Well. I’m supposed to be here blogging about Episode 3.8 (what we call it in the biz, 3rd Season, Episode 8, New York, New York) of Friday Night Lights. There’s only one problem. I haven’t actually watched it. I haven’t watched any of my episodes this year. Don’t know if I ever will. I can’t really explain why, it’s just something that I haven’t gotten around to. They are sitting there on my entertainment center, in DVD form. They are also resting on my DVR, ready to be Slingbox’ed to my computer for my viewing enjoyment at any time. They might collect dust for a little while longer. I don’t know when that time will actually come.
I watched Gaius Charles’ exit episodes and was touched beyond belief. The final scene with him flashing that Bazillion gigawatt smile that electrified FNL for three years was just perfect. I wish I could’ve been there, wish Jason would’ve had more interaction with all these other amazing characters on our little show that could, and did. I wish I would’ve had a scene with Jesse Plemons, who basically was my little brother in Austin. I wish I would’ve had more time with Aimee and Connie and Adrianne. It would’ve been a pleasure, but I’ll just sit back and enjoy their work from afar. And applaud them. After those four episodes I stopped watching. Maybe it’s that I just want to remember those five weeks of filming my exit from FNL, as I remember them. Not how they’ve been edited together to fit into 42-minute episodes for commercial enjoyment. That month was slightly surreal. It was wonderfully bittersweet.
So, that’s what I’ll talk about here…the steps that led up to Jason Street leaving Dillon, TX, and how Scott Porter remembers it. I got the call in June that Jason Street would be wrapping up and moving on from FNL, that I was becoming a guest star in Season 3. That his entire exit would be told in four episodes. I was at a comic book convention in Philadelphia (Wizard World) getting ready to go sing karaoke with all my nerdy friends. Jason Katims and Peter Berg called me together on a conference call. Conference call? I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Sure enough they broke the news to me. Thank God for Pete’s straightforward nature, the honesty was refreshing.
It was a punch in the gut, I was upset, angry, but then I reallystarted to think about it. I really feel like we had painted Jason intoa corner by cutting him off from so many of the characters on the showover the first two years. There was no other way out, I guess. Therewas no victory for Jason within the borders of Dillon. Surely wecould’ve kept him coaching, we could’ve had Riggins move in with him tobe his caretaker. We could have done a lot of things differently tokeep Jason in touch with the other characters of the show, but whatwould that have bought him? A victory of living in little Dillon, TX?After we saw his heart? After we saw him struggling to become a man infront of us? After we realized that Street was destined for somethingmore than just sitting, wasting his days away in a town that was toosmall for him? Those things would’ve been nice for Jason’s longevity onthe show, but they would not have seemed right to me. He needed to getout. He needed to show the world that he was capable of greatness,injury or not. Greatness was not to be found in Dillon.
Thetough part of getting Jason out of Dillon was the motivation. It camein the form of Erin and Noah. Jason’s miracle child, his baby boy. Theproblem being, no one knew who Erin was. No one really cared, and wehad a huge hurdle of trying to get them to care enough to buy intoJason chasing her. This would’ve all been a lot easier had we not hadthe writers’ strike in Season 2. Over the final seven episodes thatwere planned for Season 2, you were going to see this kind of KnockedUp relationship form between Jason and Erin. It would have reallycemented them as a couple. As two scared kids who connect on a deeperlevel than they ever imagined. I promise you all that if we had thoseseven episodes back, you would be in love with Jason and Erin.
Wenever got those seven episodes back, though. What we did get was a13-episode order for Season 3. With as large a cast as we have, coupledwith our characters growing up by the minute, tripled with need tobreath new life and new cast members into the show, four episodes waswhat we had to get all of that across to you. We had to have astoryline that picked Jason up, confronted him with larger than lifechallenges, allowed him to conquer, and somehow get out of Dillon to goon to a bright future. I think we did a hell of a job.
