HBO is ready for some football and they’re turning to Dwayne Johnson to get their fix, giving the Pain and Gain star’s half-hour concept, Ballers, a series order. The show (which is unrelated to the LeBron James/Kevin Hart film of the same name) will be executive produced by Johnson, Mark Wahlberg (who produced Entourage), Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), Evan Reilly, Steve Levinson, Dany Garcia, and Hiram Garcia, and will center on a group of active and retired football players in Miami with Johnson set to star as one of the ex-players.
Lining up beside Johnson – who played college football before joining pro wrestling as The Rock – will be Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine), Omar Benson Miller (who played a football player in The Express), Troy Garity, and former college football players John David Washington (son of Denzel) and Donovan Carter.
Obviously, with that many former football players in the cast, on-field authenticity shouldn’t be a problem. But the question is, will that authenticity extend to the storylines, or will the show exercise a light touch when it comes to dealing with some of the controversial issues that have popped up around professional football over the years (like head injuries and locker room bullying)?
It’s also worth wondering if HBO would be comfortable with a show shining a light on football’s warts, considering the network has a relationship with the NFL thanks to the Hard Knocks documentary series.
Back in 2004, ESPN (which has a longstanding relationship with the NFL) pulled the plug on Playmakers, a drama series that took a hard look at the lives of pro football players. The reason? According to ESPN’s executive vice president Mark Shapiro, ESPN was “not in the business of antagonizing our partner.”
Could something similar happen with Ballers? It doesn’t seem terribly likely in that this is a different network – one whose focus is on scripted programming and not sports – at a different time with a different leadership team running the NFL, but still, the Playmakers situation is an interesting thing to recall as Ballers makes its way to the small screen.
Here’s another point to ponder: while critics and some fans will look for this show to be unflinching with regard to the aforementioned issues, Ballers is also going to likely be aimed at football fans, many of whom may not want to be constantly reminded about the consequences that can come from the game’s punishing physicality. That means that the show also can’t be perceived as being too negative or joyless.
Clearly, Ballers is going to have to walk a line between fiction and reality, showcasing both the good and the bad of a game that has a lot of support and a few dirty secrets. If done right, it could be quite a series. But if it veers to close to melodrama or sitcom-y hijinks, don’t be surprised if Ballers gets sacked.
Ballers doesn’t yet have a premiere date, but keep an eye on Screen Rant for any future news about the series.