Based on the 1990 book by Buzz Bissinger and the 2004 movie of the same name, Friday Night Lights was, and remains, a beloved, unflinching television drama about the residents of the (fictional) high school football-crazed town of Dillon, Texas.
1. IT WAS THE SECOND TIME NBC TRIED TO MAKE A FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS SERIES.
The network tried to get the rights to Buzz Bissinger’s book soon after it came out. When they couldn’t purchase them because the movie rights were sold first, the network aired an unofficial adaptation titled Against the Grain in the fall of 1993, which starred Ben Affleck (then 21 years old) as the starting quarterback. It lasted eight episodes. And yes, it aired on Friday nights.
2. KYLE CHANDLER CLAIMS HE COULDN’T COACH HIS WAY "OUT OF A PAPER BAG."
Kyle Chandler met with executive producer Peter Berg (also the co-writer and director of the movie, and Buzz Bissinger’s second cousin) for the role of Coach Eric Taylor supremely hungover, "and I had smoked, like, 20 cigars—it was either my birthday or someone else's birthday, but it was a big bash—and I hadn't shaved or probably showered in a few days," Chandler recalled to The Hollywood Reporter. "So I show up on my motorcycle, probably late, and I just remember [Berg] looking at me and going: 'That. That's exactly what I f***ing want right there, just do that.'" The actor isn’t a big football fan; he found inspiration for playing Taylor from reading a biography of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, but still swears, "I couldn't coach my way out of a paper bag."
3. TWO ACTORS REPRISED THEIR ROLES FROM THE MOVIE.
Connie Britton played the coach’s wife again. In the movie version she was Sharon Gaines, wife of Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton). In the series, she was Tami Taylor. Initially, she was reluctant to play the role until Peter Berg convinced her that Tami would have a job and a life of her own in the TV series.
Brad Leland played the team booster again. For two years, Leland (unsuccessfully) pleaded with the writers to give his character, Buddy Garrity, a girlfriend or wife.
4. ZACH GILFORD WAS WORKING AT A SPORTING GOODS STORE WHEN HE WAS CAST AS MATT SARACEN.
Gilford and one other actor were up for Saracen: The other actor was double-booked to audition for a made-for-TV Disney movie, so Berg gave the part to Gilford.
5. MINKA KELLY WAS WORKING IN A PLASTIC SURGERY CLINIC.
The future Lyla Garrity was making ends meet as a scrub nurse, preparing women for their lip and breast implants when she wasn’t auditioning.
6. TAYLOR KITSCH DRANK TWO BEERS IN HIS AUDITION TAPE FOR TIM RIGGINS.
He finished one tallboy, then opened a second one before introducing himself in his video and doing the "Texas forever" scene. When he was called in to test, Berg interviewed him sports reporter-style.
7. MOST OF THE DILLON HIGH STUDENTS WERE NOT TEENAGERS.
When the series debuted on October 3, 2006, Jesse Plemons (Landry Clarke) was 18 years old and Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor) was 17. Minka Kelly was 26, Taylor Kitsch was 25, Zach Gilford was 24, and Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette) was 23.
8. THE SHOW WAS FILMED IN AUSTIN.
Friday Night Lights was the first series to shoot in Texas's capital city since The Real World paid a visit the year before in 2005. Before that was Ned Blessing, a short-lived Western that ran on CBS in 1993 and was shot on Willie Nelson’s ranch. Producers rented homes around Austin for filming, and used the nearby Pflugerville High School's football field for many of the big game scenes.
9. THE UNIFORMS AND SOME FOOTBALL FOOTAGE WERE TAKEN FROM THE PFLUGERVILLE PANTHERS.
Real footage from Pflugerville High School's football games was mixed with the taped footage to create the game action. One Pflugerville football player claimed the show was a “huge distraction” when he was interviewed during the first season, and claimed a senior pep rally had to be canceled because of the show’s shooting schedule. Another player claimed that in real life, the coaches yelled a lot more.
10. NOT ALL OF THE ACTORS COULD PLAY FOOTBALL.
Actor Gaius Charles, who played Brian "Smash" Williams, wasn’t a very skilled football player. But Michael B. Jordan, who played Vince Howard, was known for having great quarterbacking skills. Taylor Kitsch had played hockey for 20 years before starring on the show, and was also a noted athlete.
11. THERE WERE NO REHEARSALS.
For each scene, three camera operators simultaneously followed the cast wherever they chose to go, as opposed to standard TV production, where the actors are given marks for where to sit or stand. (The actors wore body mics, so even if they wandered off far away from cameras, they could still be heard.) The process cut production time down to eight hours a day, but also caused problems: then-NBC president Kevin Reilly told producers to cut back on the “jiggly” camera style after the pilot.
12. JASON STREET’S STORY WAS INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS.
Berg was conducting research for the show when he witnessed 15-year-old defensive back David Edwards collide with the opposing team’s wide receiver in a 2003 high school football game. The injury left Edwards paralyzed from the neck down. He passed away in 2008.
13. TOM ARNOLD HELPED SAVE THE SERIES FROM CANCELLATION.
When Friday Night Lights was in danger of being cancelled after its second season, "Tom Arnold, me, and Ben Silverman were having Chinese food somewhere [during the Sundance Film Festival]," Eric Shanks, DirecTV's former executive vice president of entertainment, recalled to Grantland. "Ben was talking about how Friday Night Lights was on the bubble, and that the audience was passionate but not huge. He didn’t know if it could support a network audience anymore. We just kind of cooked up the idea of DirecTV and NBC partnering on the show right there over Chinese food. Actually, Tom Arnold gets all the credit because he was the guy that set up the dinner and put everybody together." This arrangement remained in place for seasons three through five.
14. KYLE CHANDLER NIXED ANY SEX SCENES.
A sex scene between Coach and Tami Taylor was shot for the season two premiere, but Chandler was so uncomfortable that the footage was never used—and no sex scene between the two characters was ever written into the show again. In another incident involving the Taylors in the bedroom, Brad Leland pulled a prank by jumping in bed with Chandler and Britton in just his gym shorts.
15. CHANDLER WORKED AS A VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER WHILE FILMING THE SERIES.
16. THE FOOTBALL DIDN’T STOP WHEN THE SHOW ENDED.
At the series wrap party, the cast and crew went to an Austin honky-tonk called Midnight Rodeo, then played touch football at two in the morning on the old football field.
17. MITT ROMNEY WAS REPRIMANDED FOR USING "CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE" IN A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SPEECH.
Peter Berg wrote a letter to the GOP candidate, accusing him of plagiarism. He ended the letter by imploring Romney to "Please come up with your own campaign slogan."