CINCINNATI – HBO and NFL Films have chosen one of the least successful and most dysfunctional teams of the past 18 years for its next “Hard Knocks” training camp series.
“We just think there’s an interesting mix of personalities,” NFL Films president Steve Sabol said Thursday.
It will be very personality-driven, given the team’s lack of success and national profile. The Bengals (4-11-1) were so uninteresting to the NFL’s schedule makers that they got no prime-time games this season.
HBO wasn’t put off. Even though the Bengals have had only one winning record since 1991, they could provide some interesting subplots for the five-episode program that begins Aug. 12 and airs each week:
• Will camera-shy owner Mike Brown let down his guard and provide glimpse of how he runs the team?
• Will HBO have to change the name of the program from “Hard Knocks” to “Chad Talks … And Talks … And Talks… “?
• Can coach Marvin Lewis use the exposure to resurrect the Bengals’ image?
“Your exposure is based on you being successful,” Lewis said. “If you’re not successful, you get no exposure.”
Lewis was the point man in getting the Bengals a few rare hours in the cable TV schedule. NFL Films had approached him about doing “Hard Knocks” in the past, but he turned it down because he didn’t think his team was mature enough to handle it.
Now, he thinks it can.
The Bengals went through a stretch of 10 players arrested during a 14-month span from April 2006 to June 2007. They’ve weeded out most of the offenders, though Brown decided to bring back receiver Chris Henry after his fifth arrest. Henry has one more year left on his contract, and could be one of the players followed during camp.
The HBO appearance could help to change the Bengals’ national profile, provided the players stay out of trouble.
“Once we’re broadcasting to 50 states and 30 million subscribers have access to this, the Cincinnati Bengals will take on a more national scope,” HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said. “We’ve seen that.”
The program first aired in 2001 and featured the Baltimore Ravens, who were coming off their Super Bowl season. Lewis was the defensive coordinator.
“Hard Knocks” followed the Dallas Cowboys in 2002, was gone for five years, then returned with Kansas City’s training camp in 2007. It returned to Dallas last year, where receiver Terrell Owens got much of the camera time.
NFL Films can count on spending time with another flamboyant receiver, although it will be interesting to see what Chad Ocho Cinco does in the spotlight. After failing to get the team to trade him last year, he kept a low profile during the season – a pleasing development to Lewis.
Now, his love of the spotlight will be tested.
“Ocho Cinco will be in this show, don’t worry about that,” Greenburg said.
Brown’s role will be perhaps the most interesting. “Hard Knocks” puts cameras and microphones in meeting rooms to watch how team executives make decisions on players.
Brown runs the team and functions as its de facto general manager, making all the important decisions during the last 18 years. He also shies away from the media, especially television cameras. He agreed to let the team participate in the HBO show, but Brown didn’t attend a news conference on Thursday announcing it.
“That’s something we’ll learn in the first week, how involved Mike is,” Sabol said. “And to whatever extent, he’ll be covered.”
Lewis, who has two years left on his contract, will be a focal point. Greenburg compared him to a movie star – two movie stars, no less – when describing what interests him about the Bengals.
“You’ve got Mike Brown, Paul Brown’s son, a franchise that’s rooted in the history of the NFL,” Greenburg said. “You’ve got a Denzel Washington-slash-Tom Hanks leader for this football team, who’s charismatic and I think gives us the presence that we need at the top.”
Lewis barely cracked a smile over the remark.
“There’s a story to tell here,” Greenburg said.

Comments are no longer available on this story