It's a marriage made in NFL and summer premium cable TV heaven. "Hard Knocks" is ready to open on Broadway. And the Jets are set to debut on HBO.
Jets chairman/CEO Woody Johnson, head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum joined HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg and NFL Films president Steve Sabol in the front of the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center auditorium in a news conference that recently concluded. The topic of the news conference was the unveiling of one of the worst-kept secrets of the offseason: The Jets will be the stars of this year's "Hard Knocks" when the HBO sports-based reality series kicks off its sixth season in August.
"It's a great thing," Ryan told newyorkjets.com before the news conference began. "We're going to be ourselves. We won't hide anything. All we want to do is portray who we are and let the whole country see why I brag about our players and assistant coaches."
"I love this team, so this is pretty special," said Greenburg, a Jets fan since 1964. "This is the right team at the right time with the right coach and the right transparency. This is going to be a big hit."
Tannenbaum said when he and Greenburg first broached the subject of the Jets on Hard Knocks a year ago, "I initially turned it down. I thought it went against my football DNA. But I was pleasantly surprised when I researched it, talked with GMs around the league. I was shocked at the response, how positive the experience was. Teams that were in Hard Knocks got better practices, there was a better tempo to practice. And it elevates the franchise."
It also opens many inner sanctums up for all to see, such as meeting rooms, the training room, the weightroom. But Johnson has no reservations about that.
"When we hired Rex last year, the openness issue became a non-issue," the owner said. "At the end of the day, we're working for the fans. We want to include the fans in everything we do. And by the end of this show, you'll have a sense of knowledge and ownership in this team and these players that you've never had before."
Jets Nation seems to be embracing the idea of sharing their team with NFL Nation. But another issue that some are concerned about is that the summer-long filming will be a distraction to the Jets as they attempt to take the next step from AFC title game to Super Bowl. Didn't Rex take his Jets to Cortland in upstate New York to get away from the distractions inherent in holding a camp in the middle of its fan base?
But Ryan said he has no concerns, in part because of who he is and in part because he was a member of Brian Billick's Baltimore staff when the Ravens were the first team to star in Hard Knocks in 2001, the summer after their Super Bowl XXXV.
"All we're going to be is ourselves," Ryan said. "We're not going to have all the meetings some of the other teams had for this show. We're just going to go out there and be ourselves. Who cares if we've got a wire on or not?"
"What people have told me is that they just kind of observe," Tannenbaum said of the HBO and NFL Films personnel who will be shooting every day of camp and producing thousands of hours of video that will be boiled down to the five one-hour shows. "It'll be business as usual for us. We have to get ready to play the season."
Meanwhile, Sabol echoed Greenburg's remarks about this year's starring team.
"The show is built on twin pillars. One is access. The other is personality," said Sabol, the godfather of NFL Films. "The Jets are developing a new personality, a new identity. It's a theatrical identity."
Ryan, with a wink and a smile, said he didn't know what "theatrical" meant in relation to his Jets, then added:
"We know who we are. We don't pretend to be anybody we're not," he said. "We have a philosophy that we believe in, and it's from top to bottom. That's what's going to make this show great."
HBO and NFL Films control the editing process but they will not air competitive-advantage issues or deeply personal remarks. Still, mixed in among the great personal stories of veterans and rookies, a few warts will be on display for a football audience. But again, the boss is OK with that.
"We're going to make some mistakes that everyone will see," Johnson said. "We're trying to explain something very complicated, building a football team in training camp. It won't be perfect, except for the end result, which we want to be perfect."
For those who are only passingly familiar with the show, the cinema verité series focuses on the daily lives and routines of players and coaches as the dynamic Jets prepare for the upcoming season. The first show of one of the fastest-turnaround reality series will air Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 10-11 p.m. ET/PT, with a replay Thursday night. Four more shows will air each Wednesday from there, culminating in the Sept. 8 season finale.
Hard Knocks launched with the Baltimore Ravens (with Rex Ryan a member of Brian Billick's coaching staff) in 2001, followed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. The series resumed in 2007 with the Kansas City Chiefs, winning a Sports Emmy.In 2008 the series returned to the Dallas Cowboys, receiving a second Sports Emmy for production excellence. Last summer Hard Knocks spotlighted the Cincinnati Bengals and has been nominated for four Sports Emmys, the winners of which will be announced April 26.