The Cowboys aren't just getting Dak Prescott back in 2021. They're also getting training camp's biggest spotlight. Thirteen years after last appearing on "Hard Knocks," HBO Sports' annual summer series, "America's Team" will return to TV this August as the featured franchise of the 2021 season. Debuting Tuesday, Aug. 10, at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max, "Hard Knocks: The Dallas Cowboys" will feature five hour-long episodes offering an "unfiltered all-access look" at the Cowboys' Oxnard, California, training camp.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the show's 2001 kickoff, this year's season will again run every Tuesday night, starting Aug. 10 and culminating in a Sept. 7 season finale, with encore showings on Wednesday nights. It marks the third time Dallas has been featured on the show, with the Cowboys previously appearing in 2002 and 2008.
"I can say that there were a few teams that were in deep discussions, both on the list and off the list," Ken Rodgers, NFL Films VP, tells CBS Sports. "In the end, it's like a calculus. It really becomes a three-way partnership between the team, HBO and NFL Films. And the Cowboys felt like the right team this year. And certainly Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were excited to do it, because Mr. Jones is on the forefront of the league's effort to get us back on the field. What better way to rebound from America's tough 2020? America had a tough 2020, America's game had a tough 2020, and America's Team had a tough 2020, so it only feels right that we feature the Cowboys, who are representative of all of us in trying to make a better 2021."
"The Cowboys are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history and a team that elicits strong reactions from fans around the world," Rodgers added in a statement. "Tens of millions of fans love them, but just as many people love to hate them. Either way, when the Cowboys show up, people watch, which makes them perfect for 'Hard Knocks.' This year, their high-profile status as 'America's Team' is paired with uniquely interesting storylines. We can't thank Mr. (Jerry) Jones and Coach (Mike) McCarthy enough for letting us tell the story behind what we hope is the beginning of an exciting year in Dallas."
A 30-person NFL Films camera crew will begin filming at Cowboys camp in Oxnard in the coming weeks, while Liev Schreiber will return as the series narrator for a 15th season. An NFL statement indicates the crew will compile more than 1,750 hours of footage over the course of the season, with camera and sound crews getting "unencumbered access to players' and coaches' meeting rooms, training rooms, living quarters and practice fields."
Ken Rodgers tells CBS Sports this year's show will feature some new camera styles and lenses, including super-slow-mo and shots to bring the audience "closer and slower to the players."
"We've spent so much time far away from each other," he says. "We wanna get in close and we wanna stay close, and really let you live close to the players."
Dallas is coming off a 6-10 finish in its first year under Mike McCarthy, looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Besides Prescott, an early 2020 MVP candidate prior to an ankle injury, the Cowboys have a host of big names on one of the NFL's top offenses, from Ezekiel Elliott to Amari Cooper to CeeDee Lamb, not to mention one of the game's most marketable owners in Jerry Jones.
"Hard Knocks" has compiled 18 Sports Emmy Awards since its debut as the NFL's first serialized reality show, most recently documenting the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams during their pandemic-affected training camp of 2020. Notable featured teams of late include the 2018 Browns, who had just drafted Baker Mayfield coming off an 0-16 season; and 2019 Raiders, who were preparing for their final season in Oakland before relocating to Las Vegas.
Four other teams were eligible to appear on this year's edition of "Hard Knocks": the Broncos, Cardinals, Giants and Panthers. Since 2014, teams are not required to be candidates for "Hard Knocks" if they 1.) have a first-year head coach, 2.) have made the playoffs in the last two seasons, or 3.) have appeared on the show in the past 10 years. Teams are, however, allowed to volunteer for the show, as some speculated the 2021 Jaguars might.
"In reality," Rodgers says, "we talk to them all, because at some point we're going to have every team in the NFL on 'Hard Knocks.' It's just a matter of when."