Jets set to take ‘Hard Knocks’ to new heights

The sports documentary series Hard Knocks will kick off its sixth season Wednesday night on HBO (10 p.m. ET), with an all-access pass to training camp with the Jets. With Super Bowl buzz surrounding the Jets and plenty of larger than life personalities on the team, the potential is there for the Emmy-winning program’s best season.

Sporting News‘ Vinnie Iyer talked to two of the show’s executive producers, HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg and NFL Films president Steve Sabol, about what fans can expect from the show this August:

SN: How big of a presence is Jets coach Rex Ryan?
Greenburg: He’s a dynamic personality and projects that daily. As he speaks his mind, he really sets the tone for the show.

SN: What are some of the story lines that have already intrigued you?
Greenburg: You’ve got a Super Bowl star wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, trying to fit in with the regulars of a new team. Then there’s LaDainian Tomlinson, a Hall of Famer maybe taking on a role he isn’t used to.

LaDainian Tomlinson enters his first year as Jet after playing nine seasons in the NFL, all with San Diego.
LaDainian Tomlinson enters his first year as Jet after playing nine seasons in the NFL, all with San Diego.

Sabol: It starts with the Darrelle Revis holdout, but that could end at any moment. I like the battle at fullback, where you have a rookie, John Conner, and Tony Richardson, the Jets’ oldest player. Then there’s Jason Taylor right there with Tomlinson.

SN: To help you with that, do you sketch up any kind of storyboard in advance?
Greenburg: Not at all. As Steve would say, we’re building a plane as we’re flying it.

SN: Can we get a hint of what we might see in an episode to come beyond the premiere?
Sabol: The theme of the whole second show will be the Jets’ opener (Aug. 16) against the Giants in the New Meadowlands Stadium. With 17 cameras in position and 15 to 20 players miked up, it will be the most documented preseason game in NFL history.

SN: Who so far is the breakout personality of the season?
Greenburg: He is a an unknown guy to many, but it’s Mike Westhoff, who leads the Jets’ special teams. His charismatic style as a coach will bust wide open.
Sabol: You’re going to know a whole lot about Mike Westhoff by the end of the show.

SN: Did you ever expect any season of Hard Knocks to be so hyped?
Sabol: It’s crazy to think about all the billboard ads and publicity posters. It’s the most hyped thing I’ve been involved with. It will also be the most expensive, most scrutinized and most creatively challenging.

SN: With all that footage, how challenging is it just to produce one episode?
Greenburg: With more than 200 hours shot for one week, there’s no bigger crunch in television.
Sabol: It’s the most compounded production cycle you can have with a weakly deadline. We’ve got 25 producers working on it. Liev Schreiber, who’s working on a movie in Spain, does the narration for us over an ISDN line Wednesday afternoon so it’s ready to air that night.

SN: Is there anything that’s off limits for the show?
Sabol: The show is all about access, and they trust us enough with everything. So far, whatever the Jets have promised, they’d delivered. Just with the personal things that come up, you just don’t want to embarrass anyone.

SN: What makes Hard Knocks so compelling to be a part of, especially this season with the Jets?
Sabol: Growing up, I loved the "man on the mission" pictures, such as The Magnificent Seven and The Guns of Navarone, and that’s what you have here with a team that can make a run at the Super Bowl. You have the expected dominant personalities, but there’s always the unexpected. Any time you go into an NFL training camp, it’s a laboratory of emotions. While that comes with a lot of intensity, there’s this great humor and a lot of laughs that come from the ribald nature of the frat house mentality.

Also starring …

While Rex Ryan takes the lead role as head coach, the Jets have many players worthy of the spotlight. A look at five more standout personalities who will get plenty of screen time:

Mark Sanchez, QB. He’s got the looks and the arm to captivate the cameras. "He’s Broadway Joe, circa 2010," HBO president Ross Greenburg said.

Antonio Cromartie, CB. He has always been confident on the field, but his off-field story‹he has many children living in several states‹will also come to light.

Kris Jenkins, NT. The massive run-stuffer doesn’t shy away from making it known just how big a presence he is.

Bart Scott, LB. He came over from Baltimore along with Ryan, so it makes sense that he is the vocal extension of his coach.

