Kyle Chandler, Former Grey's Guest Star, Scores Big On Friday Night Lights
In the pilot episode of NBC's Friday Night Lights, the retired coach of a winning high school football team warns his young replacement:
"With expectations like this, the only place you can go is down. That's the problem with being this good."
It is a line of dialogue that has proved haunting to the show's star, Kyle Chandler, who plays that inexperienced coach.
Chandler, who won many accolades for his performance as bomb squad captain Dylan Young on the two-part, post-Super Bowl episode of Grey's Anatomy last season, has had to fight to keep his spirits up in the face of low ratings, despite Friday Night Lights' critical praise.
Although the show's numbers were up last week -- 6.6 million viewers from 5.9 million the week before -- it still got brutally tackled by CBS' NCIS (15.9 million) and ABC's Dancing With the Stars (21.3 million). Lights' fourth episode (of nine filmed so far) airs tonight.
Chandler, using a football metaphor, is hopeful.
"I know we got a damn good team and can make it through the season," says one of Grey's Anatomy's most memorable guest stars in his Georgian drawl, which has become more pronounced while shooting Lights in Austin. "We're slowly moving the ball down the field. That's why I'll do anything to keep this show on the air."
Chandler says that if ratings rise enough, he'll relocate wife Katherine and daughters Sydney, 10, and Sawyer, 5, from California to a house in Austin, where he now shares an apartment with some exotic fish.
The 6'1", boyish actor first became known to audiences on the short-lived, early '90s war dramas Tour of Duty and Homefront. Then, from 1996-2000, he enjoyed a run as the star of Early Edition, as a do-gooder who righted wrongs after an orange cat delivered him an advance copy of the newspaper.
Last season, he appeared on Grey's Anatomy as the level-headed bomb expert who saved lives and talked Meredith through the longest hours of her life before meeting his end.
His experience on the riveting two-part episode -- "It's the End of the World... (As We Know It)" -- is paying off. At 41, he's got an Emmy nomination under his belt, and is now comfortable playing in the role of a team leader, both on and off screen.
Last week, he gathered together his cast of mostly unknown young men at co-star Connie Britton's apartment for a much-needed script read-through/pep talk.
But like a real coach, Chandler was proud when young Zach Gilford, who plays the show's struggling quarterback, spoke up first. "He said, 'It doesn't matter what we're up against, we just do what we do and not worry about what we can't control,'" he recalls.
What they can't control is Dancing With the Stars, the reality TV powerhouse that inspires Chandler to connect to a line of dialogue his character spoke in last week's episode:
"We oughta be beating these bums by 40 points!"
He believes the 8 o'clock hour, when dinner is being served, is more suited to an easy-to-digest show like Dancing, as opposed to Lights, a drama focusing on a financially strapped community, a quadriplegic athlete, racism and a grandmother with dementia.
A switch to 9 p.m., he says, might be more appropriate.
NBC seemingly agrees.
Next week, Lights will get a special tryout Monday at 10 p.m. (ET/PT) after NBC's biggest new hit, Heroes, in the time slot normally filled by the declining Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The same Lights episode will air the next day in its regular slot.
Last week, the network announced plans to fill the 8 to 9 p.m. hours entirely with less costly reality and competition shows. If Lights survives beyond November sweeps, it will likely be moved.
NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly says: "We plan to stick with Friday Night Lights. I know we're striking a chord with the viewers who have found it."
Chandler finds reason to be optimistic himself.
"Everyone's rooting for us, and things are changing," he says.
Go get 'em, Kyle.