Peter Berg surprised a lot of people when he proved the star of Wes Craven's Shocker and director of Very Bad Things could make a sensitive, complex and accurate portrayal of high school football. Now he's bringing Friday Night Lights to the small screen in a weekly series. Here's what he told me about it.
Like the film, the movie will address many issues outside of sports, in the kind of depth that episodic television allows. "If you're looking to spin a sports issue into a positive, sports is sort of the great equalizer," said Berg. "It brings together races and religions, very organically. That's been my observation having spent a lot of time in Texas, that religion is not a big deal. It's just something that is. Racism and racial tension and racial harmony are thing that are not necessarily big things down there. They just are. I've seen examples of black kids, white kids and Hispanics kids getting along beautifully down there around football and I've seen the opposite. It's just the way it is and that's kind of the way we try and present it in the show. We don't try and make a big deal about it. People pray and have football games. It's just what they do. I've seen it."
A TV show can also get away with having whole episodes where no football is played. If that happened in the movie, somebody would complain. "We definitely are not going to hang the series on football games and we're cognizant of the fact that as appealing as the football games are, there's perhaps a limit to the patience of viewers and because of that, we will expose all of those things. We'll spend as much time away from the season and away from the games as we do in it. And hope to hang the success of the show on the likeability of these lead characters, people like Kyle [Chandler] and Connie [Britton]. Not on football games. We will certainly present football throughout the season but to us, it's a character driven show more than actual football game driven show."
There are plenty of young hotties in Friday Night Lights for future covers of teen magazines, but existing hearththrobs were avoided. "Brian [Grazer] says I had a mantra when I was making the film with a vision, one of the components of that vision is when Brian kind of looked at me right before we started shooting and said, 'Hey, don't clown up this world.' That stuck with me. It really registered. It was simple advice but it was actually very helpful. I think that not clowning up the culture of the world has been sort of the mantra that I've used to help influence every decision I made. And casting was certainly one of them. One of the great things about having a relationship like I had with Imagine is they trust me and they don't pressure me to do things that other people might feel pressure to do like cast the third or fourth lead in certain shows. They let me cast who really was best and most fresh for the roles so it was important and we were fortunate to be able to do it."
They play high school juniors and seniors. If Friday Night Lights is a hit, somebody might have to flunk out in order to stay on the show. "We're all aware of not wanting to have 35-year-old actors playing high school juniors for the 12th season in a row. That's sort of a bridge that I think we'll cross if we get to it, if we're fortunate enough to get to it."
As popular as sports on TV have been, fictional shows about sports have fared more difficultly. Sports Night could not hang on despite rave reviews and Clubhouses fizzled quickly. "I think it really comes down to something as overly simplistic as anything that works works and if the quality of the show is at a certain level and in all seriousness, Kyle and Connie and some of the other actors connect and we do our job as writers and producers, I think we have a very reasonable chance. I think it's all about putting out something that's quality and it's compelling. If you do that, it doesn't really matter."
Those shows also weren't on networks hosting the sports they were covering. ?It certainly doesn't hurt that NBC's back in the football business. We like that.?
Friday Night Lights airs Tuesdays at 8 on NBC.