PARTNERSHIP: Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) meets with Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) early in the third season of "Friday Night Lights," which debuts on DirecTV before airing on NBC.

PARTNERSHIP: Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) meets with Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) early in the third season of "Friday Night Lights," which debuts on DirecTV before airing on NBC. (NBC / DirecTV)

If “Friday Night Lights” executive producer Jason Katims had his way, all of the show's fans would be just like Brian McCafferty. The Philadelphia attorney could not wait for the show to return to the NBC lineup in February.

So, McCafferty, 40, ordered DirecTV for just one of his TV sets so that he can watch the third season when it premieres tonight on DirecTV's 101 Network. He also kept his cable provider for its local sports programming. "After seeing some of the Season 3 promos over the last few weeks, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to hold out," McCafferty said. "So I am getting DirecTV basically so I can watch 13 episodes of one TV show. It's like buying a carton of cigarettes to smoke two cigarettes."

The show's dedicated fans know that the low-rated critical darling owes its third chance to the unique arrangement between DirecTV and NBC, which allows the satellite provider to premiere the series exclusively in exchange for subsidizing much of the production costs.

But in saving the show, executives inadvertently created an ethical dilemma for fans who do not subscribe to DirecTV -- namely, they might not be able to resist downloading episodes from illegal file-sharing sites. Those who are able to avoid sites, such as BitTorrent, still stand to be frustrated and tempted by spoilers on blogs and fan sites.

"Obviously, my first choice, if at all possible, is for people to get DirecTV to see the show sooner rather than later," Katims said. "If that's not possible, I really do think it's worth the wait.

"The true joy of the show is experiencing watching it, whether you know some of the things that are going to happen," added Katims. "For the future of the show, it's just as important for it to succeed on NBC as it is for it to succeed on DirecTV."

That's the show's dual and mighty challenge -- will NBC fans who won't see their beloved program until early next year actually endure the wait? And will DirecTV viewers, who get a first and commercial-free look, revisit the show on NBC? (Katims said it's possible some NBC episodes might feature new content to entice satellite customers back to the show.)

"I'm conflicted," said Anne May, 50, of Long Island. "I think it's unfortunate that those of us who love, love, love the show and did a lot to keep the show going are not going to be able to see it until sometime next year. It would be very hard for me not too look at it illegally online."

But she added: "I have often watched each show multiple times. If someone from another country watched it, they would get a sense of what it means to be of a certain demographic and certain place in America. It's a fine piece of American literature."

Indeed, Suzanne Robertson, 50, of Dallas, is crazy about "Friday Night Lights" because of the way it mirrors her life. She's not a DirecTV customer but is the daughter, wife and mother of football players. "For anybody who lives in Texas, honey, football is an obsession," said Robertson. "I love the football part of the show, but I also love the characters. My son is studying to be a coach and I love Coach Taylor and the relationship he has with the players. I tell my son that's the kind of coach he needs to be. It's going to be tough not to be able to see it. I'll probably watch it on the computer, if it's there."

Cindy Strong, of Buffalo, N.Y., is thrilled that she is a DirecTV customer because it keeps her from having to convince her husband to make the switch. The stay-at-home mother of three young children grew up in the Buffalo suburbs where football is king.

"Everybody got together and went to football games and homecoming and stuff like that, and that's why I started watching the show," said Strong, 36. "I'm so glad I don't have to switch to be able to watch it. My friends who don't have it want to come over and have a 'Friday Night Lights' thing."

McCafferty, who is without a DVR and stayed home Fridays last season to watch the program, hopes that his last-minute sign-up for satellite sends a message to "DirecTV honchos" about the show's quality and power in attracting new customers.

"It was certainly bittersweet to hear there would be a Season 3, but it would show on DirecTV first," he added. "But it didn't take me long to rationalize and put two and two together: Without this, there would be no Season 3. So I'm rooting for DirecTV to succeed on this because it's the only way there's possibly going to be a Season 4."

maria.elena.fernandez

@latimes.com