AS THE actor who
plays the quarterback on NBC's high school football drama Friday Night Lights,
Zach Gilford has some inside information: He knows how the Dillon Panthers'
season ends in the April 11 finale. (They're in the championship game.) But
last week, as he packed for a two-month vacation to the Himalayas, he fixated
on a more personal cliffhanger: Will Lights return for a sophomore season?
"I wish I knew," he sighed.
By at least one
measure Friday Night Lights should be in line for renewal. The show smartly
portrays teen life with only rare slips into O.C.--style melodrama, and it
captures the passion for high school football that bleeds into every aspect of
Texas life. Since premiering last October, many reviewers have praised the
series, but they've also described it as "the best show you're not
So why aren't
people tuning in? (Lights is ranked 114th in the ratings this season.) NBC
officials have cited the show's challenging mix of genres—sports, soap opera
and social commentary. But Lights executive producer Peter Berg suggests that
the network shares the blame. The show has aired on three different weekdays,
and its current Wednesday slot is opposite powerhouse American Idol. "It's
like we're sending our child to school every day, and he's getting beat
up," says Berg.
NBC president Jeff
Zucker will decide the show's fate in May. While Berg waits, he is planning for
next season. He would like to add a second school to the mix by having a
character leave Dillon—logical candidates would be coach Eric Taylor, who is
flirting with a college job, or Gilford's character, junior quarterback Matt
Saracen, who could transfer. Berg is also anticipating the departure of next
year's graduates by introducing younger characters. When Gilford returns from
vacation, he and his castmates might face a situation in which even if the show
is renewed, their airtime could be diminished to make time for the new cast
members. "I told the guys early on to be prepared for an experience that is
one to two years, and that may be it," says Berg. Perhaps someone should
have told him the same thing.