Talking post-Olympics TV with NPR: HBO's Hard Knocks, Starz' Boss and Discovery's Shark Week
There may be no tougher scene in sports TV.
Watching HBO's Hard Knocks Tuesday, viewers saw Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin give well-known wide receiver Chad Johnson his walking papers, not long after listing a string of offenses which included tweeting messages the coach didn't like from training camp, holding a profanity-laced press conference and getting arrested Saturday on charges of head-butting his wife.
But the more telling footage about Johnson -- who once called himself Chad Ochocinco -- came earlier in the episode, when HBO's cameras caught the wide receiver dropping the only pass thrown to him during Friday's game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnson rode the bench after that mistake; a sure sign that Philbin and his coaching staff were re-thinking the decision to bring on one of league's most outspoken players.
In any other situation, the public would have to guess at the internal dynamics of that decision. But HBO's series allowed every sports fan with a subscription to pull up a chair and sit ringside while Johnson completed his messy fall from grace -- a player whose outlandish ways were tolerated when he was successful, but much less attractive now that he struggles to lose defenders and has trouble catching passes.
Now the the Olympics have concluded, this is the kind of sports programming I'll be turning to for my fix of pathos and athleticism, pulling back the curtain on the NFL's hype and showmanship to reveal the punishing work required to compete in professional football.
I spent a little time Tuesday giving NPR my post-Olympics TV playlist; a roster which also includes TNT's Closer spinoff Major Crimes, Discovery's Shark Week shows, Starz's drama starring Kelsey Grammer as mayor of Chicago, Boss and FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.
Summertime is still where cable often shines, taking advantage of the lull in programming on network TV to brig strong shows. But the nation watches less TV in summer, when weather eases up in the north and most people take vacations, so even the cable industry is working harder to compete during the regular TV season, too.
That makes these few weeks between summer and fall a bit of a no man's land for television, except for some of the series I've listed here.
Check out the segment below and, of course, feel free to add your own picks in the comments.