Over the past few years, ESPN's "30 for 30" series has turned the Worldwide Leader into the premier producer of high-profile sports documentaries. HBO, which used to carry that crown, will continue its documentary rebranding on Nov. 18 with the return of its "State of Play" series.
Debuted in 2013, "State of Play" takes a look at macro trends within the world of sports and examines their cultural impact. The series, developed and produced by Peter Berg of Friday Night Lights fame, opened with an examination of youth sports and parenting called Trophy Kids, which earned largely positive reviews from critics.
Berg spoke with Bleacher Report about the series at a special screening:
“State of Play launched with an exceptional ‘Trophy Kids’ presentation last December, and we are eager for HBO subscribers to watch this intriguing and engaging new collection of films from Peter Berg and his talented producers,” HBO Sports president Ken Hershman said in a statement. “Peter and his team dig deep for compelling stories that are contemporary, strike a chord and spark discussion.”
The continuation of the series will examine four topics, starting with Happiness on Nov. 18, which will follow former NFL stars Brett Favre, Tiki Barber and Wayne Chrebet in their post-football lives. According to an HBO press release, the film will examine the four scientific components of happiness and apply them to the lives of Favre, Barber and Chrebet.
|State of Play Schedule|
|Happiness||Nov. 18||10 p.m.|
|Broken||Nov. 25||10 p.m.|
|Culture Shock||Dec. 2||10 p.m.|
|First Ladies||Dec. 9||10 p.m.|
The film also interviews numerous former players who have already gone through the transition, including Fox analysts Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw and Michael Strahan. Strahan, whose entertainment company helped produce Happiness alongside Berg, will be apart of a roundtable discussion with the director and experts in psychology.
Roundtable discussions are a staple of each documentary, each featuring Berg and a mix of documentary subjects and others within the community. Broken, which premieres Nov. 25, covers the story of former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed while making a tackle in a 2010 game against Army.
LeGrand's recovery is well-trodden territory. He's been the subject of numerous television features and well-ingrained within the football culture, as Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (under former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano) have made him a regular fixture.
Not as well-covered, though, is mountain biker Steve Shope, who was also paralyzed following his dream. Broken follows LeGrand and Shope as they learn to live with their physical limitations. Shope's story in particular should do what the best "30 for 30s" do—contextualize a story that few have heard of. Since being paralyzed, Shope's Trail to Recovery fund has been the go-to place to learn his story.
The final two documentaries, Culture Shock and First Ladies, cover well-trodden territory. But it's also territory where some of the best possible depth can be mined.
Culture Shock takes a look at arguably the most vexing question in sports today: safety in football. Berg examines how the NFL is making internal changes to make its game safer and also covers the issue from a player's perspective—even going behind the scenes with the NFLPA.
Because of the proliferation of concussion/safety-based football programming, it will be interesting to see if Culture Shock can expose any new information. Most of the focus within the reporting realm, most notably with ESPN's Outside the Lines and PBS' League of Denial, has been on the past. If Berg is able to keep the lens focused on the future—while acknowledging the excellent work that's already been done in the concussion field—it might open a discussion of what football will look like in a decade.
First Ladies examines an aspect of athletics that's most universal, the balance between home life and work. Following the lives of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his wife, Kiya, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick and his wife, DeLana, and Steele High School football coach Scott Lenhoff and his wife, Megan, First Ladies aims to expose the dynamic that often goes on behind the scenes.
Anyone who followed Friday Night Lights, which was run by Jason Katims but was produced by Berg, knows his bona fides examining the family dynamic. I'm yet to see First Ladies, but it would be a surprise if Mr. and Mrs. Lenhoff don't evoke strong memories of Mr. and Mrs. Taylor.
At the very least, it will be interesting to see a macro issue that every family deals with filtered through those three specific lenses. We'll have to wait for Tuesday to see how it plays out.
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