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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. The economics of a network television show used to be pretty straightforward: Get high ratings in the right demographic, and you can charge lots of money for commercial time. But network television is losing viewers to cable and the Internet, so the business model is changing, too. "Friday Night Lights," on NBC tonight, represents the change. Its ratings are low, but the show about a small-town football team is earning money through a one-of-a-kind deal with the satellite TV provider. Nate DiMeo reports on the remaking of the network television business model.

(Soundbite of TV show "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. KYLE CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) All right, listen up.

NATE DIMEO: Coach Taylor needs a miracle. His Panthers have gone into the locker room down 27 at the half. His offensive line is being steamrolled.

(Soundbite of TV show "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. CHANDLER: (As Eric Taylor) Coach Biden, we're going to readjust, base defense, press coverage. We are not going to allow any more big plays tonight, gentlemen.

DIMEO: "Friday Night Lights" premiered to great reviews three years ago. The story of a football-obsessed Texas town was praised for its realistic portrayal of lives in the American working and middle classes, which is a surprisingly hard thing to find these days on American television. But so is an audience. And head writer Jason Katims says the show needed a miracle of its own.

Mr. JASON KATIMS (Head Writer, "Friday Night Lights"): It seemed fairly certain that the show was going to be canceled. And what happened was, through what I consider sort of a stroke of genius, they came up with this idea.

DIMEO: The satellite television company DirecTV was looking for a cheap way to bring an exclusive show to its lineup. NBC had a good show that wasn't making any money. So DirecTV bought the rights to air the new season of "Friday Night Lights" before anyone, even NBC. And the network took that money to prop up a program that was otherwise doomed. The show's third season recently completed its run on DirecTV and has now started up all over again, from its first episode, on NBC.

(Soundbite of TV show "Friday Night Lights")

Mr. JESSE PLEMONS: (As Landry Clarke) Tyra, why do you hate this paper?

DIMEO: In this scene from the show, Landry, the smart and sensitive Panthers bench warmer, helps Tyra, the one-time bad girl trying to make good, with her college entrance essay. And Landry manages to defer some of the show's production costs along the way.

(Soundbite of TV show "Friday Night Lights")

Ms. ADRIANNE PALICKI: (As Tyra Collette) Well, OK, like what?

Mr. PLEMONS: (As Landry Clarke) Would you explain to me why every paragraph has to tie back into Applebee's and outline into...

Ms. PALICKI: (As Tyra Collette) Because I use it as a metaphor. It works.

DIMEO: It seems that everything on the show ties back to Applebee's or Gatorade or Vaseline for Men. Writer Jason Katims explains that integrating products into shots and storylines has become part of his job, and he says it's been OK so far. It feels realistic to have Gatorade on the sidelines on a football show. One of his main characters is a don't-mess-with-Texas guy who owns a car dealership. It makes sense he'd sell Chevys.

Mr. KATIMS: We kind of feel like we want to do everything in our power to keep the show going.

DIMEO: In between the product placement, the DirecTV deal and some production belt-tightening, "Friday Night Lights" is getting another crack at finding an audience beyond its cult fan base. But how is that going to happen if that fan base has already had a chance to see it on DirecTV? Alan Sepinwall is the TV critic at the Newark Star-Ledger.

Mr. ALAN SEPINWALL (TV Critic, Newark Star-Ledger Newspaper): They've created this odd situation, which really only has precedent in the case of shows that aired previously in England and then came here, like "Dr. Who," where the entire season was available for - to pirate - download in advance. So I think a lot of the really hardcore "Friday Night Lights" fans have already found a way to see it, even if they don't have DirectTV.

DIMEO: The hope is that those fans will proselytize on the show's behalf. Eric Shanks of DirecTV points out that the show is now getting two sets of reviews in articles and radio stories written about it. This could turn out to be the TV equivalent of something that already works really well for the movie industry.

Mr. ERIC SHANKS (Executive Vice President for Entertainment, DirectTV): It's awards season, right? There is an enormous amount of buzz for movies that have been in very limited release right now. When they win awards, those movies become hugely popular.

DIMEO: For his part, Jason Katims would probably accept slightly popular. He's seen too many good shows get canceled before their time.

Mr. KATIMS: If this experiment works for us but also can sort of be an answer to other shows that are really good shows but are struggling to find an audience right now, that would be an amazing thing to be part of.

DIMEO: But meanwhile, he'll hope that the NBC run is good enough to allow him to keep a show going that he - and at least a few people - love. Even if it also means that you can expect more characters driving to Applebee's in their Chevys while chugging Gatorade. For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.

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