Friday Night Lights is easily one of the most beloved TV shows ever. It’s a conversation starter with new friends. It’s a comfort watch for people during tough times. It’s a template for those interested in the business for pointers, especially its pilot. There is no shortage of things to love about FNL. Fans adore nearly every character, no matter the amount of screen time they get. The very fabric of the show is familiar and welcoming.
There’s something about watching FNL that feels like coming home. Two stars of the show, Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano are tapping into all of that in their latest venture, Clear Eyes, Full Hearts: A Friday Night Lights Rewatch Podcast. The duo who played the married couple Billy Riggins and Mindy Collete-Riggins on the show welcome fans back to Dillon, Texas with open arms through intimate conversations about what makes this show so great.
Friday Night Lights just celebrated its fifteenth anniversary, so now is an as perfect time as any to take a look back at why we all still say “Texas Forever” with so much affection. Phillips credits one of the podcast‘s producers, Steve Walters, for creating the idea and why he agreed to do it in the first place. Because of how special the show is to Phillips, it took a bit of a push for him to agree to the gig, but he’s delighted he did.
Oristano shared a fun behind-the-scenes detail fans of this show will love to know about Walters: He “played guidance counselor Glenn Reed on FNL. He’s the guy who infamously (and awkwardly) kissed the coach’s wife.”
Oristano agrees with Phillips’s gratitude for Walters, adding, “If for no other reason than it finally led to me watching the whole series!” Yes, you read that right. This podcast is her first actual watch-through of the show. Like many other actors, she prefers not to watch herself perform. Of course, there are some exceptions, like the pilot and a few episodes she didn’t appear in.
Oristano is glad she has this space to enjoy the show now because “it’s been so much fun. I wish I had done this years ago!” That’s usually how most people react once they’ve seen FNL. There’s no turning back once you’re a Panther (or a Lion).
Phillips and Oristano’s chemistry from years of friendship contributes to the appeal of the podcast. Phillips acknowledges their friendship as a key factor in the ease of the podcast’s production. Phillips is new to the podcast world but “working with Stacey has definitely made the process a whole helluva lot smoother than” he imagined. “Mostly, it just feels like we’re having a private conversation (that someone happens to be recording.).”
Oristano echoes with, “I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else,” because they’ve always been able to have in-depth conversations like the ones on Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. But the conversation doesn’t always stay between the two friends. The duo incorporates the fans into the podcast with audience participation episodes. According to Phillips, that was always a part of the plan.
Oristano adds, “We always want to know what the audience thinks and if we can answer something we didn’t cover in an episode. We want this to be super interactive!”
Some people will find FNL through the podcast. However, most listeners will be longtime fans looking to learn more about it, which is why Oristano wants “to give the fans the ultimate backstage pass to the show!” The connection between the fans and the cast has always been a cherished part of FNL‘s legacy, as seen in the cast and crew’s involvement with ATX TV Festival.
Phillips knows the fans’ loyalty and passion is why FNL has such longevity. That’s why he “always looked at this podcast as an opportunity to share our experiences behind the scenes with the fans.”
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts is a way to bring us even closer to the FNL family. Phillips even thinks of it “as a love letter to the show and our audience.” As someone who listens to Clear Eyes, Full Hearts episodes as soon as they drop, I can assure you that the podcast is exactly that. It transports you back to the first time you watched it, reminds you of all the characters, lines, and scenes that made you fall in love with it. Sometimes you’ll get caught up in your feels alongside Phillips and Oristano.
Listening to this podcast makes you feel like you’re more than a part of the show’s legacy but a part of the FNL family.
That’s a testament to Phillips and Oristano’s kindness and vulnerability. According to Phillips, those qualities existed in abundance on the FNL set since “it was constant joy and laughter.” The team knew when to rein in it to give us the quality show we know and love, but they also knew how to make jokes and truly enjoy working with each other. Oristano still looks at FNL as her favorite job and that it was always “so much more than just going to work.”
The pair are genuine fans of the show, which is a treat to listen to every week. It lets the conversations shift to all kinds of places with all the emotions synonymous with watching FNL. Oristano loves that the podcast gives her the chance to sit back and see what this amazing group of people created.” Phillips speaks about this on the podcast, but he knew that FNL would be something spectacular. “After the pilot, I knew we had something really special and I think everyone else on set knew it too.”
