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As ‘Friday Night Lights’ Ends, It’s Still ‘Texas Forever’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
July 17, 2011

After five seasons and 76 episodes, viewers said goodbye to Friday Night Lights this week. And though it might be described as just a show about football, it’s anything but.

The priorities were set in the very first episode. The star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers, Jason Street, is the all-American hero: He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, a bright future and a humbleness about him.

In the season’s first game, though, he makes a tackle and crashes to the turf, paralyzed.

The show’s creator, Peter Berg, witnessed a similar accident while filming a Texas high school football playoff game. David Edwards, 15, collided with a receiver and became an instant quadriplegic.

“It put the entire football experience in perspective,” Berg tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. “It put me in a pretty serious mode to tackle the series and became more than just a piece of entertainment for me at that point.”

The Coaching Search

Storylines of tragedy, relationships and growing up are what really elevate the show.

In the center of all the drama is the character of Coach Eric Taylor. Played by Kyle Chandler, he’s a direct, tough-loving guy.

“He was and is the heart of Friday Night Lights,” Berg says.

But Berg initially didn’t think Chandler was right for the role. He thought Chandler, who at the time was best known for the 1990s’ series, Early Edition, was too young, too clean-cut.

“There’s a real rugged intensity to these football coaches,” Berg says, and he didn’t see that quality in Chandler until the two meet in person. Chandler was hungover after a night of drinking and playing poker with some buddies.

Berg thought he look perfect.

“I said, ‘You should play this role, but you should play poker and drink every night before you work,’” he says.

A Marriage Of Equals

Berg says that from the moment they met, Chandler had incredible chemistry with his co-star, Connie Britton, who plays his wife, Tami.

Their compatibility made them what some critics describe as the most believable married couple on television.

“That marriage became one of the dominant experiences of Friday Night Lights,” says Berg, “and we never saw that coming.”

Berg says his favorite moment between the two is near the end of the first season. They’re out on a hotel balcony the night before the state championship game, and Tami tells her husband she’s pregnant.

“There was a bunch of dialogue written, discussing it and debating it,” the producer remembers, “and Kyle said, ‘Let’s just be quiet and see what happens,’ and they started laughing and started crying.”

For Berg, that moment of a woman announcing her unexpected pregnancy could have been from any TV show. But Chandler and Britton were able to work it into a unique, simple and emotional moment.

“They had a knack for finding these little moments like that,” he says.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

One of the more memorable parts of Friday Night Lights is the Panthers’ slogan. It’s written on the locker room wall: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

“I’m proud to say I wrote that slogan,” Berg says.

The motto was inspired by Berg’s visits to high school football locker rooms, where coaches asked the players to look each other in the eyes before a game, making a commitment to protect one another on the field.

“The idea of living your life with that kind of clarity of purpose was something that kind of rubbed off on me,” Berg says.

Friday Night Lights was never a commercial success. It was pitted against monster hits like Dancing With the Stars and American Idol. And the Hollywood writers’ strike cut short its second season.

But the story has come a long way. It started with a book of the same title by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, then became a movie and finally a TV series.

And it might not be all over quite yet.

Berg hints there’s been discussion about keeping the show alive in some way, but won’t say exactly how.

“I don’t want to tip any hands,” he says, “but I will say this, it might not be the end of Friday Night Lights as people know it right now.” [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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