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A 'Friday Night Lights' marriage that binds in many ways

Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler act out a union with true-to-life domestic moments.

February 06, 2011|By Maria Elena Fernandez, Los Angeles Times

"'Friday Night Lights' stands out because it takes relationships very seriously and it takes feelings very seriously on both sides — men and women," said Elayne Rapping, a critic of popular culture and author of several books, including "Media-tions: Forays into the Culture and Gender Wars." "It's a good family show, and I think it's a role model for how you handle normal life. It's very realistic because it's very grounded. It's not like a soap where crazy things happen."

In fact, if there's anything wild about "Friday Night Lights," it's in how the show was made. Created by Peter Berg, who directed the film and also wrote and directed several episodes of the TV series, "Friday Night Lights" was filmed documentary style with three cameras running all of the time on location in Austin, Texas. Although other TV series have used hand-held cameras to achieve a similar cinematic style, "Friday Night Lights" departed from all production norms. The actors, who never rehearsed and were not given marks, had the freedom to change dialogue and influence the story, which gave way to real conversations — not banter — and sometimes overlapping dialogue. Camera operators, in turn, were trained to pay attention and follow the actors wherever they moved, giving the audience a fly-on-the-wall point of view.

When NBC ordered the series and hired Katims as the show runner, he decided to follow Berg's artistic bent, even though it meant that sometimes Chandler would throw out entire monologues in favor of long silences. "I watched the pilot and thought it was amazing," said Katims, who also ran "Roswell" and "Boston Public." "I felt like my job was to try to emulate what [Berg] did and ultimately expand on what he did. As opposed to getting defensive about that, I got very excited that we were able to capture moments that felt more real and therefore more emotional than what episodic television usually is."

"Eighteen years" was one of those moments. The unexpected guests at the Taylor house were football boosters who were trying to lure the coach into staying in Dillon, Texas, to lead a new high school football All-Star team. As scripted, the Taylors were supposed to exchange heated words in the hallway, but Britton and Chandler decided that less was more.

"We created that moment together," Britton said. "That was supposed to be a big speech that I gave off to the side. Kyle and I wanted it to be more concise. I wanted that moment to be about her demonstrating how she'd been the quintessential football wife. She's so mad at him and they've interrupted them and she says, '18 years,' and with a smile on her face offers them tea. It's rote, and it's so cool."

Their success as an on-screen couple, the actors think, is in large part because of their early agreement about the Taylor marriage. Chandler and Britton wanted the Taylors to have a strong union that would be challenged but not destroyed by life's turns, and together they made that request of the producers.

"My grandmother who died at 99 used to say that marriage was a business," Chandler said. "That's not to say that it doesn't come with all the other trappings. But it's a business and a friendship, and Connie and I didn't want them to get divorced or have alcohol problems or sleep with other people because when that happens in the story of a marriage, you're limited. Once that trust and faith is broken, the magic is gone, and the audience doesn't care."

That magic created many memorable moments. Remember when Eric romantically held his wife, as they faced a mirror, in the first season and told her how he was madly in love with her, and she responded just as sweetly that she was not moving to Austin with him? Or also in the first season when Tami surprised Eric with the news that she was pregnant and he went from silence to laughter to kissing her?

"Friday Night Lights" kicked off with a poignant sports story — star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) was paralyzed from a game injury and relieved by the scrawny second stringer Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) — but the show zeroed in on daily life in Dillon and made exploring relationships its cornerstone.

"It was about being able to watch it and feeling those emotions as you go through different characters and scenes — getting married or having a kid or breaking up," said Aimee Teegarden, 21, who played Julie, the Taylors' elder daughter, who falls in love with Matt. "The most poignant moments on that show were when there was no dialogue. A lot happened in those quiet moments."

On "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood," Katims says he asks his writers to follow one simple mantra: "Everybody's best foot forward," which means the executive producer who had two children and built a life with his high school girlfriend isn't interested in creating false conflicts or high drama. His characters, like him, are trying their best.

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