More Than Ever, It’s A Hard Knocks Life For Max

This little item about another upcoming show hit the trade presses Monday afternoon, this iteration courtesy of CBS PITTSBURGH’s Garrett Behanna:

The Pittsburgh Steelers, with the other three teams in the AFC North, will be featured during the in-season edition of “Hard Knocks.” NFL insider Field Yates shared the news on X Monday afternoon.

The series will debut on Dec. 3, 2024, premiering at 9 p.m. ET. This will be the Steelers’ first appearance on the sports reality series, with the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens all previously appearing on the show during its 23-year run. The official release from NFL Films provides a reminder that three NFC North teams also have previous “Hard Knocks” history. The Ravens were the first team to be featured on the show in 2001. The Bengals appeared twice, in 2009 and 2013. And the Browns got the training camp showcase in 2018. For the Steelers, this will be their debut.

Before I reresd the key word “in-season” , I got a tremendous sense of deja vu.  Because it was just days ago that an annoucnement about the New Yotk Giants’ participation in a HARD KNOCKS series hit many of the same trades.  That’s the one that will be airing in July and will cover the “off-season”, including the OTAs that are being held this month.  And that was on the heels of the news that broke last month between the NFL draft and upfront presentatons that the mothership August-September arc that ha been a staple of HBO summers since 2001 will feature top draft Caleb Williams and the Chicago Bears.

One can almost forgive the braintrust as Warner Brothers Discovery for tripling down in his day and age.  Brand extensions are all the rage in both media and packaged goods.  David Zaslav was part of NBC Universal when multiple iterations of THE REAL HOUSEWIVES were developed, and ran Discovery during an era whne whole networks were being introduced with the word Discovery in front of it.  Discovery Family, Discovery Health and Leisure, Discovery En Espanol, to name a few.

And a quick lookback at how last summer’s version worked in Season 23 gave as much justification as many feel is necessary these days, as AWFUL ANNOUNCING’s Joe Lucia reported in September 2023:

Despite a lack of teams willing to participate on Hard Knocks, viewership on HBO hit a mark not seen in over a decade for this season with the New York Jets.

Per a release from Warner Bros. Discovery, Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets averaged 4.4 million viewers for each of its five episodes. That’s good for the most-watched season of Hard Knocks since 2010, which also featured the Jets.

No Jets anywhere among the six teams who will ultimately be profiled across what will now be a minimum of 15 episodes (the AFC North version is being left open-ended, depending upon how much progress any of their teams make in the playoffs, which begin in mid-January.)

That should give some of the more excited folks on Zaslav’s team some pause.  As should this reaction out of Pittsburgh from USA TODAY’s Curt Popejoy:

I am not a conspiracy theory guy but sometimes things just don’t add up. The match doesn’t always math. When the NFL released the regular-season schedule, we were puzzled about why the league decided to backload the schedule so much.

The Steelers play all six of their AFC North division games in the final eight with showdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles thrown in for good measure.

In fairness, that sort of musing falls into the “things that make you go hmmmmm” mode.  On the other hand, the reaction that accompanied last week’s announcement about the Giants’ participation to fill that crucial New York market void is a lot more sobering.  Per SB NATION’s Ed Valentine:

NFL fans don’t appear to be excited about the upcoming offseason version of ‘Hard Knocks’ that will feature the New York Giants.

According to a national ‘SB Nation Reacts’ survey, only 26% of respondents plan to watch the HBO series next month.

You might think that is because of lack of interest in the Giants, a team that went 6-11 last season and has won one playoff game since 2012. Really, though, it might be ‘Hard Knocks’ fatigue.

The ‘Reacts’ survey found that a majority of respondents believe there are too many versions of the HBO series.

Packaged goods brands develop spin-offs to satisfy different tastes and to capitalize on maximizing how pre-existing ingredients can be combined in different wats.  Chocolate flavored Cheerios use the same flavoring that are used in Cocoa Puffs.  Burger King takes the sauces offered with their salads and nuggets and now smothers their Tiny Tacos in them.  There’s practically a different Lays Potato Chips or Oreo flavor introduced every month.  There’s clearly a demand in those cases.  Not so much for a show that has sustained over time by being precious and seasonal, not ubiquitous and redundant.

But around MAX these days, they need something to bring down the overall cost and improve Zaslav’s self-professed bottom line goal.  The new season of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON premiered Sunday, and even their own spin doctors can’t quite get media to agree on whether or not it worked or not.  DEADLINE’s Katie Campione reported this take yesterday:

The second season debuted on Sunday night, tallying 7.8M viewers across linear and streaming platforms, according to Warner Bros. Discovery. That’s a bit of a hit to the franchise, considering the Season 1 premiere drew about 10M viewers in its debut night.  Samba TV data also showed a dramatic drop in viewership versus Season 1, reporting that 1.3M U.S. households watched the Season 2 premiere episode across HBO and Max. That’s compared to the 2.6M that tuned in for the Season 1 premiere.

But THE WRAP’s Loree Seitz apparently paid more attention to the spiel eminating from Burbank:
“House of the Dragon” Season 2 kicked off to a promising start.  The debut led Max to bring in its largest single-day audience to date, with anticipation for the new season also boosting viewership for the inaugural season of “House of the Dragon.” It tallied 1 million viewers in the week leading up to the Season 2 drop, marking the show’s biggest audience in over 19 months, when it first premiered.
Maybe that sort of mixed messaging is a huge reason why the other big news eminating from Camp Zas had to do with the naming of a new chief surgeon of spin, as VARIETY’s Michaela Zee reported yesterday:

Warner Bros. Discovery is set to name Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary to former President Barack Obama, as its new communications chief, Variety has confirmed. The company is expected to make the announcement official on Monday, and is believed to have already informed WBD chief David Zaslav’s direct reports with the news.

And not a moment too soon.  Forget that silly little CNN debate coming up a week from tomorrow night.  Gibbs will need to find some way to make Season 2, Episode 2 of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON sound strong enough to justify its just-announced Season 3 renewal, if only to placate the investment community that will determine how much richer his new boss will get from these efforts.   One thing’s for sure: it costs a LOT less to follow some real-world creatures like Bears, Bengals and Giants around than to create the worlds where dragons proliferate.

Can’t wait to see how this all unfolds, or how WBD plans to convince those 78% of nay-sayers to change their minds.

One can only hope the answer isn’t THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF GREEN BAY.

Until next time…

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