published Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Producer sheds light on HBO's Atlanta Falcons series 'Hard Knocks'

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) embraces Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after the second half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 16-10.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) embraces Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after the second half of an NFL preseason football game Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons won 16-10.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The second weekly installment of HBO's "Hard Knocks" will air at 10 tonight, with this year's series chronicling the Atlanta Falcons.

In last week's season premier, veteran receiver Harry Douglas revealed that he prefers women's deodorant, and rookie linebacker Jacques Smith was involved in multiple practice altercations. Smith played at Ooltewah High School and the University of Tennessee.

Ken Rodgers is the senior producer at NFL Films and has been the lead creative producer for "Hard Knocks" since 2007, when the Kansas City Chiefs were featured. He was a recent guest on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 The Zone.

Q: When does your pursuit of a team to chronicle begin each year, and how often typically will a team turn down the opportunity?

A: "I wish I could go into that, but that's something we try to keep private just because it's within the NFL family. I can say that the process starts as soon as the Super Bowl is over. We really think about which team would be an interesting mix as far as personalities and the big-picture storyline of what the team is trying to accomplish this year.

"Atlanta had everything we were looking for. The story this year was a story we tell our children, which is that it doesn't matter how you get knocked down but how you get back up. They are starting this process of getting back up from a 4-12 season."

Q: The first episode had a funny admission from Harry Douglas and a rookie linebacker from Chattanooga who got in several scuffles. Your cameras are going where most cameras can't, so what kind of feedback do you get from those kinds of scenes?

A: "You've just hit on two things that represent the spectrums of what make this show popular -- the small moments where you learn about the personalities of people, like Harry wearing women's deodorant, and the really dramatic moments that can happen when you have 90 guys fighting for 53 spots. Sometimes they are literally fighting for their spots. We get positive feedback on a lot of things, and it really goes from spectrum to spectrum.

"The power of the show isn't just the fights, because those are happening all over camps. The ability to show it the way we did and happening to have a microphone on him that day makes it one of those great moments, but you need the Harry Douglas moments as well."

Q: A couple of years ago in Miami, you had a scene in which receiver Chad Johnson had a domestic incident and was called into Joe Philbin's office, where he was released from the team. What was that moment like as a producer?

A: "We capture guys being cut, but someone as big as Chad being let go was a big moment, and it's the reason why we showed the whole thing. In the end, we think it's great for fans to see how professionally situations like that are approached by NFL coaches. There is a lot of talk about what a money-first business it is, but when you see how much these coaches care when they're cutting a player and how much they really don't want to do it -- they want to keep everyone who is there.

"To let someone go is one of the hardest things a coach has to do, and it's one of the hardest things that we present. It's no fun to see that happen, but the reality of that is where the drama of the show is created. The truth is that only 53 players will make the team, and that's the over-arching storyline of the five weeks."

Q: You featured Rex Ryan and the New York Jets in 2010. Has there been a really good personality that you've enjoyed most through the years?

A: "Rex is pretty hard to top, and I don't know that anyone has topped him. It's funny, because people will say, 'I don't know if this guy will be Rex.' Rex wasn't an act, and he wasn't playing to the cameras. Coach Ryan is just that way, and he's proven to be that way before and after 'Hard Knocks.'

"We tell the coaches and players on our show very quickly that we're not looking for them to do anything that they don't normally do."

Q: You also produced ESPN's 30-for-30 "Elway to Marino" chronicling the 1983 NFL draft's first round. What was that experience like?

A: "It was great. I'm 40 years old, so I was only 9 when the 1983 draft happened. I learned a lot, and it was great to discover a lot of side stories in that first round. One of those stories was Jim Kelly, and I don't think anyone has represented the toughness that is required to play football and really the toughness to live life sometimes like Jim Kelly has.

"He may be the toughest guy I've ever met."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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