“Friday Night Lights” remains in the dark about whether NBC will renew the low-rated but critically beloved drama for a second season. But if production gains another year of eligibility, executive producers Peter Berg and Jason Katims plan to de-emphasize football — the show’s original signature — from its gameplan.
“We’re doing everything we can to distance ourselves from football,” Katims said at a “Media as Lens” symposium at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills on (appropriately) Friday evening. “We find football is the least interesting aspect of the show.”
Katims and Berg had no bombshells to drop about their show’s renewal/cancellation status, but with NBC having ordered six scripts for next season — even though the Peacock hasn’t yet committed to producing them — the producers are actively thinking ahead.
Their vision of the future played into last week’s season finale, in which the show’s creative forces had to decide whether or not its Dillon Panthers would win the Texas high school football championship game. The answer was yes — for non-pigskin reasons.
“If they had lost the game,” Katims said, “it would have (meant) a second season very similar in structure to what we just did. … The idea of the coach and his wife (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton), the potential of their marriage being challenged, we were sort of thinking that was the cliffhanger. We felt like it was going to be too much to have that on top of a loss. We felt that character (was where to focus).
“I think football will always be at the center of the show in terms of the obsession this town has,” Katims added, “but I think we’ve earned the right to tell stories that have nothing to do with football. In fact, I think it’s a necessity.”
Despite already featuring storylines that run the gamut of non-football-related drama, “Lights” has battled all season to convince viewers it’s about much more than the gridiron. NBC’s ability to market such a complicated animal may play into its own parallel deliberations about whether it will let “Lights” win or lose.
“There’s no point in talking about (the renewal),” Berg said. “We’re optimistic. I think the network is inclined to do it, but it’s up to (NBC prexy and CEO) Jeff Zucker and the gods.”
Friday’s gathering, moderated by “Daily Variety” senior features editor Stuart Levine, was well-attended by cast members of “Lights”, with Chandler and Britton joined by Taylor Kitsch (who surprised many with his native Canadian accent), Jesse Plemons, Scott Porter, Minka Kelly, Aimee Teegarden and Zach Gilford. All expounded on the job-of-a-lifetime nature of working on “Lights.”
A much less sacred than profane gag reel before the question-and-answer period put attendees in a jovial mood. The cast frequently ribbed Berg about the unconventional auditions he asked them to submit to, but Berg teased right back, especially when it came to casting Chandler, who surprised many with his convincing portrayal of rugged Dillon coach Eric Taylor.
“I was like, ‘Early Edition?’ ” Berg said. “Are you kidding me?”