As 2011 comes to a close, EW.com wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements. Here, Emmy-winning writer and executive producer Jason Katims discusses the pivotal moment in the immensely satisfying Friday Night Lights series finale when Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) tells his wife Tami (Connie Britton) that he’s decided to go to Philadelphia with her so that she can finally follow her dream. Full hearts? Definitely. Clear eyes? Not a single dry one to be found. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for EW.com‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.
As told by: Jason Katims
We knew it was the final season and we really wanted to do a great story for Coach and Tami. As writers, we were trying to figure out what to do that was different from what we had done before. When we came up with the notion that she gets offered this job that would relocate them, we thought that was really interesting. Because while they’re such a great couple and their relationship is so strong, I always thought there was something traditional in their marriage, where she seemed to always follow him. He got a job at Dillon and then she got a job where he worked and it always felt, or at least it was implied, that it was always his career dictating where they went. So the idea that this opportunity comes up for Tami, I felt it really challenged their relationship in a way we hadn’t seen. The thing that was great about that scene [at the mall where Coach asks Tami “Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?”] was really what led up to the scene. You really didn’t know what he was going to do. You really felt like he was not going to go to Philadelphia.
I think what set up that scene so beautifully were the performances [by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton] up until that point, because you really didn’t know what was going to happen. We also loved the idea that this was all going down around Christmastime. It was just something we never really got to play with before. You don’t really think of Texas at Christmas and I really liked the setting of it — taking Gracie to see Santa — to be where it all happened. To me, the reason why this scene works so well was that the entire season was leading up to that single moment and, in a way, the series was. Another thing that I liked was that [Coach] was on his way with the team to go to State, so he did this at a time when it was nearly impossible for him to get there, but he got there.
What was great about [Kyle’s] performance was he never let himself play into this sentimentality of the scene. If there was ever a sentimental moment in the series, this was it. But he underplayed it in such a way that made it all the more moving. He was so grounded and said what he had to say and he was done. And I just thought it was really beautiful the way he did it. His line, “It’s your turn,” that, to me, was the crux of it. It spoke to the fact that he was, in that moment, acknowledging that they had spent many, many years moving around from town to town for him. He had come to terms with the idea that he was going to do this for her.
NEXT: Moving on…
When we knew that it was going to be the final season of the show, the one image I had in my mind throughout the series was that the show would end with the Taylors driving away from Dillon, moving on to the next town. Of course it didn’t end exactly like that, but it was them moving on to the next thing. I liked that idea because it felt bookended to me. The pilot episode started on [Coach Taylor’s] back as he’s walking on to that field and it was implied that he was just coming to this town, that it was a new place. It felt right and real that the life of a high school football coach is: You come to a town, you make that your home, it seems like it’s the only town in the world, then you go to the next town and do the same thing. I thought that idea was very moving.
The more the series went on, the more the Taylor family, to me, became the center and nucleus of the show. Because of the nature of the way the show worked, these football players and these students would wind up graduating and moving on. Lyla and Smash and Saracen, they all moved on. Even the school didn’t matter, you could move them from one side of town to another, to a different school, and it really just showed that the heart of it was that family and that’s who you were really following. Which is why we really wanted to make sure in the final season, we were telling a story about that couple and that marriage.
It was definitely hard to say goodbye to those characters, but it was hard to say goodbye to the whole show. There was something so unique about the show and this world, this fictional town of Dillon, Texas, that felt so real. I know it felt that way to the people who watched it, but it felt that way to the people that worked on it as well. Truthfully, I’m really happy with the run we had for five seasons, which is far more than any of us expected to have, but on the other hand, we could have kept going. We never felt like we ran out of stories to tell. It was bittersweet at the end.
I remember when I first watched the director’s cut of the final episode, just feeling really proud. There was so much pressure, I felt, to make the final season of the show really great and that final episode as satisfying as we could. Even though the show never had a huge audience, it had an incredibly passionate audience and they deserved a great ending.
For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.