February 14, 2008
Go Long, Peacock: FNL Fans Beef Up Offensive Line

Considering the writing we've done here at the Consortium of late about Friday Night Lights (see here, here, and here), as well as fan campaigns (see here and here), I wanted to spend some time looking at the rise of fan energy surrounding attempts to get NBC to renew or find a new home for one of the best American primetime dramas I've seen.

I'll admit up front my bias. This show delivers the community aspect and ensemble cast I've come to love from soap operas, the best of character-driven storytelling, and a mixture of comedy and drama that focuses on life's little moments at the heigh of the show's creativity. Further, FNL doesn't shy away from an honest and accurate depictions, featuring both the beautiful aspects and warts of the culture, including the nature of living in a small town, the centrality of local sports in the lives of that town's residents, and the importance of Christianity in the lives of many of the characters.

There are a dedicated group of fans who feel the same way, fans who may not be large enough in number to solidify the show's standing for the network, but who are particularly passionate about the program. And these fans are leading to fans calling for a steady stream of mini-footballs.

You can see so by the mini-essay that greets you on Save Friday Night Lights. In fact, the organizers of the site have taken on an adaptation of the mantra of the show's sports team--The Dillon Panthers--with their cry of, "Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose this show!"

Already, fans have started fundraising in order to buy mini-footballs and send them to the network, echoing some of the tactics displayed in the campaign to save Jericho directed at CBS that we have written about before (see here). The site has already quickly raised enough money to buy 2,500 footballs in two days and are now looking to repeat the process. Each football will have printed on it "Save Friday Night Lights!" along with the adaptation of the show's tagline.

The organizers say:

The more we can raise, the more footballs we can send. The more footballs we send, the less chance of them ever forgetting our devotion to this show. This is our chance to be the rally girls for the show and to show our devotion to our team. Don’t let the lights go out on this great show. In football terms, we're on the 4th down and going for the hail mary, but we believe this show is worth it. So if you want to help save the best show on television join the fight!!

The organization has quickly developed a MySpace page of late that has, at the time of this writing, has 385 friends.

Seems the fan movement has gained quite a bit of traction in a short amount of time, since buzz about the cancellation of the series seems to have only started more heavily over the past few days, especially after the final episode currently taped for the series ran last Friday night.

I've suggested before that FNL seems to be a show that have far fewer "haters" than people who have simply been reluctant to try it. A family and teen drama centered on sports culture may seem to create conflicts with both masculine and feminine viewing modes that creates a show which appeals to no one, and I'll admit that I myself was skeptical about whether this was a show I wanted to watch, especially after never being enthused enough to watch the film by the same name or hearing particularly outstanding review of that movie.

For whatever the reason, though, the viewers of FNL seem to enthusiastically back the show, whether that results in fan fiction or the types of traditional "fandom" organized movements some other shows generate or not, as Xiaochang Li has written about in the past (linked above).

I've had a great number of e-mail exchanges and phone conversations with fellow enthusiasts about this show, many of whom come from soap opera fandom and feel that the way this show handles an ensemble cast and character-driven storytelling far surpasses the daytime serial dramas on the air at current, even though there is, it seems, not enough time in the series to fully flesh out the relationships amongst the people of Dillon.

I'll be interested to see how vocal this fan movement becomes and what impact it has on the eventual announcement as to the future of this series and whether it will be cancelled, moved to another network, or remain on NBC.

Any thoughts or any other news on fan campaigns surrounding Friday Night Lights? E-mail me at samford@mit.edu.