Thursday, October 12, 2006

Keeping the "Lights" on

For those of you that don't know (and I can't remember if it was ever mentioned in the comments or not), my buddy Clint - who has sometimes been mistaken for me (and vice versa); perhaps we're brothers from different mothers - works 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 still treadmilling 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.)

Seriously - look at Virginia Heffernan's lead from her review in the NY Times:

"... if the season is anything like the pilot, this new drama about high school football could be great — and not just television great, but great in the way of a poem or painting, great in the way of art with a single obsessive creator who doesn’t have to consult with a committee and has months or years to go back and agonize over line breaks and the color red; it could belong in a league with art that doesn’t have to pause for commercials, or casually recap the post-commercial action, or sell viewers on the plot and characters in the first five minutes, or hew to a line-item budget, or answer to unions and studios, or avoid four-letter words and nudity."

Man, if someone wrote that about something I created (especially a TV show), I'd start crying and probably quit on the spot.

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 hey, NBC's already essentially cancelled Kidnapped - which I was getting into, dagnabbit - by exiling it to Saturday nights.)

And that's where the point of this post comes in. Clint's wondering what non-critics (i.e., TV viewers) think about the show. Is it on their radar? If not, why not? (I think he asked me specifically about whether or not sports fans are watching - and I'll pose that question on my sports blog - but I think it's appropriate here, too. Especially since I know we all enjoy good television.) And if you are watching, what do you think so far?

Of course, I'm sticking up for my friend. I want to see his awesome opportunity continue. But I also hate to see a quality TV 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. Though with Game 1 of the Tigers-Athletics series running at the same time, I probably would've taped the show.

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

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. I will give up Dancing with the Stars (which I should do anyway) for you, you damn handsome man.