Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, October 13, 2006

Step toward the "Lights"

Please indulge me while I help out a buddy. My old friend Clint - who was often mistaken for me (and vice versa) when we worked together at Borders (perhaps we're brothers from different mothers?) - moved out to Los Angeles earlier this year and recently scored a working gig on the NBC show Friday Night Lights, based on the 1990 book and 2004 film. (You can read his MySpace blog here.)

Clint can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe he's an assistant to one of the writers. It's a really exciting opportunity for him (and as you might imagine, I'm more than a little envious - but hey, he took the chance on moving out to L.A. while I'm playing part-time sportswriter in Michigan.)

Anyway, Friday Night Lights has been getting great reviews from TV writers and critics around the country. "Great" almost isn't the proper adjective for the praise it's been getting. (Even Tom Shales of the Washington Post loved it, and he seems to hate everything lately.)

Unfortunately, as Troy Patterson pointed out in Slate on Tuesday, if it's one of the best shows of the new season, it's also drawing some of the worst ratings. Frazier Moore of the Associated Press says NBC "plans to stick with" FNL, but don't TV execs always say that sort of thing?

And that's where the point of this post comes in. Clint's wondering what non-critics - especially sports fans - think about the show. So let me put it to you guys. Is it on your radar? If not, why not? Have you heard of the show? Are you familiar with the book or movie? And if you are watching, what do you think so far? Does it seem authentic to you? Are you into the idea of a TV drama about a high school football team? Is there not enough football in it?

Of course, I'm sticking up for my friend. I want to see his awesome opportunity continue. But Good Lord, I love watching TV, and would hate to see a quality show get canned, especially by a network that's clearly struggling, as NBC has been.

I have to admit, however, that I haven't watched the show yet, either. I was en route to Hawaii when the season premiere aired. And this week, FNL was pre-empted by the Michigan gubernatorial debate. Also, a little event known as Game 1 of the American League Championship Series happened to be running at the same time, so I probably would've taped the show, in all honesty.

And I suspect that's a big reason for the bad ratings, especially among male viewers. Sports fans are watching playoff baseball. Meanwhile, non-sports fans figure they won't be interested in a show that centers around Texas high school football.

If I'm any kind of hypocrite for asking people to watch when I haven't myself, so be it. I still intend to give FNL a chance - if NBC gives me a chance to keep trying. But chime in here, if you've seen it, and have a minute to pitch in two cents. I know Clint's damn curious to find out why people aren't watching - while also getting the word out about the show.

And yes, I promise I will watch next week, Clint. Unless the Tigers are playing, of course. But I'll remember to tape it!


  • At October 15, 2006 5:26 PM, Anonymous susannah said…

    Hey Ian, I was going to comment on this at Fried Rice, but given that my reasons for (not) watching are tied to my sports-loving identity, I figured it belonged here...

    I read the book a number of years ago and fell in love with it. To this day, it remains one of my favorites--not one of my "sports" favorites, but one of my absolute favorites. And given my adoration for all things written, that's saying a lot. I think Bissinger crafted the character of the town, the players, and the coaches brilliantly, without compromising any of the scenes of football that made it a great sportswriting read. The story was raw yet touching, real yet magical, honest yet inspiring.

    I initially dreaded the movie because I thought that the studio would certainly overdramatize it and ruin the book. But I couldn't resist, and I wasn't disappointed--in fact, I was impressed. I thought the cinematography was near-perfect, the script struck the right balance between universal emotion and inside-football, and holy crap, who knew Tim McGraw could act? Not to mention the cast of relative unknowns that shone in their team performances, or Billy Bob's quiet intensity as the coach who lives in a fishbowl.

    So this new show should be preying on people like me, right? I should have had my DVR set weeks ago? Well, when I first heard rumblings of the series, I was initally excited, but quickly became skeptical. Unless I'm misled, it's not about Odessa, or the actual team, but rather a similar, yet fictional situation. Which is fine, but to me, the ads didn't present a show that would take the unflinching look at high-school sports that the film/book did, but rather one that's a hybrid of Varsity Blues and One Tree Hill. So that's initially what turned me away from the show.

    I know they likely thought the name would be a draw, but as a fan of the book/movie, the first thing I thought was "How many times can we go to this well before the product starts to stink?"

    Though to be honest, if you know someone who writes for it and thus think it will be well-crafted, I'm willing to give it a roll. Gilmore Girls usually holds my attention on Tuesdays at 8, but it is an abyssmal and predictable mess this season, so I feel comfortable in saying that I will give it a shot this Tuesday (at least DVR it). I'll let you know what I think!

  • At October 16, 2006 11:51 AM, Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said…

    You know, it's not a bad show. There are some predictable and somewhat stupid cliche characters in it (loudmouth black running back, slutty vixen white chick) but overall it's managed to get my attention and rated a season pass on my tivo. It's much better than most television shows. Other than my problem with predictable characters the only other thing they blew it on is having another black character. It's Texas and involves football and the only major black character on it is the aforementioned loudmouth. They aren't even trying to involve black audiences it seems. Having said that I do like the show and will watch it this season.

  • At October 18, 2006 3:58 AM, Anonymous Clint Trucks said…

    Hey ya, gang. I’m Clint. I am Ian’s pal who works in the Friday Night Lights writer’s office. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the show and the way it has been marketed. If you don’t mind, I’d like to address some of the points which were brought up.

    Susannah: being such a fan of Buzz Bissinger’s book, I completely understand your trepidation at the original work being franchised and (in all likelihood) diluted. Network television’s track record for dramatic adaptation of journalistic work is spotty in most cases and shitty everywhere else. And I think FNL is one of the greatest sports films ever made. These two extremes leave a gaping chasm for the TV show to flounder in.

    Fortunately, Pete Berg who wrote and directed the film also created, wrote and directed our pilot. He remains a hands-on executive producer as well. His cousin, Buzz Bissinger, has also given his time, resources and blessing to the show. He even went so far as to give our writers free access to his actual notes and materials used in writing the book. Hopefully, their direct influence and blessing eases your mind about Friday Night Lights being “a hybrid of Varsity Blues and One Tree Hill”.

    Ouch… by the way. That stung a bit.

    The show really is about the town and the pressures it imposes on the Coach and the kids. Not to compare us to The Wire (I wish!) but like that show FNL’s real subject matter is the town. The Wire is about Baltimore; not drugs. Friday Night Lights is about Dillon, TX; not football.

    The Armchair Quarterback: you’ve actually hit on my single biggest concern regarding most network television programming; thin characterization, stereotypes and marginalizing audiences of color. It is endemic this season (as it has been for the past thirty) and I fully concede that FNL pilot episode paints in very broad strokes. Smash, our outspoken black running-back, and Tyra, our oversexed white trollop, are both revealed to contain MUCH more depth throughout the season than their introductions suggest. I won’t presume that you’ve watched the second or third (which aired tonight) episodes but I think they both hint at some of the major storylines that have been planned for them.

    And I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the focus on race relations in the community. It was a major component of the book. It was ever present in the background of the film and it will be addressed head on by this program too.

    Anyway, thanks again to Ian for taking the time to post on the show and thanks to you guys for chiming in. Your criticisms are well reasoned and thoughtful and I appreciate you sharing them. Living in the office and breathing this stuff day-in and day-out it’s really difficult to gauge viewer reactions that aren’t under-informed or hyperbolic.

    Feel free to drop me a line with any other thoughts or questions.



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