Nick Mangold, C. When it’s time to get the doughnuts, he isn’t afraid to make a rookie do it.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

The sports documentary series Hard Knocks will kick off its sixth season Wednesday night on HBO (10 p.m. ET), with an all-access pass to training camp with the Jets. With Super Bowl buzz surrounding the Jets and plenty of larger than life personalities on the team, the potential is there for the Emmy-winning program’s best season.

Sporting News‘ Vinnie Iyer talked to two of the show’s executive producers, HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg and NFL Films president Steve Sabol, about what fans can expect from the show this August:

SN: How big of a presence is Jets coach Rex Ryan?
Greenburg: He’s a dynamic personality and projects that daily. As he speaks his mind, he really sets the tone for the show.

SN: What are some of the story lines that have already intrigued you?
Greenburg: You’ve got a Super Bowl star wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, trying to fit in with the regulars of a new team. Then there’s LaDainian Tomlinson, a Hall of Famer maybe taking on a role he isn’t used to.

LaDainian Tomlinson enters his first year as Jet after playing nine seasons in the NFL, all with San Diego.
LaDainian Tomlinson enters his first year as Jet after playing nine seasons in the NFL, all with San Diego.

Sabol: It starts with the Darrelle Revis holdout, but that could end at any moment. I like the battle at fullback, where you have a rookie, John Conner, and Tony Richardson, the Jets’ oldest player. Then there’s Jason Taylor right there with Tomlinson.

SN: To help you with that, do you sketch up any kind of storyboard in advance?
Greenburg: Not at all. As Steve would say, we’re building a plane as we’re flying it.

SN: Can we get a hint of what we might see in an episode to come beyond the premiere?
Sabol: The theme of the whole second show will be the Jets’ opener (Aug. 16) against the Giants in the New Meadowlands Stadium. With 17 cameras in position and 15 to 20 players miked up, it will be the most documented preseason game in NFL history.

SN: Who so far is the breakout personality of the season?
Greenburg: He is a an unknown guy to many, but it’s Mike Westhoff, who leads the Jets’ special teams. His charismatic style as a coach will bust wide open.
Sabol: You’re going to know a whole lot about Mike Westhoff by the end of the show.

SN: Did you ever expect any season of Hard Knocks to be so hyped?
Sabol: It’s crazy to think about all the billboard ads and publicity posters. It’s the most hyped thing I’ve been involved with. It will also be the most expensive, most scrutinized and most creatively challenging.

SN: With all that footage, how challenging is it just to produce one episode?
Greenburg: With more than 200 hours shot for one week, there’s no bigger crunch in television.
Sabol: It’s the most compounded production cycle you can have with a weakly deadline. We’ve got 25 producers working on it. Liev Schreiber, who’s working on a movie in Spain, does the narration for us over an ISDN line Wednesday afternoon so it’s ready to air that night.

SN: Is there anything that’s off limits for the show?
Sabol: The show is all about access, and they trust us enough with everything. So far, whatever the Jets have promised, they’d delivered. Just with the personal things that come up, you just don’t want to embarrass anyone.

SN: What makes Hard Knocks so compelling to be a part of, especially this season with the Jets?
Sabol: Growing up, I loved the "man on the mission" pictures, such as The Magnificent Seven and The Guns of Navarone, and that’s what you have here with a team that can make a run at the Super Bowl. You have the expected dominant personalities, but there’s always the unexpected. Any time you go into an NFL training camp, it’s a laboratory of emotions. While that comes with a lot of intensity, there’s this great humor and a lot of laughs that come from the ribald nature of the frat house mentality.

Also starring …

While Rex Ryan takes the lead role as head coach, the Jets have many players worthy of the spotlight. A look at five more standout personalities who will get plenty of screen time:

Mark Sanchez, QB. He’s got the looks and the arm to captivate the cameras. "He’s Broadway Joe, circa 2010," HBO president Ross Greenburg said.

Antonio Cromartie, CB. He has always been confident on the field, but his off-field story‹he has many children living in several states‹will also come to light.

Kris Jenkins, NT. The massive run-stuffer doesn’t shy away from making it known just how big a presence he is.

Bart Scott, LB. He came over from Baltimore along with Ryan, so it makes sense that he is the vocal extension of his coach.

Nick Mangold, C. When it’s time to get the doughnuts, he isn’t afraid to make a rookie do it.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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