Analysis

'Hard Knocks' on Los Angeles Rams will feature Hollywood flavor

The latest edition of HBO's "Hard Knocks" will include all the familiar storylines that have made the series so popular. The behind-the-scenes access from NFL Films' six manned and 12 robotic cameras will focus on the head coach's private interactions with his team.

The sights and sounds will provide insights into what really happens during drills. The stars will be in the spotlight, both on and off the field.

Of course, there will be the signature trademark of "Hard Knocks": the ecstasy and heartbreak of rookies and free agents clawing to fulfill their dreams of earning a roster spot on an NFL team.

However, this year's series will have an extra dimension. "Hard Knocks" is going Hollywood.

"Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Los Angeles Rams" is set to debut Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. The weekly five-show series, which runs through Sept. 6, will document the preparations for the Rams' historic return to Los Angeles after moving from St. Louis.

This "Hard Knocks" will have a distinct L.A. vibe, according to Ken Rodgers, the coordinating producer for NFL Films. He even puts on a Hollywood director's hat in describing the tone.

"The Rams' arrival in Los Angeles is the overarching storyline of the entire series this year," Rodgers said. "In my mind, this is the classic story of a Midwestern boy moving west to make his dreams come true. He's going to discover the bright lights of L.A. Only instead of one boy, it's a team of young men trying to make it big."

Indeed, Rodgers joked that in previous editions of "Hard Knocks," following a player after practice usually meant "a trip to a Chili's or an electronic store." With the Rams practicing at UC Irvine, a short trek from the Pacific Ocean, Rodgers said the NFL Films crews will show the players at the beach, touring the sights of Hollywood and perhaps even taking a spin on the rides at Disneyland.

Rodgers, who studied film as a graduate student at USC, draws from his own experience of what the Rams will encounter in their move and how it will play out in the series.

"When you move to Los Angeles, it is not a subtle thing," Rodgers said. "All of a sudden, you see the beaches, and the names of streets like Rodeo Drive that you've heard about all your life. You're shopping for groceries and there's a big star in the next aisle. There's no way around the allure of L.A. and what it does to the imagination. It will inform the entire series."

Yet, with all the glitz and glamour, it still is about football for the Rams. "Hard Knocks," which will see 350 hours of footage shot for every one-hour show, will have plenty of good stories to explore.

For the first time ever, "Hard Knocks" will feature the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

"And it's not just any No. 1 pick," Rodgers said. "It's a quarterback coming into a new city with high expectations. All eyes will be on Jared Goff, including ours."

Rodgers also wants to showcase the Rams' young stars in running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

"Gurley could be the No. 1 pick in most fantasy drafts, and I'm not sure anyone in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York has ever seen an interview with him," Rodgers said. "Donald is a great defensive player, and I don't know if anyone knows much about him. We want to expose them to fans across America."

Football fans are familiar with Rams coach Jeff Fisher. The coach always plays the most prominent role in "Hard Knocks." While he won't have the bombast of Rex Ryan when "Hard Knocks" covered the Jets, Rodgers expects Fisher will be an interesting character.

"Personality-wise, Jeff has an incredible mix," Rodgers said. "He is the ultimate CEO. He is trusted to run a huge organization. At the same time, he can relate to the players because of his playing days. He has that great balance of being equally respected, feared, loved and admired by his players. He's an absolute presence."

Ultimately, though, the series always comes down to the annual tale of young hopefuls trying to earn those precious last roster spots in time for opening day. "Hard Knocks" has a unique way of getting viewers emotionally invested in their stories.

The final episode of the season, when those players learn their fates, always delivers the most dramatic moments in the series.

"We have had so many players who have gone through the process tell us how happy and thankful they were for the way we presented their stories," Rodgers said. "We don't present it as a soap opera. Rather, it is part of life in the NFL. Those players are the No. 1 reason why people come to the show. At the end of the day, they aren't young millionaires. They are young men chasing their dreams to get and keep a job, just like the rest of us."

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