Let me begin by saying a few things about the world of reality television. I’ve had both the fortune and shame of making a living working on reality shows over the years. For the most part they’re hastily thrown together productions run by neophytes who were given their jobs based on relationships instead of actual acumen. What appears on screen is reality only in the sense that no CGI is used to manipulate images.
Most of what you see is the product of clever editing and what we refer to as Frankenbiting. This is where you take dialogue and edit it in such a way that it helps to propel the trumped up drama forward. When you consider the inability of your average “reality star” to express themselves in a coherent way or simply unable to get to the point then this becomes a necessary process.
All that being said the HBO series Hard Knocks is the gold standard of reality television.
To begin with it has the quickest turnaround in all of the reality world. Your average reality show usually finishes all of its principal photography over a month before its debut. Hard Knocks cranks out episodes a mere week after shooting.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Some of the content is shot on film. For those that understand the difference between the chemical process of film and the any-idiot-can-operate-a-video-camera system then right about now your jaw should be hitting the floor. Video is a fantastic medium but it is highly limited when compared to the look and quality of film. Not to mention most reality video shoots are planned out about as much as W’s exit strategy from Iraq while film takes meticulous calculation and preparation.
Then there is the content itself. Since its NFL Films were talking about the producers of Hard Knocks know exactly what they’re looking for and how to get it. They are intimately familiar with every possible storyline and gain access to some very private moments the average NFL fan would otherwise never bear witness to.
Which is why this would not work for the Oakland Raiders.
Sure, there is plenty of drama in the East Bay that would keep viewers glued to their screen. Truth be told in every NFL locker room there is drama-o-plenty. I’m not so sure that the Dallas Cowboys are any more compelling than the Buffalo Bills when it comes to opening the doors for HBO’s crews.
This is not meant to insult Al Davis and his private business practices. Those that frequent JBB know I’m as harsh on Davis as anybody. However I have much respect for his desire to keep things in house as much as possible. I don’t need a Jerry Jones type figure in front of the camera every Sunday. Give me the product on the field and let the owner handle his business in the office.
Problem is you cannot allow the talent to dictate terms in the reality world. This makes for some truly dry and unimaginative television. The Raiders would be great TV if only they were to allow full access to Hard Knocks.
That’s not going to happen. We’re not going to get Hue Jackson calling David Ausberry into his office to let him know he’s got a place on the practice squad if no other team claims him for their 53-man. We won’t see Darren McFadden in the training room as he deals with nagging injuries. What we’ll get is an abbreviated glimpse into a world that is interesting on the surface yet captivating beneath.
Aside from the concerns of access, there is another factor involved here.
This is a franchise that has finally turned the corner. I’m not saying Super Bowls are on the way. What I mean is after 7 years of watching uninspired football where the likes of Javon Walker collected checks to sit and watch from the sideline, we’re finally at a point where every man in the Oakland locker room is playing with Raider pride.
Say what you will of Tom Cable but he really helped to remove a lot of the problems that have plagued the Raiders recently.
By allowing millionaires to become reality celebrities you can invite some unwanted elements into the locker room. Suddenly some undrafted rookie with a golden boy image and a heart warming story can steal the spotlight. Nothing wrong with that except since Hard Knocks has such a quick turnaround it can become easy for young players to become distracted during camp. Not the type of issue a coach needs to be dealing with in his first year at the helm.
All in all the Oakland Raiders would make for great subject matter. The problem is the marriage between HBO and Al Davis – like all of Al’s dealings – would be far too contentious. But that’s not a bad thing.
There is nothing that proves the HBO series has caused unnecessary drama in any of the NFL locker rooms those intrusive cameras have entered. Still I’d rather not risk it just when this franchise has found stable ground after being adrift at sea for seven years. Like Al Davis, I believe that the only true drama unfolds on Sundays. The rest is just filler for writers such as myself who are hungry to get our next football fix.