By John Toth
In 2006, a new show debuted on NBC called “Friday Night Lights.” I didn’t watch it, being busy with running businesses and raising a family.
I watched very little TV at the time, and I still limit my viewing mostly to news and sports. But when the show, which ran for five seasons (Oct. 3, 2006 to Feb. 9, 2011), was streaming on Netflix, I binge-watched episodes with Sharon until the very end.
The show was based on the 1990 book by Buzz Bissinger and the 2004 movie of the same name. High school football was the background theme, but the series ventured into many teenage experiences. The writing and storytelling was excellent.
I found myself rooting for Matt Saracen, the unlikely starting quarterback, who led the team to the state championships and was interested in Julie Taylor, the coach’s daughter.
I’m not going to get into details. You’ll just have to watch the series and enjoy the peaks and valleys of their relationship - and other plots that flow throughout the series, season after season.
Recently, my son-in-law, David Johnson, told us that we should really come see his new place of employment in Austin, an old public school that has been converted into business office space. His company leases several rooms there.
I did some research on it. The building is now the Baker Center, housing offices, including the Alamo Drafthouse headquarters. In the series, it was East Dillon High School.
The school was named after Dewitt Clinton Baker (1832-1881), a businessman who helped to establish Austin's public school system. The founders of the Alamo Drafthouse were the winning bidders for the building at $10.6 million.
A school district committee recommended the company’s bid to the board, although there were two higher bidders. That is another story though, to be hashed out in the local press.
Our focus is on the building. I wanted to see the school where the TV show was filmed.
We drove over to meet David for a tour and lunch. The building looked just like it did in the show. Inside, it smelled old, much like my own high school, but older. It has been renovated, but the characteristics of the old school remain.
The classroom where David and his crew work has wooden restored floors, like many other rooms. The chalkboard is still in the front of the classroom and another smaller one in the back. The cast of “Friday Night Lights” sat in these rooms as the cameras rolled. The building has also played a high school on the series "Walker." Many stars and future starts have roamed these hallways.
The halls were smartly decorated, but kept intact, including the rows of lockers. You can still put a combination lock on one and keep your stuff in there, but they are empty and open, perhaps waiting for the next camera crew to show up.
Old-fashioned desks line some hallways, and there’s an old wall clock connected to a school bell. Four videogames - the ‘80s kind - lined another wall, probably just being stored there.
One of them may have been Pac-Man.
They were not plugged in, so I didn’t pay much attention to them. My old high school didn’t have any of these, and my college only had pinball machines - for a quarter a play. I put a lot of quarters in them.
Framed posters of old movies also were used to decorate a Baker Center hallway. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” caught my attention. We had to take some selfies in front of them.
The restrooms were new and old. They had the latest technology, but they kept the original concept of a high school restroom - without whatever that smell was.
There were many places in and around Austin where the series was filmed, but this building was the location of the classroom and school scenes. One man who now works in the building told us that he found out about the history of the Baker Center just a couple of weeks ago.
Now he knows that he is walking on sacred TV show grounds.
If you happened to attend an old school as a child, this building brings back good memories.
Well, mostly good. There was this one math teacher who wanted to spoil our good times, but I hit the books and proved her wrong. Then there was the English teacher who told me I would fail. I turned in enough book reports to land a B+.
For a brief moment, I was back in the hallways of my old school, trying to figure out on the first day where the cafeteria was. Then I had to figure out what I was supposed to do as an adult.
Memories of a less-complicated world filled my mind. We had it good back then, even if we didn’t realize it all that much.
In the series, Matt’s biggest problem was how not to get pounded by linemen twice his size, and how to get Julie, who did not date football players, to like him and be his girlfriend.
It was a wonderful world.