Audiences killing off quality TV
February 15, 2011
It was just days ago that we said goodbye to quality football programming, and I fear that except for a few repeats, it’s gone for good. The NFL? No, I’m talking about “Friday Night Lights.”
Last week marked the swan song for the series ... well, sort of. The series, based loosely on the 1990 book H.G. Bissinger wrote about Permian High football, is set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.
It ran solely on NBC for its first two seasons, and was kept alive through a partnership with the network and DirecTV. For seasons three and four, episodes aired on what DirecTV calls “The 101 Network,” and were shown again on NBC a few months later.
That’s the plan for the fifth season as well, which ended last Wednesday and will premiere on NBC April 15. The DVD season comes out April 5, which is the first time I’m aware of a series going on DVD before it goes on the network that created it.
It’s an odd and regretful end for a show that never found enough of an audience.
For those unaware of the series, I’ll give you a quick rundown: Dillon is obsessed with high school football, in ways that are uplifting and disappointing. New coach Eric Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) has walked into a dream job, with Division-I prospect Jason Street at quarterback and a core of talented sophomores and juniors.
Reality intersects. Street gets injured, and sophomore backup Matt Seracen is flung into far more than he should be expected to handle.
Seracen, played by Zach Gilford, might be the most burdened character, between a father in Iraq, an estranged mother and a grandmother battling dementia.
But it’s no cakewalk for the others. Cheerleader Lyla Garrity learns promiscuous people are applauded when they’re boys and slandered when they’re girls. Tim Riggins learns as an adult, he’s no longer given the free passes that were commonplace when he played fullback. In the final season, quarterback Vince Howard’s mostly-absent father appears just in time to cash in on Vince’s success.
If it happened to somebody you knew in high school, it’s probably been on Friday Night Lights. But FNL is not “Leave It to Beaver.” Characters rarely handle things perfectly, and the ramifications spill into future episodes.
I know that shows sometimes end too quickly (“Boomtown” ) or they’re not appreciated during their long runs (“Homicide: Life on the Street”), and I also know that DVD and streaming services let shows live long after they’re canceled.
I’m just worried about the future. Why would networks spend money on good writers, good actors and good directors for “Friday Night Lights” when mediocre TV is less risky? It troubles me that “Friday Night Lights” is leaving, and the schedule gives us pawn shop reality shows and Larry the Cable Guy’s run-in with moonshine. I’m not making this up — this was Monday night’s actual lineup on the History Channel.