The NFL has quietly passed a rule during its fall meeting that will force one franchise per year to be filmed for HBO’s Hard Knocks. The news came the same day that the league was fending off some negative PR over PBS’ premiere of the football concussion docu League Of Denial and President Obama weighing in on the Washington Redskins nickname flap. The popular series, which follows a team through preseason, had a tough time finding a subject this year. Five teams declined to participate before the Cincinnati Bengals — a good-not-great small-market franchise with a negligible national following — agreed to do it for a second time. The NFL and HBO signed a multiyear extension for the program in July, so something had to be done. Under the new rules, teams can volunteer to be on the program, but now the league will select one if there are no takers. Teams that have a new head coach, have been in the playoffs at least once in the past two seasons, or have done one Hard Knocks in the past 10 years are exempt from appearing on the show.
In the 12-year, eight-season history of HBO’s Hard Knocks, only one franchise – the Dallas Cowboys, often cited as “America’s Team” – has been featured twice. Make that two. The premium network on Monday officially tapped the Cincinnati Bengals to star on its popular series chronicling life at an NFL training camp. The Bengals first were featured in 2009, with the season earning a pair of Sports Emmys. Last year’s Hard Knocks showcased the Miami Dolphins, and plenty of screen time was devoted to aging former All-Pro wide receiver, who was known as Chad Ochocinco when he was onscreen with the ’09 Bengals. The show began in 2001 with then- and current defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, followed by the Cowboys in 2002. But that was the last Hard Knocks until the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007. Since then it has aired every year expect 2011, when the series went dark because no team was willing to participate due to the looming lockout by NFL owners. The first episode of the Bengals return trip to the show will premiere August 6.
HBO will return for a seventh season of its NFL training camp series Hard Knocks on August 7 featuring the Miami Dolphins, a year after the network scrapped the Emmy-winning documentary series because of the NFL lockout. ESPN reported that the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets were also mentioned as possible teams to be profiled; in 2010, the Jets’ season on the show earned HBO three Sports Emmys. Five hourlong episodes are planned for the show, co-produced with NFL Films. It’s a logical move for the Dolphins, whose ownership group is trying to drum up fan interest in a mediocre team. Owner Stephen Ross has brought in celebrities like Gloria Estefan and Venus and Serena Williams as minority owners, and the team has a red-carpet entrance to the team’s Sun Life Stadium for celebrities attending games.
UPDATE, MONDAY AM: A lot of great news for Liev Schreiber this morning. His deal with Showtime to star in the drama pilot Ray Donovan formally closed, and the network just made the official announcement. And, in what appears to be a change of heart, HBO Sports has renewed its overall deal with the actor to continue to be the voice of virtually all HBO documentaries as well as the 24/7 reality series, and the NFL reality series Hard Knocks. During the lengthy negotiations, HBO had considered not to re-up the overall with Schreiber and open up the field to other narrators, but in the end it extended Schreiber. I hear that the actor’s Showtime series contract allows for that.
PREVIOUS, SUNDAY PM: With a deal to star in Showtime’s pilot Ray Donovan, Liev Schreiber may one day become the face of the pay cable network. But at the same time, it looks like he will no longer be the exclusive voice of the sports division of rival HBO. I’ve learned that HBO is planning not to renew its overall deal with the actor to be the the voice of HBO Sports, which has included narrating virtually all HBO sports documentaries, the 24/7 reality series, and the NFL reality series Hard Knocks. HBO is not severing ties with Schreiber, who has been voicing HBO Sports’ programs for the past 16 years. “Liev is set to start work next week on his next HBO Sports project, 24/7 Flyers/Rangers: Road to the NHL Winter Classic, HBO Sports said in a statement, declining further comment. I hear that Schreiber also is scheduled to do another HBO Sports project in January.
It looks like we’ll have to get our profanity fix elsewhere this fall. Today, HBO Sports and NFL Films announced that HBO’s Hard Knocks, a five-episode series that follows a single NFL team during preseason training camp, will not air this season. The companies in a release blamed the lockout-shortened offseason that will condense teams’ prep times for the upcoming season, but several teams reportedly declined offers to host the show. The four-month labor stoppage ended Monday when NFL players and owners agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. HBO said a 90-minute edition of Hard Knocks cobbled together with footage from previous seasons will premiere Aug. 31, and that the series will resume in 2012. Last year’s Hard Knocks featured the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan, who started off the first show of the season with a swear-word-rich rant that he said he eventually had to apologize to his mother for.
The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences bestowed its 32nd annual Sports Emmy Awards on Monday night in New York, celebrating the best in broadcast sports for 2010. NBC’s Sunday Night Football was named Outstanding Live Series again and won one of the Peacock’s seven Emmys (the network’s Olympics coverage took five trophies), tying it with HBO for the most victories by a network. Among HBO’s kudos was a win for Outstanding Documentary (Lombardi) and three for its anthology series Hard Knocks. ESPN and ESPN2 combined for seven wins, CBS had six, and ABC and Fox had three apiece. Studio host Bob Costas (baseball) and play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick (hockey) won, as did analysts Kirk Herbstreit (college football) and Cris Collinsworth (pro football), and ABC’s coverage of the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands was tapped as Outstanding Live Special. Play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels received the Lifetime Achievement Award.