Dillon, the best fake place in Texas, fades into TV history with final episode of ‘Friday Night Lights’

Posted on 15 Jul 2011 at 10:18am
In a scene from the final episode of ‘Friday Night Lights,’ I am facing away from the field taking a picture of nothing while Josh, the ‘sound guy,’ listens to nothing. Not sure why a still photographer needed a sound guy.

NBC will air the final episode of Friday Night Lights (Channel 5 in Dallas) at 7 p.m. today. Look for me on the field — I play a reporter — big stretch, huh? And my big line — “Coach! Coach!” — will probably be cut as usual.

The East Dillon Lions have made it to the playoffs, which are held this year at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where they face the Hudgens Hawks. The scene was filmed last summer. Saved me a trip to Austin.

East Dillon probably wins the state championship in this episode, although we filmed it both ways. But we filmed more takes of the Lions winning than losing. And it is the series finale, so no real spoiler alert there.

Tami Taylor’s been offered a job as head of admissions at a college in Pennsylvania. Last week, Coach didn’t want to talk about it. This week they will — while lying on the Cotton Bowl logo in the middle of the field. Me alert: Look for my feet walking by as they decide.

The idea of Tami and Coach moving to Pennsylvania was sort of a pilot for a spin-off that wasn’t picked up. Both Kyle Chandler (Coach) and Connie Britton (Tami) had agreed to continue their characters in the new setting if NBC bought the show.

Whether East Dillon wins or loses, I’m mostly in my familiar place on the sidelines, where I’ve been since Season 1. And I’m easy to spot because — as always — I’m the only person on the field in a blazer and tie. Whether on Hermann Field in “Dillon,” the Cotton Bowl, (old) Texas Stadium, Del Valle Stadium or Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium at UT, I’m always in a jacket and tie on the sidelines. Dillon and East Dillon High, by the way, were both across the street from the main entrance to Austin Bergstrom Airport, and the houses were in various spots around Austin.

As someone who’s never been much of a football fan, I’ve become incredibly comfortable on a football field. Comfortable enough to toss a football back to a “player” when it’s fumbled or kicked into the sidelines. Comfortable enough to call out to the assistant director, “Coach, shouldn’t there be 11 people on the field on each side?” Most people wouldn’t think I’d know that, but I’m the veteran journalist of the Dillon press corps who’s been covering Dillon games on the field since Season 1, warning my fellow journalists when a play gets too close — “Remember, they’re actors! They don’t necessarily know what the f#$k they’re doing” — and jumping out of the way of a stray ball or an oncoming tackle that spills onto the sidelines.

Filming was exhausting. When the “players” didn’t get it right, or the play didn’t look right on camera, we’d repeat the scene 10 or 20 times. If it still didn’t work, we’d re-stage it and do it another 10 or 20 times. And sometimes the “fans” in the stands would change T-shirts to the opposing team’s colors, move to the grandstand on the other side of the field, and stage the scene a dozen more times in the other direction. And each time, as the diligent reporter trying to catch the story, I’d run down the field along with the team and sometimes even get to say my line, “Coach! Coach!”

Filming started at sunset (when the Friday night lights could be turned on) and usually lasted until 2 a.m. for two or three nights in a row — sometimes shooting with as many as 10 cameras. All that for five minutes of footage. While the show was regularly hailed as one of the best-written on television, it never caught on in the ratings. The only reason it lasted five seasons was a production deal with DirecTV that made the show cost-effective. That and paying everyone in Texas a lot less than they’d pay us in California.

The cast was great — no egos whatsoever. Chandler felt so at home in “Dillon” that after the first season he moved his family to Dripping Springs, a town about 30 miles west of Austin. The cast included a number of Texans. Liz Mikel and Jesse Plemmons (Landry) are both from Dallas as is Brad Leland (Buddy) who always stopped on the field to joke around.

Congratulations to Connie Britton and Chandler who were nominated for Emmys for best actor and actress in a drama. The show was also nominated for best drama series for the first time in this, its final season.

Since filming ended last summer, I’ve missed going to Dillon. The overnight trips to Austin. Hours of watching fake football. The meals at Dillon’s Applebees. (After filming, we’d sometimes go to the one in Pflugerville where they filmed). And laying out on Hermann Field along the Colorado River in the muggy, night heat watching the bats devour all the bugs.

I can honestly say that although I know Dillon isn’t real, it’s the best fake place I’ve ever been. And as tiny as my part has been, I loved being part of it.

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