Some reality shows clearly stretch the traditional definition of reality (hello, Bachelor Pad!). HBO's outstanding Hard Knocks series is a reality show that trends much closer to a straight up documentary: the cameras are everywhere throughout training camp for an NFL team.
Recently, I considered that Hard Knocks is so good and compelling that you almost forget that it's about a real football team that is about to embark upon the grueling journey of an NFL regular season. That is, the drama of the show – in this season's case following the New York Jets and their pursuit of a Super Bowl after making it to the AFC Championship Game last year – is so absorbing that it nearly creates the illusion that it's a self-contained drama, apart from the reality of… real life.
Confused yet? Well, all of this was sort of brought home to me when I read about star quarterback Mark Sanchez' recent decision to keep his media availability to distinct minimum from here on out.
Hard Knocks has done a great job in showcasing Sanchez as an ordinary guy who is expected to perform extraordinary feats on the gridiron. We see Sanchez spacing out occasionally during meetings (and keep in mind these guys are on the go from dawn until dusk), goofing off once in a while, playing pranks. I particularly loved the bit where he imitates the loping manner in which one of the team's lineman jogs off the field during practice.
It's entertaining stuff, but the problem for Sanchez and the Jets is that he's a star quarterback on an elite NFL team that is subject to the insatiable and nearly ridiculous scrutiny of the New York City media machine. So while there's intense interest in Sanchez for football fans, and while Hard Knocks holds value for sports fans and non-sports fans alike, in a sense he's not "allowed" to be a real guy (to abuse the word "real" one last time) and is pretty well justified in shutting down his availability to the media for awhile.
After all, unlike "reality stars" like The Situation or Jake Pavelka, Sanchez has a real job to perform after the reality show cameras shut down.