On Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights, NBC, and DirecTV

How an Unlikely Partnership Saved a Great Show and Pointed the Way to the Future

By Paul Levinson

Friday Night Lights was on the verge of extinction, the compelling stories of its vibrant characters about to be cut off, far short of any natural conclusion. Such are the hazards of airing on traditional network television, which provides the biggest audiences and the biggest risks. But a new kind of television came to the rescue, a kind of television that could be counted highly successful with fewer viewers.

The course of network television, its evolution as a medium, never did run smooth.

Star Trek showed that syndication could compete with network television in presentation of rerun dramas in the 1970s and first-run shows in the 1980s. The Sopranos showed that cable TV could compete with and even surpass network and syndicated television early in the twenty-first century–in both audience numbers and critical acclaim. And the story of Friday Night Lights and its sojourn on two kinds of television has shown that a superb show on network television–in this case, NBC–struggling nonetheless to find a large audience, can extend its life via partnership with a form of television different from both broadcast and cable: satellite television or, more specifically, DirecTV. The lesson we can learn from the sharing of Friday Night Lights’ presentation to the public holds keys to the path for the future survival of network television in our age of iPads and iPhones.

How It Started

Friday Night Lights was born in the hearth of media symbiosis–a television drama series premiering in 2006, based on a 2004 movie that was in turn  …

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