HBO series to profile Cowboys

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2008

By Jaime Aron
Associated Press
IRVING, Texas ó T.O. and maybe Pacman, Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson and, of course, smiling billionaire Jerry Jones. Put íem all together in a hotel an hour outside Los Angeles and you could have quite a soap opera.
Or, HBO predicts, one heck of a reality series.
The cable network is bringing its iHard Knocksî franchise back to Cowboys training camp this summer, and HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg already is predicting best-ever ratings for his five-show series. Even with the Olympics as competition, heís confident his weekly program will be overflowing with juicy story lines ó with his cameras getting exclusive behind-the-scenes access.
iItís fair to say this thing should go through the roof,î Greenburg said Wednesday.
Greenburg opened a news conference by joking about going to Cabo San Lucas or wherever else is necessary to tell the full story. It was an obvious reference to the getaway trip Romo and Simpson made during the bye a week before Dallasí playoff game in January, a vacation that didnít sit well with fans, especially after the Cowboys were upset by the New York Giants.
But Greenburg later said ithis is not the E! television network,î and insisted the obvious headliners will only get air time if they earn it.
iI swear to you itís not going to be the Pacman Jones or the T.O. or the Tony Romo story. It just wonít,î Greenburg said. iThey will be part of a team and part of the story, but they wonít be the center of it all. I just know that for a fact. The drama develops on its own. Unless the drama surrounds Tony and T.O. and others, itís just not going to happen. …
iThereís nothing like following that rookie trying to make the team. Theyíre still wearing that star and theyíre trying to become a teammate of T.O. and Tony Romo, which is probably their dream. Thatís great television also.î
Expect Terrell Owens to earn his share of time.
iIf the cameras are going to be there, Iíve got to be ready,î Owens said Wednesday during an interview to promote his appearance next week on MyNetworkTVís iUnder One Roof.î
iItís going to be an experience initially, but once you get into practice and two-a-days, guys are going to be too tired to focus on whatís being taped. Itís not really any different than playing in front of people in the stadium, game being televised. Itís no different than our practices being taped. Itís just more up close and personal. You get all the good, bad and ugly, the sweat, bumps, bruises and tears. Other than that, itíll be good.î
Training camp will be held in Oxnard, Calif., with preseason games in San Diego and Denver before returning to team headquarters.
The last time the Cowboys were in Oxnard, Owens missed workouts with a hamstring injury that some considered a ploy to annoy coach Bill Parcells. Owens spent so much time riding a stationary bicycle that one day he came out dressed for the Tour de France. Greenburg would love for something like that to happen again.
iWeíll be on the inside telling the story out,î he said. iWeíre giving the part the media canít see.î
Some second-tier stories that could develop include the relationship between coach Wade Phillips and his widely presumed successor, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and the plight of undrafted rookie Marcus Dixon, who was once featured on HBOís iReal Sportsî show after being sentenced to 10 years in jail for statutory rape and aggravated child molestation for having sex with a 15-year-old classmate.
No wonder Greenburg left open the possibility of stretching beyond the allotted 60 minutes.
iIíve taken documentaries from 60 minutes to 90 on the fly,î he said. iItís how long the show works, grabs you. Thatís what we like to do.î
This is the fourth edition of iHard Knocks,î and the second to include the Cowboys.
Cameras were rolling in 2002, depicting a ragtag bunch that was coming off a 5-11 season and would go 5-11 again. Parcells arrived after that, and itís probably no coincidence that the franchise and the networks didnít hook up again.
Steve Sabol of NFL Films asked Jones about a return engagement during league meetings. He didnít have to wait long for an enthusiastic yes.
Jones loves pushing the Cowboys brand, working to keep the star logo among the most identifiable in all of sports. Five straight one-hour episodes every Wednesday from Aug. 6 to Sept. 3 is terrific free advertising for iAmericaís Team,î especially with all the repeat showings and on-demand offerings. (The only surprise might be that itís on HBO instead of the NFL Network, of which Jones is the chairman.)
Being featured on iHard Knocksî isnít necessarily great for the players and coaches who will be under the watchful eye of four cameras at every practice, plus surveillance-like cameras monitoring meeting rooms and other typically off-limits areas. Four players per day will wear wireless microphones during practice, with as many as 12 wearing them in preseason games.
Only one of the three teams profiled so far has made the playoffs ó the 2001 Baltimore Ravens, who went from Super Bowl champions to 10-6 wild-card team. After the Cowboys in í02, the series was dormant until last summer, when the Kansas City Chiefs allowed their training camp to get the iHard Knocksî treatment. They went 4-12, tying for the third-worst record in the NFL.
iThatís why weíve got skin this thick,î Jones said, holding his hands about a foot apart. iThatís part of playing for the Dallas Cowboys. … I donít think itís a minus at all.î