Will ‘Friday Night Lights’ finally score an Emmy touchdown?

Since its premiere in 2006, “Friday Night Lights” has always been a critical darling, but was ignored by the Emmys, save for some casting and directing nominations. It seemed as though “FNL” was just like “The Wire” and “Battlestar Galactica,” resonating only with critics and a small, devoted fanbase.

Then a miracle bigger than the Hail Mary bomb Matt Saracen threw in the series’ pilot episode happened. DirecTV, showing extraordinary faith in the show, sent out DVDs of the show’s 4th season to the entire academy membership. That slick campaign paid off in two of the biggest surprises the morning the nominations were announced – Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton’s lead acting nominations – along with a writing bid.

Can “FNL” finally snag a best drama series nomination for its final year? In recent years, “Dexter,” “Breaking Bad” and “House” have received series nominations on the heels of their stars getting nominated in previous years. Sometimes getting your stars nominated is a necessary first step to getting your show recognized.

Plus, next year, two of the previous six nominees depart the drama series race. “Lost” is now off the air and “Breaking Bad” will be ineligible because AMC plans to air its fourth season after the eligibility period for next year’s Emmys ends. A third spot could open if “True Blood” – last year’s WTF? nomination – fails to get enough support. The HBO vampire drama garnered just a series nomination and nothing else last year, suggesting it doesn’t have much support in the Academy. And “Dexter” isn’t assured a nomination again either. 

As of now, 3-time champion “Mad Men” will likely be back, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” is a fair bet to take at least one of those open slots. But there seem to be few other serious contenders on the horizon. The slate of new dramas rolled out by the networks has fizzled and hasn’t produced a critical or ratings smash the way “The Good Wife” was a year ago.

Other HBO dramas “In Treatment,” “The Walking Dead” and “Treme” could contend for a slot, but none have the swan song factor “FNL” has going into next year.  This will be voters’ last chance to nominate the show, they may not want to pass it up. It doesn’t happen often, but some shows have received their lone series nomination in their final year – Kyle Chandler’s “Homefront” in 1993 and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1994.

FNL’s nomination hinges two questions:

1. Will DirecTV throw its weight behind a show that is off the air? There’s no doubt last year’s aggressive campaign helped the show’s visibility with Emmy voters. Will DirecTV pony up to do it again, even with a show that’s over? On the surface it may seem like DirecTV would have no incentive to do so. But landing Emmy nominations, even for a departed show, could bring prestige to DirecTV as a destination for quality TV, and make producers and networks more inclined to turn to it as an option to air their product, the way NBC has done with “FNL” and FX has done with “Damages.”

2. Can the show actually deliver? It sometimes seems like the actual quality of a show takes a back seat to politics and lazy voting trends when it comes to the Emmy awards (See the large number of repeat nominees throughout Emmy history as proof). The show’s early reviews have been the same as they’ve been for the past two seasons – “FNL” isn’t as good as it was in its outstanding first season, but it’s still among the best TV shows currently on the air. If it can go out with a bang instead of a whimper, that would only enhance its chances of landing a farewell nomination.

It’d be kind of a bittersweet moment if that were to happen. Fans were hopeful after “FNL’s” first season that the show could snag a much-needed series nomination. At the time, there was serious doubt over “FNL’s” future, and the Emmys have a track record of saving shows from cancellation. (see: “Hill Street Blues,” “Seinfeld” and “Cheers”) Instead, another NBC rookie, “Heroes,” received a drama series nomination. Ironically, “FNL” has lasted longer than “Heroes,” but maybe things would’ve been different for “FNL” if it got that nomination in 2007. Maybe it could’ve helped ratings, and wouldn’t have forced NBC to strike a deal with DirecTV, and maybe the show would’ve lasted 7 or 8 full seasons instead of five shortened ones. When “FNL” goes off the air, it will leave a void in the television landscape. Few shows have been able to establish as strong a connection between its characters and its audience the way FNL has. It may be too late for the Emmys to recognize “The Wire” or “Battlestar Galactica,” but the academy will have one final chance to rectify its omission of “FNL” as one of the best shows on television.

Let’s hope they don’t drop the ball.

Photo: “Friday Night Lights” cast (NBC/DirecTV)

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