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The series shows the personal and professional lives of the players, coaches and staff, including their family life, position battles, and even inside jokes and pranks. It particularly focuses on rookies' adjustments to playing in the NFL, usually with emphasis on the team's most recent top draft pick. It usually also chooses to focus on undrafted and journeyman players who are attempting to make the team.
The NFL and HBO have called Hard Knocks "the first sports-based reality series" in television history.
Despite the difficulty each year in finding a team willing to participate, NFL Films announced on July 18, 2013, that it had signed a "multiyear" contract extension with HBO to continue producing the show.
In October 2013 the NFL announced that, in the absence of a team volunteering to participate in Hard Knocks, the league could force a team to participate. Teams are exempt from being forced to participate in three circumstances: (1) they have appeared in the past ten years, (2) they have a first-year head coach, or (3) they reached the playoffs in either of the two preceding seasons.
The series returned on August 8, 2007, featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and their preparations for the 2007 season. It is the only season of the series not narrated by Liev Schreiber. Instead, actor and Chiefs fan Paul Rudd was the narrator.
Some of the issues covered in the 2007 Chiefs season include:
The Cincinnati Bengals season premiered on August 12, 2009. Its ratings were higher than any previous season of Hard Knocks, and it won two Sports Emmy Awards: one for Outstanding Edited Sports Series or Anthology, and one for Outstanding Post Produced Audio / Sound.
Some of the issues covered in the 2009 Bengals season include:
The antics and catchphrases of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (who is now Chad Johnson).
The development and maturation of wide receiver Chris Henry.
New York Jets (2010)
The New York Jets were chronicled in the series' sixth season. An official announcement was made on March 25, 2010, and HBO began airing it on August 11, 2010. It won the series' second consecutive Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Edited Sports Series or Anthology. The Jets declined another opportunity to appear in the series in 2011.
Some of the issues covered in the 2010 Jets season include:
The vocal coaching style of head coachRex Ryan, highlighted by several sound bites that became popular after the season, such as "That's being a jackass!" and "Let's go eat a goddamn snack!"
Hard Knocks: A Decade of NFL Training Camps (2011)
At the end of July 2011, NFL Films announced it would not be producing Hard Knocks for the 2011 season. No team wanted to commit to the series due to uncertainty with the NFL's labor situation. A retrospective on the series titled Hard Knocks: A Decade of NFL Training Camps was made featuring clips from every episode made to that point, and including comments looking back on the series from Brian Billick, Shannon Sharpe, Mike Westhoff, and others.
On April 7, 2020, it was announced that the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers have both volunteered to be featured for the 2020 season. This is the first time two teams are featured as both teams are set to play their inaugural seasons at the new SoFi Stadium.
Inside Training Camp: Jaguars Summer
In 2004, NFL Films produced a training camp documentary series, similar to Hard Knocks, that featured the Jacksonville Jaguars. Called Inside Training Camp: Jaguars Summer, it aired on the NFL Network, not HBO, and was narrated by frequent NFL Films narrator Robb Webb.
Some of the issues covered in this 2004 series include: