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Part I: talks '24/7' with HBO's Greenburg

by Dan Rosen
NEW YORK -- Stepping into HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg's corner office on the 11th floor of the network's Sixth Avenue headquarters, it became so incredibly obvious as to why the NHL announced with passion and excitement its new partnership with HBO in September.

Dozens of Sports Emmy Awards line the shelves along Greenburg's east-facing wall inside his plush office. Autographed posters from several of the most famous sports personalities in history, including a famous photo of the Miracle on Ice team signed by Mike Eruzione, hang in beautiful frames along the north, south and westerly walls.

No network captures sports drama like HBO, and starting next week they're going to begin tackling the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, ups and downs of two of the NHL's most prominent teams in the middle of their regular seasons.

No network has ever done that before with any professional sports team, let alone two of them.

HBO Sports' four-part behind the scenes look inside one of the League's hottest rivalries, "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic," debuts at 10 p.m. ET on Dec. 15. It runs every subsequent Wednesday at the same time until the series concludes on Jan. 5.

"We want to go in the meeting rooms, the training rooms, listen to those coaches go after their team if they're not playing the way they should be, go on the ice in places that people have never been during training, during team meetings. That's really what is most intriguing, to show these guys behind the scenes." -- HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg on 24/7 Penguins-Capitals

Greenburg opened his office door to on Tuesday to give us a preview of how the show will come together.

This is the first installment of a three-part Q&A with Greenburg, whose "24/7" reality TV series has already won 12 Emmys.

"We'll be adding a few more with this one," Greenburg said. Hockey is not a new topic for HBO to tackle. You've done Broad Street Bullies and the Miracle series, but covering a present day team, let alone two of them, in the middle of the season is new. What are you most interested in seeing or learning about hockey players, about the sport, about professional athletes in season?

I think all of us here are interested in going behind the scenes, taking the viewer where he has never been before, or she. We want to go in the meeting rooms, the training rooms, listen to those coaches go after their team if they're not playing the way they should be, go on the ice in places that people have never been during training, during team meetings. That's really what is most intriguing, to show these guys behind the scenes, how they carry their day. What do they do in a 24-hour period as professional hockey players? And, then, because we have two fierce rivals, because we have Ovechkin and Crosby, and we have the Talbots and Malkins, these great coaches in Bylsma and Boudreau, we think great characters are going to evolve in this four-week series. We really believe we're going to bring hockey to life. The NHL will come alive. I think the viewer and the fan and even the non-fan, the people that have not been exposed to the NHL, will certainly look at this game differently. So, that's what we're most excited about. Is it more challenging doing it this way in the middle of a season than doing it in training camp?

Greenburg: It's more challenging to do it during the season because the intensity is ratcheted up. This is serious business during the season. Games count. Coaches are on edge. Players are on edge. So we realize that, and we're just going to have to be the fly on the wall. We're trying not to get in the way, but this will be the first time that HBO Sports is embedded with two teams during the regular season. We've been around the NFL preseason. We've been around fighters before a fight, but clearly they haven't fought the fight before we're with them. So this is the first time we'll be during the season, in regular season games, following Washington and Pittsburgh and really showing you how this works on a daily basis in the NHL. Everyone assumes that Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are going to be the stars of the series because they're the superstars of their teams, but superstars don't always shine in a series like this. Why is that better for this series to have other characters, unknown characters emerge?

Well, because every team sport has characters in the locker room that people aren't aware of that carry kind of the tone of the team, add a little bit of humor now and then, get excited now and then. And, it's not always the superstar players. The superstar players like Ovechkin and Crosby usually gain the respect on the ice. Off the ice they're important figures in that locker room, there's no question, and they will be central characters for this storytelling that we'll do. But, really the head coaches can't be understated. Bylsma and Boudreau will be major figures because they are the team leaders; they are the ones that galvanize this group of hockey players into a team on a daily basis. So, you can't take them for granted. But, other players will emerge. I guarantee you [Maxime] Talbot will be a character and we'll go from there. You touched on the coaches. In the past, looking at Hard Knocks, you see Rex Ryan and you see Marvin Lewis and the way they emerged as central characters like you said. In Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau you have different personalities. When the cameras are rolling you have different personalities. What have you learned so far about the two of them that make you say this guy is going to shine on camera?

First of all, Dan Bylsma has that persona on camera that we've seen but there is going to be another Dan Bylsma that you haven't seen. I'm pretty sure that what we've gotten so far is a very charismatic guy behind the camera, behind the scenes, when people aren't aware that he's revving up his team and being the head coach that he needs to be. Boudreau is just out there. He's very similar to a Ryan or a Marvin Lewis. He is who he is. He's very comfortable in his own skin. He is a character and we know he's going to jump off the screen. But I think both will play a leading role. Through your previous work with hockey, with the Broad Street Bullies, with the Miracle, what have you learned about hockey players in general, the character of these guys?

They are tougher than nails. I think of all the professional athletes out there, the fact that they play all these games and do it in such close proximity to each other is something to marvel at. We will show what it takes to play on a daily basis in this league. For the amount of ice time they have to put together and how they have to put their bodies back together. I mean, it's a rough, tough sport and I think that the American public will see for the first time what it takes, in the training room, to be a professional hockey player. Are they tougher than boxers?

Well, in a lot of ways I think so because they play hurt all the time. Boxers, you know they tend to put off fights if they're hurt and these hockey players just go right at it on a daily basis. Teeth come out and they'll put them back in. The stitches have to be put together, they go back in. Legs are all bruised up, they skate on it. On an ongoing basis, to play with that much pain, I marvel at NHL players and I think even boxers would if they knew what it took to be an NHL player and to play these three or four games a week. I mean, this is brutal and I think the American public has no clue. By going into the trainer's room, going into the meeting rooms and locker rooms, they're going to understand what it takes to be an NHL player.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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