'Friday Night Lights' showrunner Jason Katims does a deep dive on the series finale

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Image Credit: Bill Records/NBC

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EW: Did the network have any notes on what they wanted or didn’t want to see in the finale?
KATIMS: By the time we’d gotten to the end of that show we were really very much on the same page with the network in terms of what stories we were telling. I don’t remember them having any objection to what we were doing. They were really incredibly supportive of us. The challenging part of the finale is that it ended up being much longer than other episodes, and there were always two first airings of the show once we made the deal between DirecTV and NBC. There was the DirecTV airing and then the NBC airing. It was very unusual in that way, but typically both of the versions of the episode were exactly the same. We didn’t really change anything between the DirecTV version and the NBC version, but when it got to the finale the biggest challenge was that it was about 15 minutes longer than a normal episode of the show. So for DirecTV it wasn’t a problem because they could air it at any length, but for NBC we worked out a way for the initial airing on NBC to be a 90 minute version for the show so that we were able to do a longer version that was not planned ahead of time. It wasn’t planned to be longer than a normal episode. But we did cut a shorter version of that show because it’s always necessary for future and for foreign and for other outlets where you had to have a version that conformed to the normal time, but I felt like this longer version we really needed in this case.

Obviously there was a lot of story in the episode and you know, in other episodes we were always cutting scenes out of Friday Night Lights. Many of our episodes, a cut would come in fifteen minutes long or even longer. So we were always cutting things out of the episodes. But I felt like this character has this great storyline in this next episode or whatever, so I forgave myself for cutting stuff out because I knew they had something great coming up. But this was the last episode so I really felt like it was really important that every character had his or her moment and that we didn’t cut any of those out.

EW: When you finished it, were you thinking that this could be a story you would be revisiting down the line at some point so you wanted to keep some options open for that?
KATIMS: No. That ending was definitely meant as the end of the series and I wasn’t at all thinking about keeping the door open to do more episodes or a movie or anything like that. It was really intended to be an ending. The idea of possibly doing a movie came up and that came up after we finished that episode shot and aired. There was no thought in the finale of keeping a window open for the future.

EW: Did you take any extra security steps to keep the ending from being spoiled?
KATIMS: No, not really. I feel like on some episodes — whether its Friday Night Lights or Parenthood — if there’s a particular story point that I think will be more enjoyable for people to not know about before they see it then I try to be careful of keeping that from getting out. We did try to do that with this finale in terms of making sure that the actors and publicity and everybody knew not to, but I think it was fairly obvious not to give away the ending. I felt like it wasn’t the type of show where people were stealing or finding storylines and putting it out there. We didn’t take any crazy measures to keep it secret.

EW: What are other series finales that you think really hit it out of the park?
KATIMS: M*A*S*H comes to mind. That’s a good question and the truth is, I don’t know. For example, when we were doing the finale of Friday Night Lights, we weren’t really referencing or referring to any particular type of finale or anything else anybody had done. The one thing that I really felt was this responsibility to the fans of the show. I’m sure any showrunner that was involved with a show that had a passionate audience would feel the same way, which is why we felt like we wanted to do everything that we could to make this ending feel satisfying to the fans for the show and make it feel like it lived up to everything that the show was.

I remember that I wasn’t there much for the shooting of the finale, but I directed the episode that was the third from the last. I remember when I was there directing there was always a great feeling on the set of that show. There was always a fantastic energy on the set, and on those last few episodes there was such a passion from everybody on the show — everybody involved, the actors and the entire crew. Everybody involved with the show really had such a love for the show that when it came to those last handful of episodes, everybody was just singly focused on making those episodes as good as they could possibly be. And I think you can really feel that when you watch the finale and when you watch the last four, five or six episodes of the season.

EW: I think the most telling sign of how great Friday Night Lights was is how much my wife loved it, because she absolutely hates football, and this was her favorite show on TV.
KATIMS: That means a lot to me because one of the things that all of us were saying early on in the life of the show when we felt like football was a barrier to getting people to watch it was that the show is not actually about football. It’s about community, it’s about family, and it’s about all these people’s lives, and it’s about so much more than that. And I remember saying that to people and getting blank stares when we said this early on. So, thank you.

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