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TCA: NBC's 'Friday Night Lights' comes back from the near-dead as 'a brand new show'

July 20, 2008 |  3:33 pm


Fnl_250 Heading into their third season, the cast members of the long-threatened NBC drama “Friday Night Lights” said today that they acutely feel the gratitude that comes with being pulled back from the brink of cancellation.

“It was sort of like we were thrown a life ring,” actor Kyle Chandler said of the deal NBC struck with DirecTV to split the series' production costs and distribution rights. "I feel like it's a brand new show."

As part of the agreement, the satellite provider gets to air the new 13-episode season of “Friday Night Lights” this October before it debuts in February on the broadcast network.

“When the opportunity came up, we jumped right on it,” said Eric Shanks, executive vice president of entertainment for DirecTV, a self-professed fan of the show who said Chandler’s Coach Taylor “has enormously impacted how I raise my child.”

When the series airs Wednesdays on DirecTV’s 101 Network, each episode will be paired with a 30-minute live call-in show, in which fans can talk with actors from the show.

Because “Friday Nights Lights” will air on such different platforms, producers are considering creating two distinct versions of each episode to take advantage of having a longer run time and fewer content restrictions on satellite.

“Potentially, there could be a version of the show that airs on DirecTV that’s different from the one on NBC, and each version would have something to recommend it,” said executive producer Jason Katims.

But it remains an open question whether hard-core fans of the show (are there any other kind?) who don’t have DirecTV will wait to watch it on NBC or download pirated episodes that are bound to make their way online.

“I would like to think I would be patient and wait and watch the real version when it was available,” Katims said.

Or, suggested actor Zach Gilford, “if you’re big fan, download it, then go ahead and turn it on on NBC.”

The coming season will jump to the fall of a new school year, even though the writers strike prevented the series from finishing its second-season story line.

“We’re going to essentially catch people up through brilliant exposition,” Katims quipped.

As previously reported, actors Gaius Charles (Smash Williams) and Scott Porter (Jason Street) will not return as series regulars. Since both characters were in their senior year last season, the writers felt it made sense for them to be taking their leave from Dilllon, Katims said.

“We felt like the show has always really been about, from the very beginning, being as true to life as possible,” he said. “As much as we love Scott and Gaius, we had to be true to what would be happening to those characters.”

Each will be featured in a four-episode arc that Katims called “two of the most emotional stories we’re going to be doing.”

This year, characters like Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) will be entering their senior year, which will be one of the underlying themes of the season.

“I think that’s a very powerful idea,” Katims said, adding that it “lends an urgency to the stories and a nostalgia.”

Other tidbits: Minka Kelly said her character, Lyla, is done with her “born-again phase” and finally in a relationship with Riggins.

“She’s accepted it, happy with it,” Kelly said.

That took Kitsch by surprise.

“I hadn’t even heard that,” he said.

As for Landry, actor Jesse Plemons said he didn’t know what was in store, but added: “I hope Landry is done with his criminal ways.”

-- Matea Gold

Photo courtesy NBC