Tamara(Erin) was beautifully honest in the Jason/Erin scenes. She walked intoa situation where she was playing a bolt out of the blue. Not only didshe have the challenge of playing a scared, tired, nervous, youngmother, she had to play it on a beloved show against one of its mostembattled characters. She played it with a grace and an honesty that Iloved. Our scenes felt raw. I was not going to let her or Noah gowithout a fight. Surprisingly enough, an actress who you had seen twicebefore, was responsible for a lot of my drive through that last month.Thank you, Tamara.
K-O (Kevin Rankin, Herc), Derek (BillyRiggins), Kitsch (Riggs), and myself called our storyline a circus ofidiots. It really was like the four Stooges (Shemp included) reuniting.I laughed until I cried every day that I worked with them. Our scenes,while ludicrous at times, seemed pitch perfect. Flipping the Garrityhouse with these boys kept me sane over my last month. You want to talkabout improv, or getting of the page, we abandoned the script daily andfound pure gold in a lot of what we did together. The whole Billy beingshort joke? Came about organically. It started to recur and it was evenfunnier to us behind the scenes than it was on camera. That’s just thetip of the iceberg.
This show gives us a freedom that isunrivaled. And trusts us to hold ourselves accountable. It’s what makesit so special. There was a take of a scene that you’ll never see, thatI’d like to share with you. It’s the lullaby scene with Street and theboys in the Garrity house. The three of them (Herc, Riggs, Billy) arequietly working behind Street as he sings a lullaby to his baby overthe phone. Derek (Billy) decided that he was gonna start making cracksabout it behind my back, instead of just going along with the "quietrecognition" that was in the script. Street has tennis balls in hiswheelchair bag, he uses them to try and improve his dexterity andstrength in his hands. As I finish singing, I hear Billy drop somesmart-ass line about me and my kid. Without thinking, I grab one of theballs out of my bag and bean him in the neck with it. Perfect shot, hadto sting a little. Herc and Riggs start cracking up and Billy gets sodamn pissed that he turns cherry red and storms out. That is being in ascene. That is Friday Night Lights.
My closing scene with Minka,where Jason asks her advice one last time, was really tough. Minka andI shared so many scenes over my time on the show, we really grew uptogether as people and as actors. We wanted to underplay it. To let theaudience feel the weight. I haven’t seen it, but I really felt like wenailed it. No words could really express the friendship of these two, Ihope we didn’t get in the way of it.
My last scene with Brad.Buddy Garrity. Gawd was that fun. Giving it to him the way he gives itto everyone else on the show. It was really a respect thing for Jason.He and Buddy had been at each other’s throats a couple of times, butJason never really came out on top. This time he had to show Buddy thathe was a man, and that he could be trusted, and I think he did.
Thereis a scene that got cut out of the last episode with Coach Taylor andJason Street that I was really proud of. After I got the news that Iwas leaving, I called Jason Katims up and told him I wanted a scenewhere Jason would go pick up his box of tapes and trophies from CoachTaylor’s office. He didn’t remember what I was talking about. What box?I reminded him that in Season 2, after I came back from Mexico, Jasongave Coach Taylor a box. He quit the team for a second time and saidthat he couldn’t look at that stuff anymore. In typical Kyle Chandlerfashion, Coach looked at me with those eyes that say a million thingsat once, waited, then quietly said, "I’ll hold on to these until you’reready to come pick them up." It wasn’t in the script, but it made somuch sense. So, I told Jason I wanted to go pick up the box. He lovedthe idea, wrote a scene, and we shot it the next day. A simple scene.Coach Taylor was more a father to Jason than his own dad, this wasJason thanking him, Jason really becoming a man, and coach being proudof him. I heard from Jason Katims that it didn’t make the network cut.I hope it makes the DVD. It would be a shame for that to lay on theediting room floor.
My last scene with Kevin Rankin was sosmall, but meaningful. You got to see Herc really support Street. Kevinplayed it with such meaning, so much heart. It was the unexpectedreaction from Herc that made it work. If I told you Jason Street wasgoing to say, "I’m going to New York to be a sports agent," what wouldyou expect Herc’s return line to be? "You’re an idiot…" or somethingequally as smart-assed, right? Well. That’s not how it was written andnot how it was played. He said, "Go for it…" a simple line ofsupport. Kevin is amazing, possibly my best friend from a show thatblessed me with lifelong friendships from just about everyone I workedwith, and he is possibly the most incredible and generous actor I know.I’m gonna miss our wheelchair fights, homey! Oh, and just so you allknow, NO, he is not really wheelchair bound, he’s just that good.
