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Original Issue

Dousing the Lights?

A title is at stake on Friday Night Lights, but the real drama lies in surviving NBC's cut

AS THE actor whoplays the quarterback on NBC's high school football drama Friday Night Lights,Zach Gilford has some inside information: He knows how the Dillon Panthers'season ends in the April 11 finale. (They're in the championship game.) Butlast week, as he packed for a two-month vacation to the Himalayas, he fixatedon a more personal cliffhanger: Will Lights return for a sophomore season?"I wish I knew," he sighed.

By at least onemeasure Friday Night Lights should be in line for renewal. The show smartlyportrays teen life with only rare slips into O.C.--style melodrama, and itcaptures the passion for high school football that bleeds into every aspect ofTexas life. Since premiering last October, many reviewers have praised theseries, but they've also described it as "the best show you're notwatching."

So why aren'tpeople tuning in? (Lights is ranked 114th in the ratings this season.) NBCofficials have cited the show's challenging mix of genres—sports, soap operaand social commentary. But Lights executive producer Peter Berg suggests thatthe network shares the blame. The show has aired on three different weekdays,and its current Wednesday slot is opposite powerhouse American Idol. "It'slike we're sending our child to school every day, and he's getting beatup," says Berg.

NBC president JeffZucker will decide the show's fate in May. While Berg waits, he is planning fornext season. He would like to add a second school to the mix by having acharacter leave Dillon—logical candidates would be coach Eric Taylor, who isflirting with a college job, or Gilford's character, junior quarterback MattSaracen, who could transfer. Berg is also anticipating the departure of nextyear's graduates by introducing younger characters. When Gilford returns fromvacation, he and his castmates might face a situation in which even if the showis renewed, their airtime could be diminished to make time for the new castmembers. "I told the guys early on to be prepared for an experience that isone to two years, and that may be it," says Berg. Perhaps someone shouldhave told him the same thing.

Most Often, They'll Pass

SHOWS ABOUT youth sports have often struggled to findan audience.

The White Shadow
(1978--81, CBS)
This gritty yet fun sports drama, about a white former NBA player coachinginner-city Carver High, was a rare success.

Bad News Bears
(1979--80, CBS)
After three raucous Little League movies, a much blander Bears team moved to TVand Hoover Junior High.

Against the Grain
(1993--94, NBC)
Ben Affleck (far left) played a high school quarterback in this sappy,Waltons-style drama.

(1993--94, ABC)
This snappy comedy about a 15-year-old tennis starlet balancing fame andhomework double-faulted after 22 episodes.

One Tree Hill
(2003--present, CW)
Like Lights, this well-acted teen basketball drama receives strong reviews—butit has yet to be renewed for next year.



TEX MESSAGE Gilford (7) and cast capture the rare passion of Texas high school football.