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NHL, EPIX envision new level of all-access program

by Dan Rosen

WASHINGTON -- Ross Greenburg has made a career out of taking hours of footage and turning it into award-winning television programming. His next challenge will be to reinvent what he already has done to make it new and compelling for a broader audience.

Greenburg, a 52-time Emmy Award winner formerly of HBO Sports who has partnered with the NHL on three previous all-access documentary series, will be the lead producer on the League's latest behind-the-scenes endeavor, this time with premium TV network EPIX.

EPIX and the NHL on Tuesday announced a partnership to produce and distribute a two-part, eight-episode, original all-access series debuting in December at Nationals Park, the home of the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

EPIX is available in 54 million homes and on 450 digital devices, creating a greater opportunity for distribution than the NHL has had in any of its previous all-access endeavors. Sportsnet will air the series in Canada.

Part One of the series will premiere in December. It will take the viewer outside the lines with weekly episodes following the story arc of the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks as they prepare to play in the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2015.

Part Two of the series will debut in February and will follow a similar path to the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings at Levi's Field in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2015.

In addition, EPIX and the NHL announced fans in the United States will be able to watch the series for free on any mobile device that carries EPIX as well as on NHL.com, the NHL app and the official websites and apps for the Capitals, Blackhawks, Sharks and Kings.

"One of the things that was really important in talking to [EPIX CEO and president] Mark Greenberg was the promise that we could let any NHL fan who wants to see it is going to have a chance to see it," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said. "He's going to open up every distribution platform they have and any fan is just going to have to go in and register, but they'll get all eight episodes of the series."

Greenburg has worked with the Capitals and Blackhawks in varying capacities, either on HBO's "24/7: Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" in 2011, or on "NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other" last season. But he doesn't want to do what he's done before.

"We're going to have to take it to another level," he said. "It just isn't good enough to do what's been done in the past. We're going to be getting the access we've always gotten from these teams and these players and the coaches and management, but we're just going to have to look at each storyline, go a little deeper, bring out the drama in this great game on the ice and off the ice to tell our stories in a magical way."

EPIX has produced several sports documentaries, with the latest, the Greenburg-produced "Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football," scheduled to debut at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday. However, this collaboration with the NHL is the network's first foray into an all-access weekly series.

"If you think of the 'Forgotten Four' … you have the benefit of 60 years since this has happened," Greenberg said. "In this case we're going to be covering something that is happening that week and finding the storylines behind that, really going into what these athletes are feeling, understanding, the excitement. Our ability to turn that around and make that current in real time is really exciting."

Greenberg said a key to the original content will be EPIX's ability to feature the ancillary people around the players and coaches. He also said EPIX will provide extended content on its digital platforms following the airing of each episode in order to continue a storyline that might have been edited to fit into an hour-long television show.

"One of the parallels I talk about is movies," he said. "We're on the set of 'Iron Man,' which is one of the Paramount/Disney moves that we show. We go behind the scenes and we talk about the guy who created the arc reactor. How does it work? How does it happen in the movie? Maybe it's the guy in the food truck; what did you feed Robert Downey Jr.?

"We'll let the athletes talk, but we'll also go behind the scenes in a different way. We'll have a 60-minute show and a lot of added features. When we re-imagine it, it really gives fans more insight, more breadth of what goes on weeks before a great event."

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