where it's going to air on DirecTV and then on a network, and it's still going to be branded as an NBC show. It was about everybody wanting to find a way to make it work. I wouldn't come back, nor would any of the producers come back, if we didn't feel we could deliver the same show.

And you do feel confident that you can?
Yes. It would not be a win for everybody if suddenly the show comes back and people are saying, "Wait, that's not the show!" It's important to everybody that the show maintain its integrity. I feel like it's important for the transition to be seamless from a creative point of view.

Will any aspect of the show be different? Any cast changes? Are you still shooting in Texas?
The same cast will be in place. We'll still be shooting in Texas. I would say the main difference is that it's a very clear 13-episode season - which [changes things] in a couple of ways. Typically, you get 13 episodes and then you may or may not get a back order; it's hard to plan ahead. So I'm actually very excited because I know it's going to be 13 episodes and we can plan the season for that. I also like the number 13 because it's about the amount of games in a high school football season. It can be a way for us to outline the season, driven by the ups and downs of what happens during the year. Another exciting thing about the 13 episodes is from the point of view of the producer of a show wanting your show to be seen. Once these episodes get on the air, we're going to see 13 episodes in a row, much the way a show on HBO would air. I think that's really a great thing for a show like this that's serialized. The audience that you attract and the momentum you start to build won't get lost through preemptions and repeats.

So there's no chance of next season extending beyond the 13 episodes?
No, they were pretty clear that it's going to be 13 episodes. This is a really exciting idea, but it's also an experiment. And I think DirecTV and NBC want to see how it works, and I think that's how the 13-episode order came to be. And we're going to be almost finished shooting these episodes before they air on DirecTV, and we'll definitely be done shooting these before they get on NBC. So the shows will have aired and I'm sure DirecTV and NBC will want to have a little time to gauge how this is all working and see what the future holds.

How will you approach the final episode when you don't know if it'll be a season finale or a series finale?
I will approach it as a season finale. What I would love for this show is that when it comes to an end, it's because Peter Berg, myself, the actors, and Jeffrey Reiner and the producers have decided that we've told the stories we want to tell. Not because of a network deciding it's time for it to be over. That would be my dream. If at the end of these 13 episodes, everybody feels we have no more stories to tell, I'll write a finale and end the series. But right now, I can't imagine there's any possibility of me feeling that way. I don't feel we have only 13 more episodes, I feel we have way more than that.

At the Paley Festival last month, you mentioned that there were several stories from this season that you had to cut short due to the strike - Smash's graduation being one. Will you be able to finish those stories in only 13 episodes?

I'm committed to making sure we service every character. I don't think any character's arc on the show is done. But the Smash story definitely creates a challenge for us. He will presumably have graduated, so that's a challenge. It's one of the things we'll be dealing with immediately once I get into the room with the writers and plan how we're going to make that leap from where we ended at the end of Season 2 and where we start at Season 3. It's definitely going to require some finessing and the right balance between taking the right amount of poetic license but not doing anything that would question the authenticity and believability that is so important to our show.

Can you say with certainty that Gaius Charles (Smash) will be a part of the show next season?
I can say with certainty that every one of our regular characters will be a part of the show.... I feel creatively very, very excited about this season. The writers' strike was frustrating because our season ended before we could finish telling our stories, and we've had an extended break and everybody is really ready to get back. And I think that energy and enthusiasm is going to start on day one with the writers and will continue through the last day of shooting. I think everybody on the show is so stoked and ready to get back in there. We're going to have a great season.

But what if NBC pulls you off the show to go rescue, oh, say, Knight Rider?
[ Laughs] It's really important for me that I'm staying very focused on this show for this season, and I'm very committed to doing that.

Are you at all concerned about the DirecTV run eroding interest in the NBC run?
I was in the beginning. But the more I thought about that and the more I talked to the executives at NBC, the more optimistic I am that this is only going to help the show. When you're working on a show where you're trying to build the audience, you always dream about a big relaunch. And you come back for the second or the third season or after a little hiatus and you think, "If only we could get a huge campaign.... " We're in a situation now where DirecTV is going to give us a lot of attention; it's going to be their job to get the word out there. This is a big investment for them and they're going to really help publicize and promote the show. And I think that awareness will spill over as we head into the NBC run. As I said, it's an experiment, but I'm fairly optimistic it's going to work out for both parties.

Any creative mandates from NBC for next season?
All they said was, "Please, god, don't kill anybody." I'm kidding.

OK, what's the consensus? Are you encouraged/relieved by what Katims has to say? And are you OK with a shortened Season 3? Personally, I subscribe to the belief that 13 episodes is better than no episodes - especially when the show is FNL.

" Click here to watch my interviews with the Friday Night Lights cast at Paley Fest '08.