Hard Knock Life: Behind the scenes of HBO's documentary on Cowboys
Jerry Jones is media-friendly. This much is apparent as the Dallas Cowboys owner stands in the center of SkyBar, the infamously exclusive poolside lounge tucked away in the Mondrian hotel overlooking Hollywood. Jones has rented out the area for the evening for a media party, waving in beat writers that have been brought down from the team's training camp site an hour north in Oxnard. While scantily clad women and Hollywood high-rollers attempt to sweet talk their way past the velvet ropes, Jones is making scribes from the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram feel like A-listers, at least for an evening.
Jones has never shied away from allowing the media into his world and into his team. He was the first to allow cameras and microphones into the Cowboys draft room, doing so after he bought the team in 1989. He gave NFL Films an unprecedented, all-access view into the Cowboys tumultuous 1995 season for a week -- the same week they signed Deion Sanders away from the rival 49ers to a then-record $35 million contract -- for a made-for-television special called Six Days to Sunday. He had allowed the same unparalleled access to SI the previous season as the team attempted to win its third Super Bowl in a row with first-year head coach Barry Switzer. And the Cowboys were one of the first subjects of Hard Knocks, the training camp reality show produced by NFL Films and HBO, which is going on its fourth season after taking a five-year break following the Cowboys' first run with the series in 2002.
"We've always viewed visibility and exposure as an opportunity to build the Dallas Cowboys," said Jones, who agreed to do Hard Knocks after NFL Films COO Howard Katz pitched the idea to him aboard his private jet shortly after the Super Bowl. "That's the way we've always operated and we love that we're the first to have a camera in the draft room. Media access means visibility for the club and more avenues to reach our fans. That's why I love having training camp in California because we can get a lot of fans out here."
So accessible is Jones that his office in Room 213 at the Residence Inn Marriott, where the Cowboys are calling home during training camp, is located right behind the two production trailers for Hard Knocks. Not that the on-site crew of 25 NFL Films staffers isn't already keeping tabs on the Cowboys owner at all times with a camera affixed to the wall of his office and wiretaps monitoring all his phone calls.
"You don't notice it," said Jones of the cameras and microphones. "After the initial talk, the players don't even notice it. You don't even know it's there. I'm in there talking about players, stadium issues, by the end of the day I can't even remember what I talked about, but I'm sure it's colorful."
With the Cowboys as the show's subject, that was never going to be a problem. Jones, however, is still like an eager screenwriter trying to sell a script as he talks about the wealth of storylines surrounding the team this season.
"Right off the bat, Pacman Jones, who's here under suspension to be reviewed, now think about that drama, he comes up to Terrell Owens every play and he says, 'You're mine, I'm on you.' You can't script that. It has to happen naturally," said Jones. "We also got a guy named Tank Johnson who came to us under suspension five games into last season and he's turned out to be one of the most outstanding leaders you've ever seen. Now think about that picture. Here's Adam Jones, here's Tank Johnson, here's Terrell Owens, guys that may have had problems in the past becoming leaders. What a story."
The only problem with the Cowboys is there may be too many stories to tell on a team that had a record 13 Pro Bowlers last season and enters this season as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. As the show's director, Rob Gehring must decide which stories to focus on each day as he takes a look at the "big board" pasted on the wall of one of the production trailers. The wall is full of headshots of players, coaches, front office personnel and even media members, broken up into categories with blue tape and subcategories for those who are wired. There are also outside "characters" such as Mrs. Price, a die-hard Cowboys fan who attends every practice and game and was featured in episode two.
"We plan as much as we can, but without speaking about other reality shows I think this is a pure reality show. It's a documentary series," said Gehring, walking around the trailer and reviewing upcoming interviews. "This is real."