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Original Issue

Not-So-Hard Knockoffs

It's a good thing the Dolphins finally agreed last week to be featured on Hard Knocks, the HBO documentary series that follows an NFL team through training camp. The Falcons, Broncos and Jets all reportedly turned down invitations to participate, and it was beginning to look as if the show's producers couldn't get a Pop Warner club to return their calls.

Why such resistance? A Hard Knocks appearance can either draw attention to a team that needs it or rehabilitate the image of one that's getting the wrong kind of pub. In fact HBO ought to be considering building out the franchise, like Law & Order and CSI. It's easy to conceive provocative and successful Hard Knocks knockoffs:

Hard Knocks, Criminal Intent We go behind the scenes of the Roger Clemens perjury trial, which hinges on whether it was vitamin B-12 or a steroid that Brian McNamee, his former trainer, injected into the pitcher's derriere. In the courtroom, lawyers and witnesses use the term booty shot ad nauseam, but fortunately for the viewing audience the phrase is often drowned out by the snoring of jury members. The breakout star of the series is defense attorney Rusty Hardin, the folksy, publicity-hungry Texan who inadvertently causes a stir when he announces to the press that the verdict is in. "No, no—not that verdict," he says when reporters surround him. "After lengthy deliberations HBO has decided that Billy Bob Thornton will play me in the movie."

Hard RockersAmerican Idol host Ryan Seacrest, who will be a part of NBC's Summer Olympics coverage, helps boost the ratings for the Games by allowing cameras to follow him and a pair of his Idol colleagues in London. In a poignant scene Steven Tyler and the British synchronized swimming team bond when they discover that they use the same cosmetic products. Fellow Idol judge Randy Jackson tries his hand at a different kind of judging, in women's gymnastics. Jackson disregards the system of points and deductions and offers assessments instead. "I don't know, Dawg, that floor routine was just kinda O.K. to me," he tells a 16-year-old Romanian. "I kept waiting for you to have a moment, you know what I'm sayin'?"

Hard Knicks Owner James Dolan, stung by media and fan criticism for not pursuing Phil Jackson to be the team's coach, allows a camera crew to accompany him to a secret meeting with the Zen Master at Jackson's ranch on Flathead Lake, Mont. Dolan is prepared to hire him as the team president but changes his mind when he finds that Jackson has delved even more deeply into alternative motivational philosophies during his year away from the NBA. To drive out the "aura of negativity" in Madison Square Garden, Jackson recommends burning sage during the games, and he suggests replacing the booming pop and hip-hop music during timeouts with the more soothing melodies of the Peruvian pan flute. His plans for getting Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire to play more cohesively include having them spend the off-season doing a holistic cleanse together. Dolan is seen heading back to his private plane just as Jackson is beginning to explain why he thinks the Knicks would play better in Birkenstocks.

Hard Knocks SPU (Special Playoff Unit) HBO initially passes on doing a cinema verité look at conference commissioners hammering out the details of the long-awaited college football playoff. The cable-network honchos believe the series would simply be men in suits sitting around a table and arguing about sports, and that, as one TV insider points out, sums up ESPN's entire morning and afternoon programming. But the show proves to be surprisingly compelling as the conference heads passionately debate, as though the fate of the free world hung in the balance, whether the playoff should consist of four league champions or three champs plus a wild card. In the final episode the impasse is resolved in favor of the three-and-one model when everyone realizes that because of all the conference realignment, no one is quite sure which teams are in which leagues. "Shoot, by the time we get around to putting this playoff thing into practice, Alabama might be in the Pac-16," says one SEC executive.

Hard Luck In an effort to permanently quash the suspicions that the NBA draft lottery is rigged, commissioner David Stern allows unprecedented television access to the process from beginning to end. Cameras follow him backstage before the drawing as he explains the complex measures that are taken to make "fixing" the lottery all but impossible. But the show does little to satisfy dogged conspiracy theorists, who scrutinize the video and focus on Stern as he brushes the bridge of his nose. "That's obviously the sign that something shady is going on," writes one blogger. "Haven't you seen The Sting?" In the following episode Stern is exasperated at the continued suspicion. "Saying the lottery is rigged is about as preposterous as saying our referees are biased," he says to the camera. "Wait, can we edit that last part out?"

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