May 20, 2008 Jill

One of showrunners giving a master class at the Banff Television Festival is Jason Katims, Executive Producer and Showrunner of Friday Night Lights.

What a perfect excuse to rewatch episodes of FNL and read up on Katims.

Jason Katims

Katims exec produced 32 episodes of FNL and wrote five, including the four in season 1. He didn’t write the pilot episode — which was written by Peter Berg — but he did write a number of significant episodes that set up major story arcs and the series format. Katims’ episodes include: Eyes Wide Open (Episode 102 in which we learn that Jason Street is permanently paralyzed from the waist down), Little Girl I Want to Marry You (Episode 113 when Smash’s mother discovers he’s on steroids), Ch-Ch-Changes (episode 119 when TMU recruits Coach Taylor), State (episode 122, the final episode of season one) and Last Days of Summer (episode 201, the opener for season two).

Katims has a pretty impressive resume. He started out as a playwright, then made the leap to TV. He spent two seasons on My So-Called Life, writing three episodes. He created the series Relativity and developed Roswell for television. He wrote 19 episodes of Roswell and exec produced 61 episodes. He wrote 17 episodes of Boston Public and exec produced 59 episodes. He also served briefly on Bionic Woman just before the WGA strike while still maintaining his FNL showrunner job.

It’s not just a lot of work, Katims has been on some pretty great shows, many of them focused on teenagers and the teen years.

I resisted watching Friday Night Lights. I couldn’t imagine that I would like a show about football playing Texas high school students. Chuck Lazer (Beast Master, Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy) kept promising me that it was one of the best shows on television. I finally listened and was hooked after two acts of the pilot. I devoured the first 10 shows of season one in three days.
There are a lot of things I love about FNL: the beautifully realized and emotionally true characters, the very adult relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife Tami, the feeling of authenticity, the way it’s shot, the beauty of the story lines.

I’ve broken down many many episodes of the series and so has my friend Bobby Theodore (Murdoch Mysteries, Instant Star) who wrote a Friday Night Lights spec this year. Here are some of Bobby’s observations about FNL structure:

Teaser: 3-6 scenes, 5 pages
ACT 1: 8-11 scenes, 12-15 pages
ACT 2:12 scenes, 15 pages
ACT 3 5-8 scenes, 6-8 pages
ACT 4 9-14 scenes, 11-15 pages
ACT 5 6-7 scenes, 2-5 pages

On average, the produced scripts are 52-56 pages

There’s usually A, B, C, D and E plots. One of those is the arc. Sometimes they tell as many as 9 stories.

They rarely have banter that references stuff outside of the show’s world. That makes every line of dialog move the story forward.

The show seems to return to the theme of Faith/Hope in all it’s shapes and forms. Team spirit=holy spirit. The power of community.

There’s usually a big event that happens at the end of every episode.

It’s pretty unusual to see so many storylines running through an hour long episode but FNL really does juggle five or more threads in every show. The stories can play out in between five and 11 beats.

I’ve notices that there are usually somewhere in the neighbourhood of 44 beats per episode. There is also a high level of emotion in each episode. For example, in episode 209, The Confession written by Bridget Carpenter, there are six scenes in which someone cries, there’s a christening, a scene in which a character says “I love you” and another in which a character says “I hate you”, a gun is pointed in Riggins’ face, there’s a kissing scene, a sex scene with Matt and Carlotta, there are two scene where characters yell at each other and a scene in which a football game is won. That’s 15 very high stakes scenes; no wonder I’m so engaged by the show.

Katims’ second season opener for FNL introduced the controversial Landry-Tyra storyline. Lots of people hated the storyline when it first appeared, at the same time professing love for the rest of the episode. Katims defended the story in an interview with TV Critic Alan Sepinal on the web site Friday Night Lights Insider:

Here’s our idea behind this storyline. What we want to do is not turning into a murder mystery or CSI, but it’s basically these two teenagers in a position where it leads to this incredibly intimate storyline between these two characters that would never – their relationship would never become as intimate as it does if not for this event.

