The National Hockey League and HBO are going where neither has gone before: behind the veiled curtain to reveal the real personalities, lives and drama of two NHL teams.
HBO Sports’ reality franchise “24/7” will take viewers deep into the NHL’s greatest rivalry, between the Penguins and Washington Capitals, and reveal what really happens behind closed doors with a four-episode, all-access series culminating with the 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on New Year’s Day.
“The Winter Classic is one of the premiere events in sports,” Penguins CEO David Morehouse said. “The opportunity to showcase what we think is the best sport in the land is unprecedented.”
The series, “24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS: ROAD TO THE WINTER CLASSIC,” will follow both teams for four weeks in December, showing the preparation, execution, highs, lows, joys and bruises of the NHL regular season.
The series will be similar to the ratings giant "Hard Knocks," a look inside National Football League training camps, but this will be the first HBO show that covers a team during the regular season.
“HBO is thrilled to do something for the first time for us in the regular season of any sport,” 24/7 and Hard Knocks senior producer Dave Harmon said. “It’s a very different thing showing meaningful games behind the scenes, the personalities of the Penguins and Capitals behind the scenes.
“We expect that you will see is an unvarnished look at four weeks in the lives of these teams will be.”
We expect that you will see is an unvarnished look at four weeks in the lives of these teams will be. - Dave Harmon
The series will give viewers a rare of glimpse into the day-to-day functions of a team. The HBO crew will have access to all areas of the players, coaches and staffs' lives – games, practices, locker room, training room, weight room, equipment room, lounge, coaches offices, management offices, team plane, team hotel, etc.
“There are several regular-season games within this series before the Winter Classic,” Harmon said. “While the series ends with that game on Jan. 1, we’re not going to be treating the three weeks before as a lead up to the Winter Classic, but as their lives, their games, their practices, management plans, leading through all four weeks.”
Such access can have certain drawbacks, as with any groundbreaking venture.
“We think it’s worth the risk,” Morehouse said. “We have the type of team that isn’t going to do a lot of embarrassing things behind the scenes. So we’re not that worried about it. We also think this is an unprecedented opportunity for the league and for the team. To have this kind of exposure is important.”
To give the show a truly genuine feel, HBO was given only one limitation in what it is allowed to air. The teams have power of attorney if anything is filmed that would put the club at a competitive disadvantage.
“There is always an admission that if what we shoot puts the team at a competitive disadvantage, we will agree not to show it,” Harmon said. “If they don’t feel comfortable with the cameras around talking all the time, then nothing you’ll see in the series will be real. We’re going to shoot everything as it happens. We plan at HBO on airing everything we get because we want to make the best television show possible. We acknowledge that when there is strategy involved and injuries involved that other teams in the league might see on the air. That would be the limitation on the show.”
The realness of the players, coaches and staff are what makes the 24/7 and Hard Knocks programs so captivating. It’s that raw look that fans starve to see.
“This isn’t going to be G-rated,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “It’s going to be the way things are done and how we do things. It’ an emotional sport, which makes it exciting. It’s passionate. You’re going to be talking about the game and practices and things will come out. That’s what makes the HBO special so great. We have to be who we are.”
(HBO is) very good at capturing authenticity and authentic moments,” Morehouse said. “It really does bring you into the emotional side of athletics and competitive sport. - David Morehouse
“(HBO is) very good at capturing authenticity and authentic moments,” Morehouse said. “It really does bring you into the emotional side of athletics and competitive sport.”
Shero also pointed out that the Penguins are about more than just their marquee players.
“We talk about Crosby and Ovechkin, we’re into the personalities here,” he said. “I think when you talk about NHL hockey teams, you talk about the training staff and you talk about the support staff. Those guys are the fabric of the hockey team. The interaction between the players and those types of individuals, people will see what it’s like. I’m looking forward to it. The players are looking forward to it. We’re thrilled to be involved.”
Once the players get more comfortable with the ever-present cameras, they will relax and be themselves. Then their personalities will really shine and take center stage on the show.
“The segments leading up (to the Winter Classic) will be part of creating the team and personalities that we have,” Shero said. “We’re looking forward to that. I don’t think it’s about Crosby and Ovechkin. I think it’s about the teams, and personalities are going to come out. If it does, like I hope so, then it should be great for HBO and for the league.”