Episode surplus could boost show

In a bit of twisted Hollywood logic, the Writers Guild of America strike could end up giving a boost to “Friday Night Lights.”

That’s the word from NBC brass and David Nevins, the Imagine Television prexy who also serves as an exec producer of the show.

Some concerned TV critics have taken to gnashing their teeth over the possible ill effects the work stoppage might have on the skein. A long gap between episodes could derail any momentum the show might have, they worry.

“It’s actually the opposite,” argued Peacock scheduling prexy Vince Manze.

While most fall shows have just one or two episodes left to air — if that — the Universal Media Studios/Imagine TV-produced “Friday Night Lights” is in much better shape. It’ll have six episodes in the can when it returns early next month from a short holiday break.

“We’re hoping that the lack of original (scripted) competition will help the ratings,” Manze said. “Just by default, we should see some kind of increase.”

It helps that “Friday Night Lights” isn’t the 98-pound ratings weakling it appeared to be last season. In fact, NBC’s decision to move the show to Fridays — a shift some fans feared was a death sentence — seems to have worked out well.

Opposite two decently performing newcomers that have been given big promo pushes (CBS’ “Moonlight,” ABC’s “Women’s Murder Club”), “Friday Night Lights” has emerged as the No. 1 show in its 9 p.m. time period with viewers 18-34, making it the youngest scripted show on any network’s Friday lineup.

DVRs have also been a boon to the skein, one of the most time-shifted on TV — ratings rise 18% when you count viewership that takes place after the first date of broadcast.

And while its overall viewership isn’t huge, it’s the right kind: No other drama on TV has a higher concentration of viewers that make more than $100,000 a year.

“The national press has put ‘Friday Night Lights’ in this box of ‘We love it, but it’s too good for television and it’s never going to work,’ ” Nevins said. “But I think they’re missing the story. Between the upscale demos, the young demos and the enormous amount of DVR viewing this show attracts, this show is actually starting to work on Friday nights.”

Indeed, according to fast national Nielsen data, the Dec. 7 fall finale tied for first place among adults 18-49 in its timeslot and will likely end up a clear-cut first once DVR data is factored in.

Manze also noted that “Friday Night Lights” has something else going for it: its pricetag.

He wouldn’t talk specifics, but industry insiders estimate the show’s per-episode pricetag at a little more than $2 million — about $500,000 less than the typical network drama. Throw in deals for subtle product placement with the likes of Gatorade and Applebee’s, and NBC has plenty of reasons to stick with “Friday Night Lights.”

Despite the good news, however, the show’s still not a sure thing for renewal.

“It’s too early to celebrate,” Nevins admitted. “But I like our chances.”

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