Drive past any high school in Texas on a Friday night and the lights illuminating over the football field are sure to be glowing brightly. In the Lone Star State, football is as American as apple pie and a rite of passage for many aspiring athletes.
The culture of Friday night football games has been the subject of television series, movies, and best-selling books. In 2006, NBC aired the dramatic series Friday Night Lights, starring Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.
The popular NBC series was not the first attempt at depicting a real Texas high school football team. In 1993, a short-lived series starring Ben Affleck took a shot at telling the story of the beloved Texas tradition.
‘Friday Night Lights’
The Permian High School Panthers were the subject of a book entitled A Town, a Team, and a Dream written by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger in 1990. The story of the team’s attempt at the state championship was depicted in all its glory, catching the attention of movie studios.
In 2004, actor Billy Bob Thornton played the head football coach in the movie Friday Night Lights. Two years later, NBC developed a television series of the same name that closely followed both the book and subsequent film.
Chandler portrayed fictional Coach Taylor, who leads the Dillon, Texas, high school football team, on and off the field. The popular series took on controversial issues such as abortion, drugs, and socioeconomic disparities, with racism being the main antagonist.
Britton, who played the role of Coach Taylor’s wife, was developed as a multi-dimensional character in her own right. Ironically, she also played the movie version of the coach’s wife, Sharon Gaines.
Before ‘Friday Night Lights’ became a fan favorite
NBC attempted to get the rights to Bissinger’s book shortly after it was published. The film industry beat them to it, so the network developed an unofficial adaptation.
The short-lived series, titled Against the Grain, aired in 1993. The role of starting quarterback, Joe Willie Clemons, went to 21-year-old Ben Affleck. The New York Times loved the direction of the show, saying, “It’s not just another half-hour sitcom running on wisecracks.”
Despite the network’s attempt to bring wholesome family values back to the small screen, the show did not do well among critics and got canceled after only eight episodes.
It wasn’t until 2006 that NBC was able to produce the Friday Night Lights series that viewers have come to know and love.
Creator Peter Berg recalled pitching the idea of the series to NBC executives, telling them, “I want to build up this all-American quarterback, this hero. This wonderful, beautiful kid with his entire future ahead of him.” After catching their attention, he said, “He’s got the hot girlfriend. He’s got the loving parents. And he’s going to break his neck in the first game. We’re going to create this iconic American hero, and we’re going to demolish him.”
Why the popular show was canceled
Friday Night Lights aired for two seasons on NBC to a lukewarm reception and threat of being canceled. Diehard fans convinced the network to continue filming, and the series was co-financed by DirecTV for three more seasons.
The series pulled at the heartstrings of Middle America, with the infamous slogan “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.” In 2011, Chandler won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor, and executive producer Jason Katims won for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.
Despite a strong fan base and critical acclaim, the show was canceled in 2011 after 76 episodes. With declining ratings, the network had no other choice than to pull the plug on Friday Night Lights.
It has since found a new home on streaming services, gaining faithful audiences. Rumors of a film sequel never came to fruition, but fans can enjoy binge-watching the series from the comfort of their couch.