The guests that have appeared on the podcast thus far, like Adrianne Palicki (Tyra Collette) and Louanne Stephens (Grandma Saracen), say the same thing in their own words. Those intimate conversations circle back to how Phillips wants “the audience to have the experience we had making it. This was such a magical time in my life and I want the audience to be able to share in the joy we felt while we were shooting. It really is a love letter to Friday Night Lights.”
That joy is palpable, and so is the love. While Phillips speaks to the former, Oristano tackles the latter by expressing how she wants us to know how much they love this show. But, for her, it goes beyond that, too. She wants fans to know how much they love “each other. Love the people we worked with; the creators, the cast and the crew. This is our love letter to that special time and to a special show we had the privilege of helping to create.”
All of those optimistic feelings attached to FNL are the reason why fans keep turning back to it as a comfort watch year after year. It’s what brings Phillips and Oristano back to it now. There’s something about seeing the Panthers slap that ‘P’ on the locker room wall or hearing Coach Taylor say, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” that makes us feel like everything will be okay. Phillips and Oristano know that’s a part of why fans’ passion endured all these years.
Phillips shares, “I think there’s human truth in FNL and that comes from the writing, the acting, and the organic way that we shot the show. I’ve always said, ‘ego is the death of art’ and what made FNL work, in my opinion, was the overall lack of ego from everyone involved. It was arguably the most selfless set I’ve worked on and that shows up in the final product. The fact that it also has a hopeful message is icing on the cake.”
Oristano expands on that by saying what we all know to be true: “FNL is brimming with hope!” For her, that hope is “one of the many things that makes the show relatable.” That feeling extends into the core relationships of the show, like the beautiful Coach and Tami relationship. Oristano commends Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler‘s ability to combine honesty and comfortability like the show does beautifully overall.
Those iconic FNL relationships, including Billy and Mindy, evolve throughout the seasons. There are even fun teases of different avenues explored in episodes like 2×10, “There Goes the Neighborhood.” If you know, you know. There are team shakeups, wins, losses, weddings, funerals, murders, concerts, and everything in between and beyond to look forward to hearing Phillips and Oristano discuss as the podcast moves forward.
Phillips is “eager to get to season three.” That’s a transitional season for FNL, and he knows “there are some really great episodes in there as a lot of our series regulars are getting ready to graduate and/or leave Dillon behind.” While Phillips looks at the big picture of that shift in the show’s core, Oristano looks forward to discussing Mindy’s relationship with Becky, even if it is a ways off. Oristano loves Madison Burge and has “fond memories of working with her on set.”
With five seasons to explore, Phillips and Oristano have no shortage of exciting twists and turns to discuss on Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. They’re not going to do it alone either. Phillips shares that there are some things he wants to keep a surprise, “but we have some big ones waiting in the wings including Gaius Charles aka Smash Williams and Brad Leland aka Buddy Garrity.”
Those guests are already enough to cheer about, but the surprises have us on the edge of our seats. The show already had a Collette family reunion. So it’s only in due time before there’s a Riggins one to listen to, too.
According to Phillips, Clear Eyes, Full Hearts already has nine guests lined up, and the “producers are planning a big reveal” for a few of them. He’s “just excited for the fans to get to hear the stories Stacey and I have already heard.” Oristano knows she’ll have some fun stories to add to the mix when they get to Season 3. Spoiler alert: Some of her stories will have to do with her clumsiness.
Overall, Oristano is glad that their amazing guests “love FNL and remember it as fondly as we do.” Phillips reveals, “by the time we’re done, we plan to have all our series regulars on the podcast.” There’s plenty of theories to start about who will appear on the podcast soon. It’s so lovely that these two friends can use this space as a family reunion!
Phillips is right; “there’s some great stuff coming,” and you don’t want to miss a second of it. Lucky for you, there is still time to catch up on all the available episodes of Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, launched by Cadence13, an Audacy company.
New episodes of Clear Eyes, Full Hearts drop Tuesdays, everywhere podcasts are available!
Friday Night Lights is currently streaming on Peacock and Netflix.