One night after "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" debuted on HBO and became a hot topic around the NHL, Ross Greenburg, the president of HBO Sports, appeared on "NHL Hour" Thursday to discuss the show's early impact with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
"The feedback that we've gotten from our fans has been overwhelming," Daly said in welcoming Greenburg. "Like, out of the ballpark overwhelming. … We feel really, really good about it. The first show was outstanding."
"We were all excited," said Greenburg, who has won dozens of Emmy Awards with HBO while developing the "24/7" series, which in the past has gone behind the scenes in boxing and NASCAR and developing the popular "Hard Knocks" series in the NFL. "I mean, I have an exhausted staff, to be honest with you. At 9:30 this morning we were already going through the format for Show 2, can you believe it? They barely had a night's sleep. But we're feeling good.
"I think we showed a side of hockey people haven't seen before. I think the personalities on the teams came through. I think we lucked into, frankly, one team (Pittsburgh) going on a hot winning streak, the other (Washington) having a horrendous losing streak, so there was a lot of drama."
In Greenburg's opinion, the fact HBO is documenting these teams during regular-season play -- as opposed to the preseason as with "Hard Knocks" -- leads to even better television because the intensity is greater and the competitiveness of the players and coaching staffs is more evident.
"I think what you're seeing is a loss can be devastating, a series of losses can be ultra-devastating during the regular season," he said. "A loss by Rex Ryan's Jets in the preseason is a loss, but it doesn't count, so everything is taken just a little bit lighter and they don't worry as much. But here, you see the worry etched on the faces of the players and of course [Capitals coach Bruce] Boudreau is taking it hard and he's trying to figure out a way to get his team back."
Fans who were eagerly anticipating Wednesday night's premiere episode have only had their appetite whetted for more -- there are three additional episodes coming, with next week's falling one night before the teams face off at the Verizon Center as a prelude to their outdoor game at Heinz Field in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
Asked by Daly what viewers can expect to see in upcoming episodes, Greenburg spoke about the way HBO looks for story arcs, just as it would develop in any successful dramatic series. The Penguins' 12-game winning streak, which ended Tuesday against the Flyers, and the Capitals' ongoing seven-game losing streak were obvious ones.
"Then you have the [Evgeni] Malkin injury, you have the sickness by the Capitals," Greenburg said, referring to a flu bug that hit the team last week. "Those kind of stories you have to track. [Scott] Hannan gets traded [to Washington from Colorado], ends up looking for a house. You know what? He's going to pop up in Show 2. Guess what, everyone, he still hasn't found a house.
"So we're going to keep those kind of stories going and what you have to do in four weeks is introduce the characters and let the stories unfold before your eyes. Don't force 'em. But if they're there, you have to inject them into every single episode. Malkin, as you know, came back last night, scored his goal. We're going to track him. We're going to see how he's looking, how he's feeling, we're going to see what the team doctor's doing with him. And then we'll see if that progresses into a storyline in show two. … Very important to stay on the storylines beyond just show one, because those that watch show one want a continuation of what's going on."
If there was initial concern that having HBO camera crews around all the time would be intrusive and have a negative impact on the teams in any way, that's gone away as the Penguins and Capitals have seen the way another set of professionals goes about its business.
"We want to make sure that we don't affect anything," Greenburg said. "We want to be the 'fly on the wall' with the cameras, and the edit rooms putting it together, but we really want to be there just to document what these two teams are doing without even noticing that we're around. That's really important to us because we don't want to get in the way of the competition and the intensity of what these guys are trying to do because this is their job and this is what they work for.
"And I've really grown to respect, to be honest with you, how physical this sport is and what it takes to be a National Hockey League player. You can see it every day -- the grind, the injuries, the sicknesses that we saw with Washington coming down with the flu. But more than that, you can see the intensity of these players and how they take the ice, come off and get the needle injection into the forehead, the stitches come out and then they're right back on the ice. The toughness -- I don't think people have ever really appreciated how tough these players really are to do this day in and day out."
While the NHL and HBO hope "24/7" resonates with hard-core hockey fans and causes the more casual observer to develop an interest in the game, Greenburg said it's been a unique experience in his noteworthy career working with the League.
"What we have found, and we've done this a lot … I'll tell you the honest truth, I don't think we've had more access anywhere," he said. "Every door is open and they've just been incredible and so professional. I think they're just ready to showcase their sport."