NFL Network to Expand to 31 Hours of Original Programming

Colts Patriots Win Tom Brady - H 2014
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Colts Patriots Win Tom Brady - H 2014

The season's first new series premieres Sept. 17.

NFL Network is adding two more original series to its lineup plus a one-hour special, giving it 31 hours of unscripted and documentary programming this upcoming season, more than ever before and marking a 10-fold increase over the past five years.

The first new series, with a working title of Northern Lights, premieres Sept. 17 and follows the Barrow High School Whalers, who attend school – and play football — at the northernmost point in the U.S.

The school is so secluded that the team must fly at least 500 miles for every away game, while home games are played on a blue, turf field on a narrow strip of land between the Arctic Ocean and a frozen lagoon.

The eight-episode series comes from Leftfield Pictures, the company behind reality shows like Pawn Stars and American Restoration.

"They pitched it, and it struck a chord in several departments, because it's a positive portrayal of youth," said NFL Media vp of programming Ron Semiao. "We'd like to see this as a series lasting several years, following teams in other towns and even revisiting the Whalers."

Another new series is likened to the Emmy-nominated A Football Life, which will return for a fifth season on Sept. 18. While NFL Network won't announce the new show until October, insiders say it will profile teams, events and topics in six one-hour episodes, similar to how A Football Life profiles individuals.

Players and coaches profiled this year on A Football Life will include Jerome BettisDick VermeilTerrell Owens and Mike Singletary.

As for the new one-hour special this season, it's called Do Your Job: Bill Belichick and the 2014 Patriots, and it will explore the bumpy road taken by last year's Super Bowl-winning team, including rare interviews with Coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft. A trailer below features a discussion about the game-winning defensive play called when the Seattle Seahawks were at the goal line near the end of Super Bowl XLIX.

Do Your Job also could be an annual event with whichever team wins the prior year's Super Bowl. 

"I don't know if Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy would be as interesting as Belichick, but it could be cool," joked Semiao. "You never know. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own."

NFL Network has been steadily beefing up its original programming, with three hours in 2010 followed by 10 hours the next year and 24 hours in 2014. In recent focus groups, NFL fans said they liked the original shows — when they were exposed to them.

"We were surprised how many people didn't know we offered this kind of programming," Semiao said. "It's all about better serving our fans. We saw the success with A Football Life and have dipped our toe in more. There's no magic number of original hours we have in mind."

One show from last year about scouting for the New York Giants, called Finding Giants, won't be returning. "Football scouts do a lot of driving and drink a lot of coffee. It was like Seinfeld, a show about nothing — but interesting," quipped Semiao.

The network's most viewed original show recently has been Undrafted, with an average viewership of 1.2 million. As part of an eight-game pact with CBS, the show about undrafted former college standouts trying to earn a spot on an NFL team will have its season debut Sept. 16 on CBS before moving back to the NFL Network. Undrafted is produced by NFL Network in association with Mandalay Sports Media, DG West and Indigenous Films.

NFL Network is in 72 million homes and its $1.31 per subscriber affiliate fee is fourth highest, with only ESPN, TNT and the Disney Channel commanding more, according to SNL Kagan. The research firm also said NFL Network will garner $1.32 billion in operating revenue this year, 10th highest among the top 195 active basic cable networks.