Mark Sanchez

With the New York Jets, football's ultimate reality series found a team promising unrestricted access and story lines with all the makings of a smash hit.

"We're calling it 'Hard Knocks hits Broadway,'" says director Steve Trout of NFL Films. The sixth season of the HBO series (premiering tonight at 10/9c) follows the Super Bowl contenders through training camp to whittle 85 players down to a 53-man roster. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is "the second coming of Joe Namath — out to prove his rookie year wasn't a fluke," Trout says, and the Jets have made high-profile off-season additions like running back LaDainian Tomlinson and NFL active sacks leader Jason Taylor. And then there's the coach, outsized personality Rex Ryan.

After last year's Hard Knocks team, the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, went from a losing record to the playoffs, franchises were open to a blitz from the Emmy-winning show (which shoots about 200 hours of film for each of the five one-hour episodes). Trout says teams no longer view it as a distraction.

"The intensity is higher," he explains, "because the cameras are there." In fact, they're everywhere. Because it's HBO, they don't have to cut bad language. "If you had to PG-13 the show, then it's not real," Trout adds. "This is a genuine look at the NFL."

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