NBC has a winner in its new drama “Friday Night Lights,” which debuts at 7 p.m. Tuesday on KFOR-4 (Cox 3). Adapted from the 1990 book by H.G. Bissinger, the series is set in the fictional West Texas town of Dillon, where the town’s people treat high school football as a religion.
Written and directed by Peter Berg, who also directed the 2004 feature film of the same name, Berg said he plans to take the series beyond the movie and tackle a variety of topics, including racism, education, parent-child relations and the culture of small-town athletics.
The PG-13 film was heavy on cussing and sexual content. The series, filmed in Austin, appears to be cleaner, but still dwells on sex.
The excellent cast is led by Kyle Chandler (“King Kong,” “Early Edition”), a longtime assistant coach who takes on the pressure-packed role as new head coach of the Dillon Panthers, ranked No. 1 in Texas by Sports Illustrated. His wife (Connie Britton, who had the same role in the film) finds it’s difficult to lead a normal life when married to the town’s biggest celebrity.
Several newcomer actors come off well in the premier. Jason Street (Scott Porter), an “all-world quarterback” being recruited by Notre Dame, is criticized by Dillon’s woman mayor for being too polite. Running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) loves to trash talk, in the mold of the Budweiser commercial’s “Leon.” Volatile fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) despises Williams. Backup quarterback Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), who is pressed into duty in the premier, and his best friend Landy (Jesse Plemons) also shine.
The premiere comes off as though it’s a documentary, including Chandler and his players being interviewed by a local TV affiliate. Adding to the authenticity, the game scenes are particularly strong as producers interspersed their scenes into actual footage of the Pflugerville (Texas) Panthers. The plot, though predictable, still leaves viewers appreciating the sport and its impact on a small Texas town.
During a visit to a youth football team, Street kneels down and begins to pray when he’s interrupted by a young player.
“Does God like football?” he’s asked.
“Everybody likes football,” Street replies.
And most everybody, including non-football fans, should like this series.
What to watch
With both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State off this week, fans can get a glimpse of other teams.
• No. 1 Ohio State has a tough road test at No. 13 Iowa at 7 p.m. KOCO-5 (Cox 8).
• No. 3 Southern Cal travels to Washington State at 6 p.m. on TBS (Cox 62).
• No. 5 Florida hosts Alabama at 2:30 p.m. on KWTV-9 (Cox 10).
• No. 6 Michigan plays at Minnesota at 7 p.m. on ESPN (Cox 29).
• No. 9 LSU hosts Mississippi State at 11:30 a.m. on KSBI-52 (Cox 9).
• No. 10 Georgia travels to Mississippi at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 (Cox 28).
• Other Big 12 telecasts: Colorado at Missouri, 11:30 a.m., FSNSW (Cox 37); Texas Tech at Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m., KOCO-5 (Cox 8); Kansas at No. 21 Nebraska, 6 p.m., FSNSW (Cox 37).
• Tulsa will get national exposure when it hosts Southern Miss at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2. John Saunders, Craig James, Doug Flutie and Todd Harris will be the announcers. NFL • Dallas returns to action at winless Tennessee at noon Sunday on KOKH-25 (Cox 12).
• KWTV-9 (Cox 10) will show San Diego at Baltimore at noon and New England at Cincinnati at 3:15 p.m.
Entering the final weekend of the season, several playoff spots are still to be determined. Fans can follow the St. Louis against Milwaukee series at noon Saturday on KOKH-25 (Cox 12) and 1 p.m. Sunday on Cox 7.
A Sooner classic
The Sooner Sports Network, in association with the Oklahoma Historical Society, will rebroadcast the 2000 OU-Texas game at 2 p.m. Saturday on many Sooner Network radio stations, including KOKC-AM 1520 in Oklahoma City and KFAQ-AM 1170 in Tulsa.
Running back Quentin Griffin rushed for a schoolrecord six touchdowns, and linebacker Rocky Calmus added an interception and run back for a touchdown in OU’s 63-14 victory.