Here's What We Learned From the Friday Night Lights Reunion Special
"Mr. Street, do you think God loves football?" asks a young boy in a Dillion High School jersey. "I think everybody loves football," replies Jason Street, a quarterback-turned-coach on the show, Friday Night Lights. This clip kicked off a reunion special about the beloved drama, available to watch now on the new People/Entertainment Weekly Network. The interviews and footage were filmed at the ATX Television Festival in June, where a staggering amount of cast members gathered on the old Herrmann Field to celebrate the series' 10-year anniversary.
The show premiered on October 3, 2006, on NBC. It was based on the movie, which was based on the book, written by H.G. Bissinger. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist moved his family to the town of Odessa, Texas, in order to capture the spirit of true Texas football town. The film's director, Peter Berg, wanted to expand on his 2004 big screen effort and submitted an hour-long drama for the small screen in 2006. The cast was an ensemble of relative unknowns, although Connie Britton reprised her role as Tami Taylor from the film to the new show. It lasted five seasons, carried by critical acclaim and a rabid fan base that kept it on air through the 2007 writer's strike and as viewership ebbed and flowed.
Football heroes, cheerleaders, geeks, gang members, teachers, and parents alike all had a voice on Friday Night Lights. While the show featured extensive scenes of competition, the heart of the show was within the characters that made up the tight-knit community that revolved around the love of the game.
Alongside clips of the shows and insight from Entertainment Weekly writers, the special featured sit-downs with many of the cast members. The line-up included:
Connie Britton (Tami Taylor), Scott Porter (Jason Street), Gaius Charles (Smash Williams), Brad Leland (Buddy Garrity), Jesse Plemons (Landry Clark), Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins), Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette), Louanne Stephens (Lorraine Saracen), Stacey Oristano (Mindy Collette Riggins), Liz Mikal (Corrina Williams), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty), Dora Madison (Becky Sproles), Libby Villari (Mayor Rodell), Kevin Rankin (Herc), Joey Truty (Buddy Garrity Jr.) & Katherine Willis (Joanne Street)
Major cast members that were woefully missing (but ever present in clips and memories):
Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor), Minka Kelly (Lyla Garrity), Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins), Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen), Michael B. Jordan (Vince Howard), Jurnee Smolett-Bell (Jess Merriweather), Aimee Teegarden (Julie Taylor), Jeremy Sumpter (J.D. McCoy)
During the 20-minute special, they revealed some interesting behind-the-scenes secrets and favorite moments on and off screen. Here are the highlights of what we learned.
Drinking gave some actors an advantage in casting.
Those involved with the book, film, and TV show were all aligned in their quest for an authentic "Texas football town" feel. Taylor Kitsch (Tim Riggins) got that message loud and clear, so when he sent his casting video from Canada, it featured him drinking a Lone Star Beer. Is that considered an import? Now, that's some dedication. Kyle Chandler (Eric Taylor) was almost not even considered for the role because they thought he was "too pretty." To their surprise, he showed up to his audition on a motorcycle and nursing a hangover. At that point, they were sold.
The cast took home souvenirs.
After the show wrapped for good in 2011, a few of the cast members brought back memorabilia from their Dillion High School days. Brad Leland (Buddy Garrity) is the owner of the infamous "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" sign from the Panthers locker room. Connie Britton snagged her "Reserved for Tami Taylor" parking space sign, which now hangs proudly in her driveway.
The actors actually played football.
It turns out, a lot of what was filmed wasn't with a stunt crew. The cast played the games themselves. Gaius Charles (Smash Williams) hadn't played at all before he got the role. On the other end, Brad Leeland (Buddy Garrity) won the 1971 Texas state championship with the Plano High School team. Talk about authentic, y'all! Jesse Plemons (Landry Clarke) was touted as being the second best player in the cast, even though his character wasn't very good at all. However, when some of the guys went to the field to play a bit of flag football in their off hours, Plemons managed to tear his ACL. When the crew found out, they were banned from going back on their own the rest of the series. Bonus: Scott Porter (Jason Street) does an exceptional Taylor Kitsch impression while recalling this event.
The cast members were super close.
While many actors live and work in Hollywood, Friday Night Lights was shot in Austin, Texas. Since most of these were young actors with no real Texas roots, they spent a lot of time with each other. In fact, they all lived in two different apartment complexes that were right next to each other.
They shared their most emotional moments.
This show was widely praised for its emotional core, a series of authentic moments that went easy on the cheese (most of the time). Scott Porter (Jason Street) recalled a triumphant moment when his paralyzed character was shot in such a way that it looked like he was standing again. Stacy Oristano (Mindy Collette Riggins) cited loving the scene where Matt Saracen sang to his grandmother, who suffered from dementia, to get her out of hiding in the closet. She also shared that her final scene, which called for crying, included her real tears as she realized her five years on the show was ending. She was told that the only person who cried more than her in the end was Kyle Chandler.
Where are they now?
The actors were asked where they thought their characters would be now, 10 years later:
Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins): He hopes the former-mechanic-turned-football coach has gotten his life together a bit, but is realistic that he's still just doing his best. He's definitely not living in a mansion, although we're sure Mindy has some particularly gaudy curtains happening regardless.
Gaius Charles (Smash Williams): He envisions Smash still playing pro football and earning a couple of Super Bowl rings. Most importantly, he will have used his earnings to buy his Mama a couple of houses (which she so rightfully deserves, that patient woman!).
Adrianne Palecki (Tyra Collette): Palecki is confident that Tyra has earned her psychology degree and is following in Tami Taylor's boot-steps as the Dillion High School counselor. She married Tim Riggins, who is now the coach. It's our fan fiction dream come true!
Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty) & Dora Madison (Becky Sproles): These on-screen sweethearts agree that they end up married. If not, Luke would certainly be Facebook stalking her, pining over his lost love.
Scott Porter (Jason Street): Having ended his run on the series by getting an entry-level job at a sports agency, Porter is sure that Street is now a top 3 percent agent. He also thinks that Street and Riggins would always have a room in each other's houses for each other, meeting up a few times a year to catch up over beers.
Louanne Stephens (Lorraine Saracen): Stephens assures us that Matt's Grandma is probably dead. Dang, Louanne, our hearts aren't ready for that! We do appreciate that Grandma Saracen-style realness though.
- Connie Britton (Tami Taylor): She just hopes that Tami is working hard and Coach is somewhere inspiring more young people. That's nice and all, but we need more juicy stuff from TV's greatest married couple!
Until then . . .
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