Friday Night Lights Thanks Texas Locals For Emmy Nom
With every type of sport, there’s always an underdog: a team loaded with potential and talent that’s just outside the spotlight. “Friday Night Lights” remains the prime time TV drama ratings underdog. However, for the third consecutive year, this favorite amongst critics will vie for an “Outsanding Casting for a Drama Series” Emmy against “Damages,” “Mad Men,” and “True Blood.”
Executive producer Jason Katims sees the Emmy nomination as a testament to the talented actors involved in every episode.
“This is a true ensemble show,” said Katims. “Clearly, we have a fantastic regular cast. However, our supporting cast is just as rich. The audience enjoys getting to know and feel connected to these supporting characters. They really contribute to what the show is about.”
The people who assemble the strong cast are Linda Lowry and John Brace of Linda Lowry Casting, and Beth Sepko of Beth Sepko Casting.
“I’m so proud, and in awe, of how well our casting works from the team effort of Linda and Beth,” said Katims. “There are casting finds in LA, but we use a large percentage of local talent. Episode to episode, most of the guest casting and supporting cast typically come from Texas.”
“There’s a strong talent pool in Texas,” said Beth Sepko, Location Casting Agent. “There’s always been a lot of location shooting, primarily with features. Texas natives like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez shoot their movies here. We do have some people that move to Los Angeles, but a greater amount stay local.”
Sepko has been involved with the Texas casting world since 1987. After a stint as an actress, she joined an agency where she began assisting with commercial casting. By 1996 she was involved in principle casting. Part of her philosophy is to keep an open mind when screening actors who she’s previously passed on.
“I’ve seen some actors trying since they were kids,” said Sepko. “These young actors really grow into their ability and find their talent. A lot of people who become actors stick with their training. Months can go by when there aren’t many opportunities. I always like to see these folks again to gage how they have grown.”
Sepko does have a list of highly skilled actors she likes to use. However, she’s always looking for new faces to emerge from the crowd.
“I’m constantly reading actors,” said Sepko. “Before each season I have a big general casting session. I meet background actors on other sets and keep them in mind for a part they may be good for.”
Working as part of a casting team, Sepko will meet with Lisky, Katims, and series creator Peter Berg to discuss the specifics about the characters. Aside from reaching out to the local community and Los Angeles actors to fill a spot, there are a few other locations that are considered.
“Texas has a large Hispanic community, but not many Hispanic actors,” said Sepko. “To make sure we get characters that properly represent the demographics of Texas, I’ll pull actors from New Mexico. We’ve also pulled actors from Mexico.”
Even though ratings haven’t provided a gold star for the series, “Friday Night Lights” has not relied on stunt casting to bolster viewership.
“There is a strong verité aspect to the show,” said Katims. “With the format we’ve developed, a big star may take you out of the reality of the story. We’d be open to casting a recognized name, but we really cast by what the needs are for the character creatively.”
After season two, “Friday Night Lights” was clearly struggling with viewership. NBC reached out to DirecTV with a unique contract in an effort to keep the show on the air.
“DirecTV and NBC have a first-run contract,” said Katims. “It airs on DirecTV first then on NBC. Each station does publicity for the show. By virtue of this unique situation, we get more publicity than we would normally get. This has kept the show on the air.”
“There are very few shows you can believe in, and this is one of them,” said Eric Shanks, Executive Vice President of Entertainment for DirecTV. “We feel we made the right choice. We are elated to be partners with NBC and try out this new model.”
With many Emmy nods and wins for sports programming, “Friday Night Lights” marks the first time DirecTV has been nominated for prime time programming.
“The pay TV world is unique,” said Shanks. “We feel we’re really paving the way with original content. Viewership has exceeded our expectations. This upscale drama fits so well with our premium brand: we have higher expectations for our customer service and our programming standards. Our model is much more concerned with the passionate, hard-core audience.”
“This show has always been tricky. People find it, love it, and become passionate about it,” said Katims. “Although we have a small audience of loyal fans, there are many people who haven’t found the show. An honor like an Emmy nomination is really important to keeping the show on people’s minds. We have a great cast and crew who completely deserve this recognition.”
Thanks to the contract between DirecTV and NBC, “Friday Night Lights” will continue airing for two more seasons. Additionally, the show will continue shooting on location in Texas.
“There was a short period of time where there was talk of moving the show out of Texas due to finances,” said Katims. “But this never came close to being done. We have a great relationship with the city. We shoot on practical locations with crew based mostly in Texas.”
“Even locals who have nothing to do with the show support the production,” said Sepko. “People are supportive of the film community here. When our film incentives were threatened, we had full community support, with hundreds of people heading to the capital to lobby.”
Sepko is happy to share the honor “Friday Night Lights” has received with the community. Visitors to her office will find a special surprise.
“We do display the Emmy in the office,” said Sepko. “Sometimes people notice it in the middle of an audition, and will get so distracted that we have to start over again.”