The Watchman: HBO's 'Hard Knocks' and Showtime's 'The Circus'

HBO's 'Hard Knocks'

HBO's 'Hard Knocks' (Image credit: HBO)

'Hard Knocks' Tackles Two on HBO

Hard Knocks: Los Angeles, HBO’s annual close-up of an NFL team prepping for the season, begins August 11. Unlike other years, this season focuses on two teams, the Chargers and the Rams. 

Hard Knocks opted for two teams because both want bragging rights in their new market. “There’s a built-in tension we found attractive from the get-go,” said Ken Rodgers, showrunner and supervising producer. 

There will be five episodes. Liev Schreiber narrates. 

Also unlike other years, there’s the pandemic issue to deal with. Camera crews set out for Los Angeles in mid-July, anticipating the start of practice. “It’s not completely clear when training camp will start,” Rodgers said. “But we’ll be ready when they are.”

Hard Knocks is aiming to produce what Rodgers calls “a historical document”— a league restarting amidst unique, and daunting, circumstances. 

The head coaches should emerge as star performers, offering their leadership in these trying times. Among players, Rodgers is keen to see Chargers safety Derwin James and Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey show sides of themselves that football fans don’t normally get to see. He said both players have “huge personalities, and even huger playmaking abilities on the field.”

No one knows what will happen with the new season. “Whatever happens to the football teams happens to Hard Knocks,” Rodgers said. 

Showtime's 'The Circus'

Showtime's 'The Circus' (Image credit: Scott Kirkland/Showtime)

‘The Circus’ Corrals Trump, and Biden, on Showtime 

Also offering fast-paced, hard-hitting action, The Circus is back on Showtime Aug. 16, airing Sundays through the election. John Heilemann, Alex Wagner and Mark McKinnon “take viewers behind the scenes as the Trump and Biden campaigns hurtle toward a historic Election Day in November,” said the network.

For the hosts, the feeling before this season premieres is a bit different than what it usually is days before kickoff. “We knew two years ago that this would be the most extraordinary, potentially the most important election of our lifetimes,” Wagner said, acknowledging the “deep cleave” across the country. 

There is plenty of political reporting on TV, but Wagner said The Circus’s “documentary verite” style sets it apart. “We do a completely different thing,” she said. “We’re very much out in the world. We’re sifting through the noise.”

Wagner is a special correspondent for CBS News and a contributing editor at The Atlantic. COVID-19 offers plenty of new challenges for the program, which shoots days before an episode airs. “Anybody in journalism is facing a really great challenge,” said Wagner. “Everyone’s figuring out a set of protocols that gives them opportunities to get out in the field.”

Getting into the Trump camp for reporters is always “complicated,” she said, and has been much more so in this challenging year. “We have every intention of following President Trump,” said Wagner, “in the most robust, unflinching way possible.” 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.