POSTED BY STUART LEVINE

Before the entire "Friday Night Lights" production moves to Austin in the dead of summer — yeah, it shouldn’t be too hot that time of year over there — the cast, crew and execs gathered at a watering hole in Santa Monica last night to celebrate the third season pickup.Chandler_3

It almost wasn’t meant to be, but DirecTV decided "FNL" could be a watershed moment for its entertainment division and decided to pay for part of the production tab for the show, somewhere around 40%, with NBC picking up the rest. For its commitment, the satellite provider will have the exclusive window for 13 episodes that are scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Then in midseason 2009 (probably February or March), NBC will start airing those same episode for folks who don’t have access to DirecTV. Hopefully, diehard viewers who will have to wait and see the episodes on NBC will be able to keep themselves in a media blackout from reviews, blogs, plot developments, etc.

Cast members attending the bash Thursday were Aimee Teegarden, who just bought her first car and, much more impressive by our standards, threw out the first ball at the Dodgers-Mets game Wednesday afternoon; Kyle Chandler, who just might be the nicest and most down-to-earth leading man on TV; and Minka Kelly and Connie Britton, who both mingled among the masses.Aimee_2

Showrunner Jason Katims said season three would focus more on on-the-field action than in season two, and that issues will be raised about all the seniors on this year’s team. Katims reiterated that senior year can be great fun for those about to graduate, but the Dillon High School gang will face situations that will, once again, test their mettle against trying scenarios.

Also there to relish all things "FNL" were in-house director Jeff Reiner, exec producer David Nevins and creator Peter Berg, who directed the Billy Bob Thornton movie.

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