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Will NBC leave the ‘Lights’ on?

Football show could use new timeslot

If ratings woes compel NBC to cancel “Friday Night Lights” before its sophomore season, it could become the most critically beloved freshman series punted by the Peacock — or any broadcast network — since “Freaks and Geeks” in 2000 and “Boomtown” a few years later.

Though ongoing positive reviews for the show dovetail with NBC’s new marketing campaign emphasizing the sudden development of quality programs in its stable, the Peacock has not found a way to convince any kind of meaningful audience to give “Friday” a shot. 

One suggestion has been for NBC to try moving the 8 p.m. show to a 10 p.m. slot. (The show might make a better lead-out from “Heroes” than “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” for example — perhaps a trade is in order.) “Friday” has some storylines that are PG-13 in subject matter, and while the notion of 8 p.m. as a sex-free zone has long since been blown out of the water, viewers might be more in the mood for some of the “Friday” subject matter after they’ve had a chance to settle in for the evening.

But also at the heart of the “Friday” ratings dilemma is the apparent low sampling of the program. Auds haven’t been inclined to give the show a chance, because they perceive it as a football show they won’t be interested in, or they feel that the book or movie that it descended from was enough for one lifetime. Concern that a viewer will stick with the show after tuning in is relatively low.

NBC could consider a bold stab at marketing the show directly to women — through the “Today” show, life and style magazines, what have you. “Friday” offers many strong female characters and stories; if NBC can get the women of the show front and center, breaking through viewer resistance, the “Friday” audience could double.

NBC has a noteworthy history with struggling but critically worthy shows. Most notably, the network stayed with “Hill Street Blues” during a first season in which it would regularly check in at the bottom of the ratings, and was handsomely rewarded with a Hall of Fame drama. “Cheers” and “Seinfeld” are other examples of patience validated.

But the rough ride of “Freaks and Geeks,” however ratings-challenged, testifies all too well to the times the network has shown a quick hook. Despite constant shuffling in, our and around the sked, “Freaks” had a core following, along with critical acclaim and breakout performers in James Franco (“Spider-Man”), Seth Rogen (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) and Linda Cardellini (“ER”).

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