“Extraordinary in every conceivable way.” – The Washington Post
“The greatest sports-related show ever made.” – Bill Simmons, ESPN.com
“Capitalism knows only one color: That color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it.” – Thomas Sowell
On the surface, it would appear the last quote has nothing to do with the previous two. But when it comes to the plight of NBC’s phenomenal show “Friday Night Lights,” everything else has become subservient to the fact the show simply doesn’t get the ratings – and thus the advertising money – to stay on the air. Hailed by critics and its cult following, this show about the fictional Dillon Panthers High School football team has had a rocky two-year run, struggling to gain a widespread audience. As idealistic as it is to think networks care about the product they’re putting on the air, the reality is, the only thing that matters is the bottom line, and “FNL” isn’t producing the kind of profit NBC’s looking for. But here’s my question for the people running the network: So what?
So what if it’s struggling to gain viewers? So what if the advertising money isn’t lining your pockets? So what if Middle America would rather watch the biggest losers run on treadmills than real storytelling? At some point, someone in Hollywood needs to take a stand for good television. And there’s no better time than now and no better show to do it with than “Friday Night Lights.” Since its debut in 2006, the show consistently produces some of television’s best episodes. The writing is fantastic, the storylines are realistic and the acting and cinematography are so good, at times it’s hard to believe you’re not watching a documentary. It’s no coincidence “Friday Night Lights” came on the heels of the Billy Bob Thornton movie of the same name, as each episode plays out more like a one-hour movie than a television episode. But enough gushing – the real issue here isn’t the quality of the show, but the actions of NBC.
The network is either too greedy or too unwilling to take a stand for quality over quantity. Rather than a sincere effort to make “Friday Night Lights” a hit, NBC would rather let it die and roll out shows like “1 vs. 100” or the latest version of “The Apprentice.” I don’t know what it says about this country when more people would rather watch Donald Trump than “Friday Night Lights,” but it can’t possibly be a good thing. While “FNL” hasn’t officially been cancelled, there are no signs NBC will ever finish season two or air another episode. The decision to give up so soon is particularly curious, considering almost two decades ago when NBC tried to sell a struggling comedy to Fox after its pilot was poorly received. The show’s name was “Seinfeld.” Sound familiar? Certainly, “Friday Night Lights” will never reach the success of “Seinfeld.” But still, you’d imagine a network that’s seen so many great shows overcome lackluster starts – like season one of “The Office” – would be more patient.
Ironically, NBC did more to bury Coach Taylor and his Panthers than promote them. Someone at the peacock network decided that just because the word “Friday” is in the show’s title, it needed to be aired on Friday nights, when almost no one watches television. This immediately eliminated the two demographics to which this show is Taylor made (excuse the bad Coach Taylor pun): high school football fans, and college students. There’s no way for the football crowd to watch it, because they’re at their own games, and let’s face it: By 9 p.m. on Friday nights, most college students are too drunk to be watching anything other than “Family Guy” reruns. Rumor has it NBC is currently trying to find a way to share “Friday Night Lights” with another network to keep it alive until it can gather a solid audience. But they’re still missing the real solution here. Despite its lagging ratings, they should renew the show for a third season. Not for the profits but for the sake of having a quality product. There’s no better opportunity for Hollywood to see the light, or “Lights.”