On paper, Friday Night Lights (NBC, Friday, 8 p.m. ET) is at the top of its game. With its realistic portrayal of life in a small, Middle American town, the show has won a Peabody Award (in 2006), a Humanitas Award for excellence in writing (in 2009), an Emmy Award for best casting (in 2007), and a Television Critics Association award for outstanding new program (in 2006). It consistently scores near the top of critic's lists of best shows on TV. Now its lead actors, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, have been nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress Emmy Awards. But the show is still struggling to attract viewers. Why?
Here are five theories:
1. People think it's a sports drama—and assume it's not for them. Friday Night Lights is based on a book and a movie about football, and the show itself revolves around the coach and players of a high school football team. To the general public, it sounds like a sports show—and sports dramas appeal to only a narrow slice of TV viewers. Series set in hospitals or law firms or police departments, on the other hand, are relatable to most people. We've all experienced--or known someone who's experienced--health issues or legal troubles or criminal activity. The same can't be said for football.
2. People think it's a sports drama—and then find out it's not. People who are attracted to the concept of a straightforward football show may well be disappointed by this show. The characters may consist of football players and the people around them, but FNL actually focuses on the problems faced by teens in modern day Middle America. So someone who tunes in to see a feel-good sports story, a la the 1993 film, Rudy, might not be reeled in by FNL's dark and thought-provoking storylines. Over the last few episodes, its characters have struggled with teen pregnancy and abortion, neglectful and/or misguided parents, socioeconomic woes, and racism, among other things.
3. On what channel do you watch this show? And which season is where? The first season and a half aired on NBC. Then a deal was cut with DirecTV. Now DirecTV (or The 101 Network, to satellite subscribers) runs FNL episodes first, with NBC airing them a few months later, in its wake. If you watch the show on DirectTV, the fourth season ended in February. If you watch it on NBC, it only just began in May. Further confusing matters, NBC has aired reruns of the show on its sister network, Bravo, and ABC Family has recently acquired basic syndication rights to the show. It will begin airing there in September. Confused yet? So are a lot of other people.
4. Depending on the season, FNL has aired on Tuesday (Season 1), Friday (Season 2), or Wednesday (Season 3). At least it's currently on Friday again. With a title like Friday Night Lights, people are more likely to expect a Friday night time slot, don't you think?
5. Amidst all the talk of corporate deal making, network switcheroos, and writer's strike shutdowns, there have been lots of rumors of FNL's cancellation. That's about the last thing a show needs when it's trying to build its reputation.
On the bright side, it still is a series that's swimming in fabulous reviews. Those who've missed its considerable charms will always have a chance to watch it later. Even after it ends (probably after the fifth season), there will be the DVDs.
Why do you think Friday Night Lights is still struggling to find viewers?
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