Action! HBO eager for Jets' close-up on acclaimed 'Hard Knocks'

NEW YORK -- Rex Ryan's unpredictable mouth, Mark Sanchez's matinee-idol looks and LaDainian Tomlinson's quest for a Super Bowl ring.

Must-see TV? Ross Greenburg certainly believes so. And that's just for starters.

The president of HBO Sports is convinced the New York Jets will be a huge hit on "Hard Knocks" this summer -- and not just because he has rooted for the team since he was a kid.

"I was out in L.A. a few weeks ago and people were talking about it, saying, 'Hey, the Jets are going to be great on this,'" Greenburg recently told The Associated Press at HBO's headquarters in Manhattan. "The buzz is there."

That's because the Jets have been busy this offseason making juicy headlines after finishing one win away from a surprising Super Bowl appearance. They have signed some big-name players -- Tomlinson and defensive end/linebacker Jason Taylor -- and traded for some others -- wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie -- while unloading a few popular veterans such as guard Alan Faneca and running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.

"One of our biggest challenges is that we'll unfortunately have to leave a lot on the cutting-room floor because there's just too much great stuff," Greenburg said, before laughing. "The other challenge will be trying to find a clean sentence out of the mouth of Rex Ryan. You just can't fill the entire 60 minutes with expletives."

But Greenburg believes viewers will tune in just to hear what Ryan, the Jets' boisterous coach, has to say next.

"Rex Ryan lives for this," Greenburg said. "This isn't about, 'Oh, you can bring the cameras in.' This is like he's swinging the door open and waving everyone in. 'Come on in! Let us show you what we do here.' I've never seen this kind of enthusiasm for bringing the walls down and showing people how an NFL team works."

This season's installment of the popular HBO series, produced in conjunction with NFL Films, is scheduled to premiere Aug. 11. The five-episode series will follow every move the Jets make during training camp in Cortland, N.Y., and will run every Wednesday night until the finale Sept. 8.

"We're going to be everywhere," Greenburg said. "Sure, there are going to be some off-limits places that we won't go that basically show the secret sauce. That happens every year."

Viewers will have their first glimpse of the series Wednesday night, when HBO airs a 12-minute preview at 11 p.m. ET. Veterans are scheduled to report for training camp Sunday.

Last year's "Hard Knocks" featured the Cincinnati Bengals and averaged 3.4 million viewers per episode, earning HBO's highest ratings for the series. Greenburg wanted the Jets a year ago, but the team had some reservations with a rookie head coach in Ryan and a rookie quarterback in Sanchez. As New York made its postseason push, Greenburg aggressively went after team owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

"As I saw the team take shape, I thought, 'This is a no-brainer now,'" Greenburg said.

The Jets agreed to do it in January and announced the plans in March with an elaborate press conference, complete with cheerleaders.

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"The timing wasn't right last year," Greenburg said. "It's a huge blessing we get them now."

Greenburg said sharp-tongued special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff also will be "in the supporting actor category." Sanchez surely will see plenty of face time, as will opinionated linebacker Bart Scott and defensive lineman Kris Jenkins. Cornerback Darrelle Revis' contract situation and whether he holds out also will be a key storyline, at least early in camp.

But Greenburg insists the show won't be limited to well-known players. As "Hard Knocks" has done in the past, players trying to make the team -- running back Danny Woodhead -- and position battles -- Vladimir Ducasse against Matt Slauson at left guard -- all will be featured.

"But, I have to be honest with you, as (NFL Films') Steve Sabol likes to say: 'You build the plane while you're in flight,'" Greenburg said.

NFL Films has 75 people assigned to "Hard Knocks," with 25 living at training camp and 50 at the Mount Laurel, N.J., production studios. There are 10 to 13 cameras that will shoot up to 1,000 hours of footage.

"I guarantee you there's not another television show with this amount shot that's turned around this quickly in the business," Greenburg said. "Not anywhere on television."

After the hour-long show is assembled, the music score is added. Actor Liev Schreiber does the voiceover on the morning the show airs -- he once did it from an audio booth on a film location in Scotland -- in about 90 minutes. A final mix is performed, as is a technical check, and it's on the air a few hours later.

"I like to call the other reality shows manufactured reality," Greenburg said. "This is the real thing. We shoot it as it is, edit it and air it. We let the drama speak for itself. We don't create it. They create it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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