Friday Night Lights in TV History

I’ve watched literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of TV series in my life.

I’ve blown off most of them after a few viewings (most recent example: the horrific Perfect Couples). Followed a couple hundred, tuned in on a weekly basis for about a hundred and stringently followed about 50. 

Then there are those final 20 or so where I’ve seen every episode so many times I can go a decade or more without seeing an episode, but still easily roll right back in to quoting every line if it pops up on TV. Trust me — I’m proving it on a nightly basis watching the Hub’s Family Ties reruns.

It’s a tough 20 to crack, what I’d consider my 20 favorite TV shows of all time. Not the 20 best, mind you, because this list doesn’t have universally accepted shows of awesomeness like Lost, The Sporanos, The Wire, which for one reason or another I never watched. This is my favorite 20. The ones that have stood the test of time. The ones that I randomly think about once or twice a week, no matter how long they’ve been off the air.

the best tv couple ... ever

the best tv couple ... ever

There’s a reason I started thinking about this the other day. Friday Night Lights will air its series finale Wednesday after five of the best TV seasons ever on the air. It had one of the strangest behind-the-scenes histories of any show, ever. It’s even a trailblazer, giving hope to any rabid fanbase of a ratings-challenged show that it could somehow stay on TV for five seasons.

About two years ago, it cracked that distinction of being one of my favorite TV shows of all time. After its fourth season played on NBC last summer, it moved further up the list. I just didn’t know exactly where it fits — or where other shows on the list fit for that matter. So I went through the process of finding 20 shows I consider to be my favorites and broke them down into how I feel about them right now, at this moment, no matter when they aired. Anyone can use this formula to break down their favorite shows. If you have a couple minutes, feel free to give it a try and e-mail me in the results or leave them on the PopRox Facebook page. If I get a couple, I’ll post them in a blog later this week. If you’re not a complete and total TV junkie, this process is either too frivolous or too painstaking to undertake. I understand. But there are people like me that find this kind of thing both fascinating and enlightening, trust me:

STAGE 1: THE RELIGIOUS WATCHER

hopefully these two crazy kids are still married

hopefully these two crazy kids are still married

Characteristics: You’re a diehard fan, you may even have some memorabilia from the show. You’ve been known to talk it up to friends, but understand why someone wouldn’t like it. You probably have one or more seasons on DVD, but you recognize flaws or the downward spiral of the show and you wouldn’t dream of buying a certain season. You fell out of love with it at one time or another, but always kept watching. If you’re scanning the channels and see a rerun is on, you hit the info button. Even if you don’t necessarily like that episode, you tune in anyway. When you knew the series finale was coming on, you considered having a party with other fans — or you even did. Before DVRs, you learned how to use your VCR timer to make sure you could tape these shows in case you had to miss them.

My examples: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (you couldn’t pay me to take the season 6 DVDs off your hands), Nip/Tuck, Saved by the Bell, 24, Growing Pains, Friends, Saturday Night Live

STAGE 2: YOU WATCHED EVERY EPISODE — MULTIPLE TIMES

Characteristics: You arranged your schedule around its initial broadcasts. When your local TV station ran commercials announcing it was about to air syndicated reruns — “Coming this fall, ‘Night Court’!” — you audibly cheered. You can still quote lines from it and have certain instances in your life where you always will. You’re only missing a couple seasons on DVD, you’re waiting for them to go into the buy-1-get-1 bin at FYE. If you’re surfing the channels and see a repeat, you’ve been know to put off plans under the logic that it’s a “good one.” But when it gets canceled, you were probably all, “Yeah, it’s time.” These shows are more prone to comedies because they’re much easier to watch in repeat viewings.

My examples: Family Ties, The Office, South Park, NewsRadio, Wings

STAGE 3: YOU’D ASK FOR THESE SHOWS ON YOUR DEATH BED

this is my yahoo avatar, so yeah, frank pembleton is big for me

this is my yahoo avatar, so yeah, frank pembleton is big for me

Characteristics: If anyone tried to say you’re not a fan of these shows, you’d have a legal and moral obligation to punch your accuser square in the jaw. You have a season or two on DVD, and you completely plan to get the rest, but you’re a little short on cash. You’ve been known to scan eBay looking for sales. Or maybe you do have every episode on DVD, you just never get a chance to watch them. You actively try to recruit people to watch it. When they refuse, you can’t understand why. If they say they tried and couldn’t get into it, you stop talking to that person for at least a week to evaluate whatever relationship you might have.

My examples: Homicide: Life on the Street, Mad Men, Cheers, Angel

STAGE 4: THE BEST EVER

don't ask me to choose, because I don't know which one is my favorite

don't ask me to choose, because I don't know which one is my favorite

Characteristics: It has to hold the most special place in your heart. If someone asked you a trivia question about it, you should be able to spout the correct answer instantly to 95 percent of the questions, then turn around and stump whomever asked you with a question of your own. You own every episode on DVD and you actively watch them. You can’t have more than five shows in this category over your viewing history. You consider these perfect shows. You schedule your day around reruns of episodes you’ve seen 50 times and own on DVD. When someone asks you to name your favorite episode, you give them 10 because it’s “not fair” to the other episodes. You may have thought, “I should start a Facebook group for this show.” You may actually have done it.

My examples: Seinfeld, Simpsons, Kids in the Hall

That’s 19 shows right there, with room for one more. Friday Night Lights fits somewhere:

THE CONS: I’ve seen most episodes exactly once because syndication attempts on ABC Family have been less than impressive. I only own the first season on DVD because I haven’t even watched it yet, so there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to get the other four. Because of this lack of viewings, I couldn’t quote you more than 10 or 15 lines from the show’s run. If I did, I’d probably get them wrong (I hate quoting TV show or movies wrong). I strongly considered switching from Comcast to DirecTV to watch the episodes on their first airing, but my lifelong love of the Phillies ended that discussion.

THE PROS: I’ve never tried to get more people to watch a show under the promise, “If you watch three episodes and you don’t like this show, I’ll eat my shoe. Eff it, I’ll eat both of them.” I literally begged people. I even offered to pay a few of them. It worked on three people: My wife, who was hooked after I had to convince her to give the original pilot a try; my brother Erik, who went on to turn his wife into a fan; and my buddy Big, who still can’t fathom why more people didn’t/don’t watch it. There were only two or three shows I can remember being as emotionally invested in as FNL. I felt near physical pain when the team lost the state championship in season 3. I still get goosebumps anytime I hear anyone say, “Clear eyes, full hearts, CAN’T LOSE!!!” When Coach Taylor breaks it out, it’s more like a full-body contortion of chills. If the series would end like that, I’d probably go into some kind of uncontrollable catatonic shock. I’ll now watch anything, ANYTHING, with Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton or Taylor Kitsch. I remember hearing that Chandler and Britton finally scored Emmy nominations last year and pumping my fist in glee and excitement. It honestly brought my wife and I closer together.

To me, that’s Stage 3, making it one of my eight or nine favorite shows of all time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lock myself in a room for two months before the final season comes out on DVD two weeks before NBC airs it.

One last time: CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS … CAN’T LOSE!!!

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