Friday Night Lights, Season 5

How the Fabulous Mud Bowl Scene Came About
Talking television.
Oct. 25 2010 1:53 PM

Friday Night Lights, Season 5

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Hey, all, thanks for the invitation to participate. We really appreciate your support of FNL, and I think you're gonna love Season 5. (Just a reminder that it premieres Wednesday night on DIRECTV channel 101.) Let me dive right into your questions:

Why does FNL have to end? Could you keep it going and going and going? Or does its internal coherence require that it stop now?

David Hudgins.
David Hudgins
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Creatively, the show probably could have continued, and many of us pushed for that up until the very end. But it just became too difficult to make the numbers work from a business standpoint, and the plug had to be pulled. Having said that, there is a certain elegance to ending the series after five seasons. It somehow feels complete. And with the advantage of knowing the show was going to be over, we were able to construct an ending that I think our fans will find extremely resonant and satisfying. But still … it was very difficult for all of us to say goodbye.

How did you create such a compelling marriage, and why are there so few other television marriages to match it?

From the beginning, showrunner Jason Katims had a clear vision that Coach and Tami would always be FNL's emotional anchors. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton shared in that feeling, and they were very protective of their characters' relationship. There's lots of ways to test a marriage, and the challenge was to try to avoid the overly obvious and melodramatic. It just seemed more fresh and interesting to dwell in the details. The everyday stuff that happens in a marriage that makes it real and relatable. It wasn't always easy, but it did give us a center. And it felt different, in a good way.

A scene from Season 1 comes to mind. Coach comes to see Tami at Applebee's, and when he sits, she tells him to take off his hat. It wasn't scripted, but it felt so right for her character. So Coach takes off his hat, and Tami tells him she took a job as guidance counselor at the school, and Coach looks at her and says: "Wait, my school?" It was so great. Territory, surprise, insecurities, ambition. All in a moment. And you just knew … somehow they would figure it all out.

What other TV shows and movies inspire the creators of FNL? Do you model FNL on anything else?

Here's the thing about TV writers—we can be little shits. Lots of times in the writers' room, references to other shows and movies are used not as inspiration, but as ways to shoot down a pitch. As in, "Nice, but I saw that on Three's Company once." Or, "Yeah, we could do that, if we were writing a 1976 afterschool special." Honestly, most of the story ideas came from the writers' own experiences. We had a writer whose mom was a guidance counselor. And a guy who played college football. Even a kid who wrestled a hog once at a county fair. OK, not really, but it made for a good scene that got us to lunch. I do recall a discussion of the movie Miracle when it came out, and we loved the documentary Murderball, which loosely inspired part of Jason Street's recovery arc in Season 1. And of course it was always fun to talk about iconic football moments and try to figure out how to translate them into the show. But FNL was never really modeled on anything other than our own collective, ever-changing idea of what life would be like in that fictional little town of Dillon.

What's your favorite FNL episode?

I can't say the one I'm thinking of from Season 5, because it hasn't aired yet, and that wouldn't be fair, right? So I'll go with the first one after the pilot. That scene with Coach yelling at Saracen on the empty Panther field late at night gets me every time. And I love the ending, where we're close on the football spiraling through the night, and you don't know how the game will turn out. Will Saracen be the hero, or the goat? Vintage FNL.

I also love "Mud Bowl," probably because it was so much fun to produce. FNL is special in how it's shot—run-and-gun, with handheld cameras, little rehearsal, and lots of inspired, unscripted moments caught on the fly. I remember being on set in Austin, in the middle of a cow pasture, ankle-deep in mud as these huge rented machines made it rain. The last scene of the night called for Derek Phillips, who plays Billy Riggins, to celebrate with Tim after the Panthers won. Derek's call was for 8 p.m., but we didn't get to his scene until 12:30 a.m., so he had been waiting for a long time. I don't know how he passed the time, but when we finally got to him, he was feeling awfully rambunctious. So the director calls action, Derek hugs Taylor Kitsch and congratulates him, and then … Derek takes off running and dives headlong into the mud. Everyone cracks up. It's fucking great. And pretty soon, all the extras and other football players start doing the same thing. It turned into this huge mud party and we just kept rolling film and caught it all and ended up using it in the show.

Your favorite character?

Oh, man, that's like asking me to play favorites with my kids. Which I only do when they deserve it. I'll say … Buddy because he's Texas, Tyra because she's honest, and Grandma Saracen because she breaks my heart. But of course … Tim Riggins. You can throw anything at that character and he'll survive.

Emily, you said that for a couple of seasons, you've been wishing for a major, three-dimensional Hispanic character on FNL. You asked: What explains this blind spot, and does Season 5 give us a Hispanic kid to fall in love with?

I grew up in Texas, and I spent some time in Odessa in the late '80s (around when Buzz Bissinger was writing the Friday Night Lights book), so I think I understand at least in part where you are coming from. But I don't agree that the show has a "blind spot" when it comes to race or minority characters. In fact, I've always felt that we've gravitated toward those stories, rather than running away from them. Maybe the problem you perceive is with our execution, but not our intent—as you point out, we have had Latino characters with major arcs in the past, and I can tell you, there very definitely is a Hispanic character whom you can fall in love with in Season 5. I know we all did.

One of the strongest themes of FNL is the power of place: what it means to be rooted in Dillon, or to leave it. How conscious are you about how often to move the action outside the town?

Great question. The answer is, "place" was often a conscious consideration in our storytelling. We've always thought of Dillon itself as a character in the show. It's Devil Town, right? It has a pull on people. And without giving too much away, I can say that it's a theme that plays prominently in Season 5.

Are there other couples, on TV or in film, who make you think of Eric and Tami?

Personally, I love Phil and Claire on Modern Family. They feel hilariously real and flawed to me.

David Hudgins

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