Persuading a professional sports team to grant prolonged all-access to a film crew is an increasingly tough sell. The lack of willing subjects is one reason why the only-semi-interesting Cincinnati Bengals were profiled for the second time in five years on HBO’s compelling training-camp reality series “Hard Knocks.” Five teams, including the 49ers, Seahawks, and Falcons, declined before the Bengals signed on.
That show even took a one-year hiatus in 2011 when no team would commit amid the lockout turmoil, and the Dolphins agreed to be documented in 2012 only after a late scramble by HBO. As fascinating as it would be to watch the Patriots on “Hard Knocks,’’ we’d all agree that there’s a better chance of the Snow Bowl being replayed in Hades than of Bill Belichick ever permitting such an intrusion.
Which is the sports fans’ loss, because not only is it superb television — “Hard Knocks” has won eight Emmy Awards in its eight seasons — but the visit behind the scenes often ends up reflecting well on the teams and personalities involved.
That has happened repeatedly with another HBO Sports documentary/reality project, the “24/7” series that annually spends some quality time with the two NHL teams that will be facing off in the Winter Classic.
In fact, it is that particular program that went a long way toward convincing a prominent leader of a Boston sports franchise that he wanted a film crew to document his team behind the scenes.
Right, it’s not Belichick. But how about Cam Neely, the Bruins president? Turns out he enjoyed the “24/7” series so much a few years ago that an idea began germinating: What if we documented the Bruins behind the scenes and put it on NESN?
“I watched ‘24/7,’ my family was into it, my kids and my wife,’’ said Neely. “And for me, I felt like, if my family is really interested in sitting down and watching this as a family, there are plenty more out there that are doing that.
“And then after an episode aired, you’d hear people talking about it, commenting on it, and even the casual fan tuned in to see what it was all about. It made me really think about how we could do something like this with our team and NESN. I really wanted to do some kind of show.”
So he did. Neely’s brainchild premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on NESN with the hour-long Episode 1 of “Behind the B.’’ According to NESN, it promises “unprecedented access into the team’s locker room, executive boardroom, and players’ homes that will give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the organization throughout the entire season.”
Thirteen episodes will run over the course of the season, all but the premiere running a half-hour. Actor and Worcester native Denis Leary, a friend of Neely’s, narrates.
Neely said he began kicking around the idea two seasons ago. He soon signed off on buying a few extra cameras for the Bruins’ in-house production team, and had them begin filming footage midway through the 2011-12 season, with the intent of putting the show together last season.
“But we scrapped it for the time being because of the uncertainty of the lockout,” Neely said.
That may have been a blessing, since the 2012-13 Bruins season proved to be downright fascinating, ending with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. The premiere episode actually begins with Bruins coach Claude Julien consoling his team after its staggering, season-ending last-minute loss in Game 6.
It’s a candid, personal moment for everyone in the locker room, a scene some players or coaches might want to keep private. Neely said he made sure before going forward with the project that staff and players were comfortable with the cameras’ presence.
“We got that comfort level with the coaching staff to make sure they were OK with being around more cameras,’’ said Neely, “and to make sure it wasn’t going to disrupt anything.
“Plus, knowing that we would edit it ourselves, that was reassuring to anyone who might have not been comfortable at first about what might end up on air. That was extremely important, for them to know that nothing that would air to cause concern for anybody.”
So while it’s not exactly all-access and entirely unfiltered, it is nonetheless fascinating. Bruins diehards will love the insight gleaned from watching Neely, general manager Peter Chiarelli, and others work behind the scenes on the machinations of offseason moves, including the Tyler Seguin-Loui Eriksson trade.
“Everything is so instantaneous nowadays. You can find out something that happens as soon as you turn on your phone,’’ said Neely. “This is information that’s always been there with sports teams through the test of time. Now with the opportunity to get it out on film and put it on TV is something I think our fan base will look forward to.
“A lot has happened, and this might fill in why or how.
“We’re certainly not going to give away what maybe our coaching staff has in mind to defend against a certain team or player. It’s more things that happen on a daily basis around here that fans don’t see but might like to.”
If you’re wondering how opening up some usually closed doors benefits the Bruins, Neely said one goal is to give fans a better sense of who the players really are and how the organization operates. But if some casual fans convert to diehards after watching “Behind the B,’’ well, that would be great, too.
“There could be a lot to that, to be honest with you,’’ said Neely. “I certainly would hope that it attracts more fans to the Bruins and our great game.”