The lessons of ‘Friday Night Lights’

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When Dr. Colin Tait immigrated to Austin, Texas from Canada, he watched the show “Friday Night Lights” to learn about the culture of the Lone Star State.

Now, he uses the television show about the culture of high school football in Texas along with the novel and feature length film as a teaching tool.

This semester, sports broadcasting students are enrolled in Tait’s “Topics in Sports Media: Investigating Friday Night Lights” course.

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Tait said Friday Night Lights prompts discussion about “a lot of questions that football raises – questions of race, questions of social class, questions of regionalism and just a lot of ideas about specific things that both the series and the book kind of raise.”

Ryan Mattingly, a senior sports broadcasting major, said the large array of issues are important for college students to understand.

“It pretty much covers the wide range of issues,” Mattingly said. “It talks about race. There’s gender issues. It deals with alcohol among high schoolers. It deals with family lifestyle. The show does a really good job covering all the issues that high schoolers face and even college age students too.”

Tait’s sports broadcasting students are required to read H. G. Bissinger’s book, “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” and watch Peter Berg’s film adaptation.

The class focuses largely on the television series though. Students are required to watch episodes from the series for homework assignments.

Alongside the in-class discussions, students do outside reading on pertinent issues in sports broadcasting.

Although the class requires a lot of work, many students were more than eager to take a class pertaining to such a well-known television series.

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“The show is really a fan favorite,” Tait said. “But also the people who love it are real passionate fans. I think there was a 15-person wait list to get into the class.”

Senior sports broadcasting major Suzi Mellano was a fan of the show and excited to join Tait’s class.

“Personally, I was a huge fan of the show to begin with so I was mostly excited to learn the details I wouldn’t have normally picked up on,” Mellano said. “Discussion of the show is really fun too, considering I binge-watched it alone the first time I saw the series.”

Many of the actors and production staff from the show are local, living mainly in Austin or Dallas. Tait has invited some to speak to the class this semester.

Beth Sepko, the casting director for the television series, spoke to the class last week. Louanne Stephens, who played quarterback Matt Saracen’s grandmother in the show, will be joining the class in the coming week.

Many of the star actors from the show and much of the production staff have been invited to campus April 21. Tait said he has gotten word that Kyle Chandler, who won an Emmy for his portrayal as the show’s Eric Taylor, does know about the event and the class.