October 4, 2008

DirecTV Gets Episodes Early

LOS ANGELES - New episodes of the drama Friday Night Lights begin airing at 9 tonight. But hold up there, fans. You won't find the high school football series on its regular home of NBC.

Only subscribers to the satellite cable service DirecTV will get to watch. The cable provider will show the 13 new episodes ordered for this year, and those episodes will air on NBC next year.

"It's no secret that our business is about acquiring new customers and retaining the most profitable ones," DirecTV's executive vice president for entertainment, Eric Shanks, said in July. "And we really believe that the passionate fan base from a premium show like Friday Night Lights has the ability to acquire new customers and really reward our loyalist customers with something they just can't get on cable."

DirecTV reaches 17 million viewers, a drop in the bucket compared with the more traditional cable-delivered systems such as Comcast. Both styles of cable delivery offer a majority of the same channels. That's why DirecTV is taking the tactic of offering an original program that is just for their subscribers.

DirecTV made a similar deal when NBC canceled the daytime drama Passions. An additional 52 episodes were ordered to air on DirectTV's 101 Network channel.

The early airing of the Friday Night Lights episodes could present a problem for fans who aren't connected to DirecTV. Big plot points could be revealed before NBC gets to air the episodes.

Mr. Shanks understands that dilemma, but he argues the decision was made because of the fans. The series has never been a huge ratings winner, but the DirecTV agreement was enough for NBC to order the third year.

The new season picks up with the next season of football and school year. The characters of Jason Street (Scott Porter) and "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) will be on only a few episodes. Series creator Jason Katims says their exit is just part of the natural evolution of the show: The series uses football as a backdrop and these characters have graduated.

Originally published by McClatchy Newspapers.

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