For NFL Films and HBO, an in-season series of "Hard Knocks" was always the "holy grail," NFL Films feature producer Emily Leitner said on this week's edition of the Colts Official Podcast. But it's not just that Hard Knocks will go behind the scenes during an NFL season for the first time, with the season premiere airing at 10 p.m. E.T. Wednesday on HBO and HBO Max.
It's that this Hard Knocks journey is with the Colts, a team Leitner and her NFL Films counterparts are thrilled to highlight in the coming weeks.
"What I really love about working on this show and bringing it in to the season is how we get to humanize these guys as you see them under their helmets," Leitner said. "But hopefully if we do our jobs right you get to see more than that and get to know them and their families off the field. ... I'll say that's something I've noticed in the in the season is this team has a lot of family vibes and that culture here is really, really cool and special and something to showcase."
Subscribe to the Colts Audio Network and download this week's episode of the Colts Official Podcast for the full interview with Emily Leitner and analysis from Jeffrey Gorman, Larra Overton, JJ Stankevitz and guest Joe Reitz on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Previous seasons of Hard Knocks would follow a team's journey through training camp, often highlighting stories of specific players trying to make that team's roster. But with this edition being in-season, fans can expect to see Hard Knocks follow different kinds of storylines – ones focused on games and the affect winning and losing has on players, coaches, staff and their families.
"What's nice about in the season is now, it changes to everyone who has a job – every week they're fighting to win to keep that job because winning affects everyone," Leitner said. "It affects their families, it affects their teammates, it affects the organization. So you can kind of shift the focus to everyone who's starting on Sundays, as opposed to a training camp. Not a lot of those guys are playing in the games. A lot of the guys who are playing are fighting for jobs, so it's kind of just a little different focus on the perspective.
"It's still the story of making it into the NFL. But I would say it's part two of the journey where it's these guys every Sunday."
There's a famous quote from the late Steve Sabol, who described editing and producing an episode of Hard Knocks as "building an airplane in flight." The turnaround time from a Colts game on Sunday to the episode airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET is incredibly fast for such an immersive show, but Leitner said the workflow within not only NFL Films but with the Colts – she cited Colts Communications' Matt Conti and Christian Edwards as being incredibly helpful – allows for high-quality storytelling in such a tight window.
And as for some of those storytelling elements fans can expect to see?
"Carson Wentz and his family have been really wonderful and I'm hoping that everyone gets to see a different side of them," Leitner said. "They've really opened up to us, which has been awesome and lovely and I've been loving the the Buckner family as well are ones that I've really enjoyed getting to know. And then coach Reich, Frank has been really really awesome."
The season premiere of "Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts" airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.