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Could Friday Night Lights Get Any Hotter? The Big Boss Spills All

Taylor Kitsch, FNL NBC

Clear eyes, shirtless Riggins, can't lose!

(Wait, is that not how the mantra goes?)

The brilliant Friday Night Lights returns to TV tonight at 9 p.m. on DirecTV's channel 101, and even though Dillon football is in a state of upheaval, a few things remain the same: the heart, the humor, and yes, Taylor Kitsch will still "forget" to button those tricky buttons from time to time.

But the big question is this: What happens to the series now that beloved characters like Riggins and Zach Gilford's Matt Saracen have graduated? Are we losing them forever? And what happens with their lovely ladies, Minka Kelly's Lyla Garrity and Aimee Teegarden's Julie Taylor?

We caught up with FNL show runner Jason Katims for an exclusive interview about season four, and here's what we can tell you about the fates of your fan favorites...

Jason Katims Chris Haston/NBC

How do you keep Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) in Dillon without making him a high school football has-been? He always makes such bad choices. How does that play out this year?
One of the things we've always talked about for Tim is he might be a guy who winds up in Dillon for life but not necessarily in a sad way or tragic way. That's one of the notions that I've always liked, was the idea that maybe at the end of the show he might be one of the few people who end up in Dillon, but not in the way that "He never got out of the small town," but more in a way that "He loves that town and wants to embrace it." That's partly the direction we're going in.

How does Lyla (Minka Kelly) return?
She comes back for at least two episodes this year, so far, visiting from college. We will watch as she and Tim sort of rekindle their relationship and try to figure out what to do about that. The two of them have, in one way, really moved on, but once they see each other, they maybe realize it's not so easy to move on.

Since Riggins isn't going to college like Lyla, how will he occupy himself this year?
He's very much involved with Billy (Derek Phillips) and Mindy (Stacey Oristano). He returns home only to discover that his room's been converted into a nursery, and he doesn't have a place anymore at home. That launches the journey for Tim this season: Who is Tim Riggins after the Panthers? Where is his home, and how does he carve out a life for himself?

Does Riggins have anything to do with football this season, or is he a free bird?
He's helping out Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler). Coach has his hands full with this new team—the Lions are striving for mediocrity. Tim feels for Coach and helps him out with the team as much as he can. Tim also has a job now, working with his brother, but as much as he can, he's trying to help that team find some way to help the Lions coalesce.

Will we see the Dillon Lions play football?
We will absolutely see them play football, they might not play quite as well as the Panthers, but we will see them play. We will follow their season; that will be the show this year.

Given the big split in the town, what side does Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) choose? Panthers or Lions?
Buddy certainly starts out a Panther—but things happen along the way that make him question his allegiance to the Panthers. Are they still the Panthers at all? And he also has a deep friendship and bond with Coach Taylor, so his journey this season is about which side is he on.

How does the town split affect Tami (Connie Britton) and Eric's relationship?
The split definitely creates some tense moments between them. The thing that I love so much about Coach and Tami, as they've been realized by Kyle and Connie, is what a beautiful relationship they have and how well they overcome obstacles. What's fun for us as writers is try to throw as many things at them to watch them emerge with their marriage intact. We try to find new things to throw at them. We knew Coach was moving to this new school, so we decided to keep Tami at West Dillon and to have that be a story point throughout the season for these two people who are in these two very different worlds now and at certain times those worlds very directly collide.

Friday Night Lights, FNL, Aimee Teegarden, Zach Gilford NBC/DirecTV

What schools do Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and Landry (Jesse Plemons) attend?
They are both at East Dillon. Landry gets redistricted to East Dillon, and Julie decides to transfer to East Dillon for various reasons.

What's Julie's life like this season, and how is her relationship with Tami?
It's Julie's senior year, so it's about Julie preparing to grow up more, and it's about Tami preparing to let go of her daughter and trust that she's going to go off and be in a different stage of life. Knowing how wonderful those scenes always are between the two of them, I look forward to the scenes of Julie and Tami going through that process as Julie starts to apply for schools and make choices that are going to affect the rest of her life and Tami trying to ride that line between guiding her and letting Julie act for herself.

What are we going to learn about the consequences of Matt Saracen's (Zach Gilford) decision to stay home with his grandmother?
That's very much a story this season, not only about his grandmother but his relationship with Julie. It's a story about somebody who has made a lot of choices about making those around him happy and then what comes into question for him is what is right for him? That's really what he's dealing with this season.

We've heard a little about the new characters—is there anyone in particular we should look for?
Michael Jordan
is really charismatic and really pops off the screen, same thing for Matt Lauria. They have two very different qualities and a lot of good contrast between them. We're about to start shooting an episode where the two of them play out a big conflict with each other, so I'm looking forward to what happens there.

And what about the new ladies, Becky and Jess?
Becky is being played by an actress named Madison Burge, and she is a local Texas actress, and she's a fresh face. She hasn't really done very much, and we were struck just by how natural she was and felt like she really would fit right in with the cast. And Jess is being played by Jurnee Smollett, who just came in and auditioned and sort of blew us away and nailed this character. They're very different from each other, really interesting characters, and we really get to meet who they are and see them both in the context of their families and their hopes and dreams. I'm hoping that we will see them not only in the context of which of our cast they hook up with and get to know them as new characters.

Do you have DirecTV? Will you be able to watch tonight? And what are you most looking forward to about this new scenario for the show?

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Don't miss Tami and Eric in our TV Couples We Love gallery!

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