Andthat leads me into my last bit. Jason and Riggins take New York. Wewent with a skeleton crew. Jeffrey Reiner was in charge. No one getsthis show more than he does. He is fearless, he was handpicked byPeter, and he’s just as crazy. Just as brilliant. Kitsch and I didn’treally speak a lot about how much this meant. About how much pressurewe were under. We had two days to shoot pretty much the entirety of mylast episode. Two days to end Jason Street’s run on the show. Much likeme and Minka, I believe that Taylor and I have really grown together onthis show. We let it all hang out in those last two days. We challengedeach other. We spitballed and just threw the most random lines at eachother to see if we could make the other guy drop the ball. We laughed,we tackled it all with reckless abandon up until the last scene. Weweren’t careless though. We know Jason and Riggs, 6 and Timmy. We knowthem inside and out and no one can tell us any different. They live asfriends as few get to on this world, with an understanding of eachother and a willingness to forgive the shortcomings that they bothpossess. We just existed in a pocket where things felt right.
Kitschis gonna be a star, and it was my pleasure to spend my last two dayswith him. Those two days were insane. We didn’t have permits to shootmost of the places where we did in NYC. Reiner said he wanted a sceneon a subway car. So we went for it. It wasn’t in the script. It washighly illegal, but we just went down to the E line and got on, camerasand all. Would you believe that when we decided to get off, there was aHUGE winding ramp with a "Wheelchair Accessible" sign on it? That’sjust how things happen on this show. That ramp made it into theepisode. We didn’t scout that location. We weren’t even allowed to bethere, but somehow it found us. That’s what it was like to shoot thisshow. All the time.
The scene in Times Square took place on aSaturday Night. Saturday Night, Times Square, 3 Cameras, 2 Actors, 1Wheelchair. I looked at Taylor and we just started laughing. How in thehell are we gonna do this? I don’t know how it turned out, but let meexplain how it felt while we did it. We had a wall of background actorstrying to keep everyone else out. Four behind me, three on either sideof Kitsch and me. Our crew is the greatest crew in the world. Our PAs,ADs, everyone was all trying to protect the cameras. There wereconstant flashes as tourists and onlookers tried to take pictures. Itwas incredible. Throughout all of that we had to get a walk and talk,or Roll and Talk, between Jason and Riggs. It was one of the greatestmoments of my short on-screen career. The energy was amazing. That’sguerrilla filmmaking I guess. Glad to have experienced it.
Myfinal scene was two takes and done. Jeffrey told me he would only usethe first. All I really remember about it was Taylor and me actuallycrying before takes, we would look at each other with tears and juststart laughing at how ridiculous we must’ve looked. I am a man. I don’tcry at the drop of a hat, but the emotion was too much. The end of ajourney. Growing up with this crew and these actors. My first timereally being able to create a character, and now watching him go on tolive his imaginary life. It was just too much. To calm myself down, Iasked our 1st AD to let me look at football scores on his iPhone, triedto focus on my fantasy football team. It didn’t work.
TexasForever could have been a cheesy catchphrase on any other show. Not onFriday Night Lights though. Those two words carried more meaning than Icould’ve ever imagined from the Pilot on. Every time we said it on theshow, it was said from a place deep within the heart. They are wordsthat carry with them, friendship and hope for a future that seemedbeyond the grasp of these kids. We said these two words sparingly.Using them only when true friendship was so apparent that there wasnothing else to say. Thank you so much for watching the show over thesepast years. Thank you for allowing these characters to live. Thank youto everyone involved with the show. Cast, Crew, Producers, Writers,Directors. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We caughtlightning in a bottle here. We are a special show because of our trust,respect for each other, and dedication to making this show unique andreal. I love you all, and I hope this show continues for years andyears. Texas Forever.