Like all Friday Night Lights stories, it’s about character, two people trying to deal with it, what they’ve done, all the guilt and everything would happen to them, and that the two of them get more connected than they ever would have.

The other thing that it does is it allows us, through this storyline, we meet Landry’s family and in particular his father who’s a local cop. As the story develops, his father becomes very connected to the storyline as well. The story gives us an opportunity to get into Landry’s house and see who he is and who his family is. it’s something that’s served the show so well in the first season, when we would develop our characters, to start to really get to know the families, where they come from.

I feel we did that successfully with Tyra’s character where you meet her mother and her sister, Smash with his mother. By meeting the characters’ families, you really get to know who they are. We never saw Landry’s life outside of being Matt’s buddy, so now we’re going to get the opportunity to do that.

And the actor, Jesse Plemons, has so much to offer, that while we love his comic relief sidekick stuff and don’t want to lose that, we know he’s capable of giving us so much more. What inspired us to do this story, when we did the attempted rape storyline last year and we saw what Jesse did with those scenes after he finds Tyra in that vulnerable state, we though, ”˜My god, we’re sitting on a goldmine with this actor.’ That, more than anything was the impetus to do this storyline.

The only other thing I’ll say about this is that, although this is something very different from what we’ve done on the show before, that it is in the tradition of storytelling we’ve pursued on the show. When you look at the pilot episode, you have a situation where the guy set up to the be the star of the show gets paralyzed at the end of the episode. That has served us well where you have this very big, shocking moments in the show and surround that with the smaller character moments and the more intimate storytelling that we also do on the show. To me, this feels very much in concert with the kind of stories we do.

I wasn’t too thrilled with the storyline myself when I first saw it. I really didn’t feel like going down that road, but because I love FNL, I did. And I ended up enjoying the story for all the reasons Katims outlines above.

If you’re interested in more on Katims and season three of FNL, check out TV Guide’s Ausiello’s interview. Or check out his master class at Banff on Monday June 9, 2008 at 1 p.m.

Comments (5)

  1. Tito Crafts

    Here was my problem with the Landry and Tyra plot:

    Season one of “Friday Night Lights” was one of the best seasons of TV ever, and it had the best pilot I’ve ever seen. The pilot was magical: we were introduced to a dozen intriguing, complex characters, and understood that all of their objectives hinged on the success of the football team. When Street goes down, everybody’s world is shattered. Street, Coach Taylor, Smash, Lyla, Riggins, Buddy Garrity, everybody. The season worked so beautifully because at that point, everybody was thrust into the same situation: how to pick up the pieces of a broken dream. Every single person I’ve talked to about the show watched at least two episodes in a row to start. Everything was set up so perfectly in the pilot, the upcoming problems were so immediately clear, the gravity of the situation was so well-defined, that you had no choice but to immediately watch the next episode.

    In season two, though, the catastrophic event does not have that same shatter effect. What it does is force the ensemble in different directions. In season one, we lived and breathed with the town’s collective emotions: the catalyst acted on every character simultaneously. This narrative strategy was further strengthened because of the setting; it’s a small town where everyone knows each other’s business. The characters had no choice but to heal (and come) together.

    The season two catalyst, though, works as an opposite force. Its secrecy runs counter to that small town intimacy, and in doing so saps the show of its greatest strength in season one. Backed into a corner, it felt like the writers just accepted that the characters would diverge over the course of season two, until there was no central narrative and it was simply a collection of only mildly relevant storylines (which would seem completely irrelevant to a viewer who hadn’t seen season one).

  2. WebMan

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  3. Frank

    A fantastic site, and brilliant effort. A great piece of work.

  4. Having myself done an FNL spec this year, I was glad to know that I got the beats down as well (I’m a second year student at Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts) and I’m very glad to see others enjoying and deconstructing the show. 😀

  5. Loren Blumberg

    I am trying to contact Jason Katims. He and I were best friends growing up in Brooklyn until I left in 1972 when my family moved. If you have any contact information, I would appreciate you passing it on. Thanks.

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