Hard Knocks: Los Angeles will premiere August 11 at a moment of uncertainty about how COVID-19 will shape pro football, a contact sport where an NBA-style “bubble” of isolation is not possible.
Ratings-wise, the popularity of football has carried over to the NFL Films-produced Hard Knocks, whose last four seasons have averaged four million weekly viewers. The series, which premiered in 2001, has never previously focused on two teams at once.
The coronavirus pandemic is apt to be a major storyline, regardless of how much it is reflected in the show’s five episodes. The NFL has proceeded largely with business as usual, conducting its annual draft online in April and announcing that training camps would proceed this summer, albeit at local-area facilities. The Chargers camp is in Costa Mesa, while the Rams camp is in Oxnard, at the facility usually occupied by the Dallas Cowboys.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the nearly completed home of the Rams and Chargers, will be another major theme. Camera crews will head to southern California in the next few weeks to begin filming. While film and TV production has been allowed to resume and businesses have begun to reopen in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed concern about LA County’s recent increases in COVID-19 cases. While the NFL has not outlined specifics for the season, playing in front of no fans is a distinct possibility given medical experts’ warnings about the risks of transmission posed by a stadium like SoFi, which seats 70,000.
The finale of Hard Knocks is slated to air on Tuesday, September 8, two days before the scheduled start of the NFL season.
Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn appeared on Hard Knocks while playing for the New York Jets in 2010, and that season became a fan favorite.
“My biggest takeaway from that whole experience was that you get out of it what you put into it,” Lynn said in a press release. “There’s a reason that season was probably the most popular Hard Knocks ever. If you’re going to do a show, do it right. You can’t fake it. We didn’t have a problem providing access because we built a relationship with the crew. There was a mutual trust that exists to this day with those people, and many of them will actually be working on this year’s show. Broadcasting your internal business all over the world isn’t something you regularly want to do, but in a year with as many challenges as this one has had, I’m glad we can be part of bringing football back to the fans this summer.”
Yet one more intriguing potential plotline came out of left field Wednesday when Lynn became the first NFL coach to express interest in working out Colin Kaepernick. The 32-year-old player, who had quarterbacked the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, knelt during the playing of the national anthem before a 2016 game to protest racial injustice. That move incurred a backlash among owners and some fans, and Kaepernick has not played during the last three seasons.
Lynn said he would “probably” offer Kaepernick, 32, a chance to work out. “It’s not time to take a knee, it’s time to do something,” he told reporters on a video call. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in recent days has encouraged teams to give Kaepernick a chance to return, expressing contrition for the league’s handling of race in light of upheaval across the U.S. in recent weeks.
Sean McVay, the Rams’ head coach, has said the team is comfortable with its quarterback, Jared Goff. As to the show, he said Rams are “looking forward to having Hard Knocks in our camp this year,” adding that viewers will get an “unprecedented look at SoFi Stadium.”
Peter Nelson, EVP of HBO Sports, said the network’s 40-plus-year connection with NFL Films “consistently produces groundbreaking television programming. We are grateful to the Chargers and Rams organizations to be able to present the 2020 training camp experience.”
NFL Films senior executive Ross Ketover added that the decision to focus on two teams instead of one “brings us incredible pride and only heightens our excitement for the return of football.”