NBC's Friday Night Lights (Tuesdays at 8 pm/ET) should have been a shoo-in for the ratings trophy. Not only did critics almost universally adore it, but the series is about small-town high-school football, for heaven's sake. Perhaps playing Friday on Tuesday was confusing, or people just can't get into sports-centered shows, but despite its fine acting and writing, the series hasn't scored big. TV Guide talked to executive producer/head writer Jason Katims about the show's future.
TVGuide.com: There's some good news in that Friday Night Lights has been keeping its audience, right?
Jason Katims: Yes. Obviously, the ratings have not been fantastic, but the audience that came to view the show has stayed, and that's really fantastic. Now we're hoping that people start to get a sense of [what the show is about]. A lot of people who saw "football show," their knee-jerk response was that it's not for them, but you don't have to be a huge football fan. You don't even have to know football to like the show and to get invested in it. The trend is that once people see it, they tend to stay with it.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised you got a nine-episode script pickup?
Katims: We haven't gotten the official order yet to shoot the episodes, but one thing I've felt about this show more than any show I've ever worked on [Roswell, Boston Legal and My So-Called Life included] is unanimous support from the network. Everybody has stayed supportive even after our ratings were not through the roof. They really want this show to work. They really want to find an audience.
TVGuide.com: What has NBC asked you to change to make the show more, let's say, "appealing to a broader audience"?
Katims: They have not really asked us to do anything. And we haven't tried to change anything because we don't feel there's anything wrong with the show. There has been a natural evolution towards more character-driven stories that are not necessarily as connected to a football game. We've expanded out to tell stories about, for example, what happened to Jason Street after his injury, and his relationship with Lyla, and the triangle with Jason, Lyla and Tim Riggins. We're finding out more about all the characters, not just the football players.
TVGuide.com: We've heard from some fans of FNL that they're put off by the arty camera angles. I remember, that technique almost killed Homicide years ago. Are you considering toning down the camera work?
Katims: There are two things to say about that. One is that it's not being done for the sake of doing arty-looking stuff. What I respond to stylistically is that it doesn't feel like a typical television drama. You feel like you're really in this world. We shoot on location in Texas, and we haven't built a single set. That said, there are moments when the camera movement gets in the way and we have definitely made adjustments to ensure that the camera doesn't get in the way of enjoying the show. It will be a little less dizzying, but we are not changing the style. It's shot 95 percent handheld in real locations, largely in available light. To me, focusing on somebody's foot tapping or how somebody's holding their hands does inform you about what's going on in the scene. In quiet scenes there will be less jumpy camera movement. It's still the same style; we're just taking care to make sure that we can slow the camera down at moments.
TVGuide.com: What story lines will you ramp up or take down a bit?
Katims: As we get strong as an ensemble, we're focusing more on the characters' stories. The football still remains a crucial part of the show, but we're not as dependent in any given episode on football.
TVGuide.com: So, less football?
Katims: There will be some episodes where we have a big football game, and others where we won't see football at all. At first everyone was saying, "Are we going to be able to tell stories without a game?" And in fact, sometimes those stories can be more emotional and just as dramatic as the stories that have a game in them.
TVGuide.com: More romance?
Katims: We're getting more into characters' romantic stories, into their struggles with families, and we'll be dealing with issues of race and class. I'm very excited to be doing a show where it feels like it's about real people living in a small town in Texas.
TVGuide.com: Real people who are particularly attractive.
Katims: [Laughs] That's true. It's still television.
TVGuide.com: Where should FNL be on the schedule?
Katims: It's better to be here [on Tuesdays] for a little while and let people know where it's at. I would hope that at some point we would find a spot with a lead-in to help get the show seen. [Note: NBC tested FNL at 10 pm last night, behind the Monday hit, Heroes.]
TVGuide.com: Some readers have asked us why a show called Friday Night Lights isn't on Friday.
Katims: I know. The initial thought was that a lot of our audience would be going to football games or playing football on Friday nights. Plus, Friday is not typically such a great night to launch a show. Obviously, it would be a lot simpler were it on Friday nights.
TVGuide.com: Give us some scoop on upcoming story lines.
Katims: We've always planned to have the first season of the show represent one season of football. So when we get into the back nine, it's about the team getting into the playoffs and making a run toward the state championship. We'll take Jason through his initial recovery. He'll move back home and take up wheelchair rugby, like in the documentary Murderball.
TVGuide.com: He won't walk again? No TV miracle?
Katims: No miracle. In a way it's tragic, but in another way, there's so much [that is] positive and heroic that comes out of his injury. The romantic triangle will blow up and be very painful. Matt Saracen, the second-string quarterback, will have an obstacle in the character of Voodoo, the Katrina refugee, and we'll play off the romantic interest between him and the coach's daughter, Julie, which is complicated by the fact that the coach and his wife don't like her dating a football player. Smash is the one real major prospect for a big football scholarship, and we'll show the pressure he feels to provide for his family. Aasha Davis (Chelsea, South of Nowhere) is coming on to play his romantic interest. Obviously, we'll be dealing with the coach this guy who's always trying to balance what's right for the team and winning games versus what's right for these kids.
TVGuide.com: A lot of people think that Coach Taylor could be a role of a lifetime for Kyle Chandler.
Katims: It's a great role for him and he's stepping up in a major way. Connie Britton, as his wife, is just fantastic. That relationship to me feels like the core of the whole series. There's such integrity and love between them.
TVGuide.com: It will be interesting to see if you wind up going The O.C. route with lots of sex, infidelity, melodrama. Maybe turn Friday Night Lights into the best, may it rest in peace, WB show ever.
Katims: There are certain soap elements that happen when you do an ensemble drama and there's no reason to shy away from that, but we're trying to carve out our own niche. The thing that appeals to me about the show is that it's different. The characters seem real. Obviously we're trying to tell dramatic stories, but always in a way that feels real.
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