'Hard Knocks' is best workplace drama on television


OXNARD, Calif. -- Choosing a Hard Knocks team isn't usually easy. This year proved to be an exception to the rule.

The Rams will take their star turn when the ground-breaking HBO series makes its return for an 11th season on Aug. 9 at 10 p.m. ET. Hard Knocks coordinating producer Ken Rodgers explained how quickly it came together during a news conference at the Rams' practice facility Thursday.

"As soon as the announcement was made at the March owners meetings that the Rams were returning to Los Angeles, I really think it was a three-way tie between the organizations calling each other -- HBO, NFL Films and the Rams -- and saying, 'This makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?'"

The Rams make for compelling Hard Knocks fodder, no doubt. This will mark the first time the series will document what goes on behind the scenes when an entire organization moves from one city to another. It's also the first time Hard Knocks will have cameras rolling with a No. 1 overall pick in the building.

Just don't expect the season to be a Jared Goff-fest.

"It's not going to be The Jared Goff Show," said Matt Dissinger, director of Hard Knocks since last year's Texans excursion. "It might seem, and hopefully we do this well, that when you watch the show you'll think we shot a million times with him, but in reality he wears a wire once during practice, during the game, then get a couple of off-the-field shoots throughout the duration of camp."

Some other takeaways from the Hard Knocks news conference:

» Rams coach Jeff Fisher was on the makeshift podium, situated on a tennis court at the Residence Inn in Oxnard that doubles as the Rams' home. I asked Fisher a couple of questions about how he'll handle Hark Knocks cameras, but ol' Fish was more slippery than general manager Les Snead at a crew cut convention.

Would Fisher be worried about the robotic cameras (there will be 12 of them on the grounds) catching him saying or doing things he'd rather keep private? "No, I'll have plenty of towels," Fisher said. "I'll just flip a towel over the lens and we'll be fine."

In addition to the dozen robotic cameras, NFL Films will have a 32-person crew on site for each day of shooting. And you wonder why some coaches are spooked by the thought ...

» Rodgers and Dissinger both offered good insight on what Hard Knocks tries to do and made no apologies for not catering to the X's and O's crowd. Said Rodgers: "This is a personality-driven show about what it's like to get a job and keep a job. ... This show has always been about people and we're going to continue to keep it that way." Dissinger put it another way: "I look at Hard Knocks as a workplace drama."

» Rams running back Todd Gurley was made available to journos after the news conference and didn't sound like a guy who would be scheming for air time on premium cable. We asked Gurley if he'd be fine if a Hard Knocks cameraman hopped in his car for a day in the life with Todd: "Nah, I'm not doing all that," he replied. "Me personally? I don't need that."

» Aaron Donald was under the mistaken impression that HBO bleeps out swearing in HK episodes. I let him know that was not the case. Was he worried his mother could come down on him for salty language? "It's a game. It's a physical game. There's a lot of emotions. Just like if you were out with your brother, you fight your brother sometimes, but at the end of day you're going to squash it and that's going to be that."

» There are no shortcuts for the Hard Knocks creative team. No one is asked to repeat a funny line, or walk through a doorway for continuity's sake. Rodgers said there are 90 different storylines entering camp, with each player representing a story.

"It reminds me of a saying that Steve Sabol had when he described what it was like to produce Hard Knocks," Rodgers said, referring to the late co-founder of NFL Films. "He said it's like building an airplane in a flight. Only once it takes off can you figure out what you have to do to keep flying."

A scary thought, but a process that delivers year after year. Don't miss our Around The NFL episode recaps in August.