As they were about to start work on Friday Night Lights, executive producer Brian Grazer (24) gave creator Peter Berg — who also wrote and directed the movie version of H.G. Bissinger’s book — one piece of advice:
"He said, ‘Hey, don’t clown up this world.’ And that stuck with me, it really registered," Berg recalls. "I think that not clowning up the culture or the world has been sort of the mantra" in making the show, which like the book and film looks at how high-school football dominates life in a Texas town.
So far, mission accomplished: Berg adopted a documentary-style look for the pilot that carries through to subsequent episodes. The result is a series that feels unusually intimate, and, its two stars say, one that gives them great freedom to explore their characters.
"We’ve been doing the Pete Berg mantra down here [in Austin, Texas, where the show films] about the sense of reality and almost improvisation in these scenes," says Connie Britton, who plays Tami Taylor, the wife of football coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler). "Everyone’s committed to that, even with the camera angles. The camera guys are improvising every shot we do."
Berg says his goal with Friday Night Lights is not to "hang the show on football games" and spend as much, if not more, time exploring characters’ lives as on the field. That’s evident in the show’s second episode, which has some scenes at Taylor’s practices but ends just as the game starts.
"What I really like about this show, and I think why it’s different, is that the show’s got different rhythms in it," Chandler says. "It’s not just that you get to view the episodes, but you get to contemplate the characters. … You really get to sit down with these people. We feel that when we’re doing the work because we’re able to go places with the material."