By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – For hockey fans, HBO’s 24/7 is a dream come true, an insider look at how the NHL works and what happens within a team on a daily basis. People within those organizations might be much more wary, but hockey executives said Tuesday they believe having the Detroit Red Wings featured in the all-access series will be a win-win for the fans and the organization.
“When we were at the owners’ meeting, I think it was like three years ago, and it was Washington and Pittsburgh, and the owners were talking about how frightened they were of participating in 24/7, because you all know, it’s pretty naked emotionally,” said Tom Wilson, the president and CEO of Olympia Entertainment. “But they said, to a person, it was the single best thing we ever did. Washington talked about how their television ratings doubled the rest of the year as people got to know the players in ways that they never would have access to them at all, and so it became a different relationship for the fans and the players and the coaches.”
Leading up to the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, when the Red Wings will meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in the biggest hockey game ever in the Big House in Ann Arbor, HBO will be embedded with both teams. 24/7 will air Saturday, Dec. 14, at 10 p.m. and continue each subsequent Saturday until the finale on Jan. 4.
“What’s going to make this third installment extra special is how both these teams have such rich histories and they play the game in two places where the game really means so much,” said Bentley Weiner, the coordinating producer of 24/7. “That’s something that I really think and hope won’t be lost on our viewers as the series unfolds.”
HBO will start shooting footage and background interviews in Detroit on Monday, and the crew will be fully imbedded with the team in early December, when it will go everywhere the team goes. Wilson said while many coaches dislike the notion of outsiders filming every move and word of their teams for weeks on end, most warm up to the idea.
“Many people have talked about the transformation of [Vancouver coach] John Tortorella last year, and John’s a great coach and worked for us years ago down in Tampa, and John’s tough and John has his own relationship with the media and probably was not a big fan of this idea,” Wilson said. “By the time it was over … [he thanked] the HBO crew for being there, for being part of the family, for understanding the way things work and for taking the story and making it available to the general public, so it was a great moment, a moving moment.”
Executives seem to firmly believe the idea that viewers of the show will want to attend or watch the actual hockey games once they get hooked on the series.
“The interesting thing about that is even for games that I was never going to see, by the time you got through with 24/7, you either felt bad you weren’t going to see it, or you felt bad that you missed it,” Wilson said. “The one thing we kept saying was by the time you get one episode or two episodes into 24/7, you’re going to wish you had tickets. You’re going to wish you had an opportunity to be part of this.”
As far as which individuals will be featured in the show, Weiner said there will probably be plenty of coach Mike Babcock and team captain Henrik Zetterberg, but there could be others that pop up unexpectedly.
“What I’ve found in each of our series is sort of the characters that just something happens during the series that that’s how our breakout stars emerge,” Weiner said. “One example I like to use is the first year for the Penguins, when I looked at the roster there was a rookie named Ben Lovejoy … In a million years I wouldn’t have known that he’d get any air time, but he had a lot of the older guys play a prank on him, he had the very memorable line … ‘I’m going to find out who did it and do absolutely nothing about it.'”
Later in the show, Weiner recounted, Lovejoy almost had a Gordie Howe hat trick. In one instance, he took a puck to his face, which swelled up tremendously, and on airplane teammate Sidney Crosby looked at him, made a face and said, “Wow.” As a result of all those instances, everyone knew who Lovejoy once, surprising as that might be. Weiner said she hopes such random and interesting characters emerge in this season’s series as well.
“You can plan for so much, but you just want to see what unfolds naturally,” Weiner said. “We don’t script anything, we don’t set anything up, and that’s the beauty of 24/7.”
In addition to showing the team in the context of hockey, the crew follows some players off the ice as well. In past seasons the show has captured how different members of the team spend their Christmas.
“You got a glimpse of the people,” Wilson said. “That’s what makes this entire series come alive.”
Then, of course, there’s the undeniable and slightly sensational aspect of locker room reality
“Of course, if you like the f-bomb, I didn’t know people say it that often in an hour and a half or two hours, but they kept breaking records every episode, so it was exciting,” Wilson added, sending listeners into quiet chuckles.
All in all, 24/7 will provide a glimpse into Detroit’s hockey team, one of the Original Six, and let viewers know more about its members and workings than they ever would have otherwise. In the eyes of the executives, the show is a great vehicle for promoting the sport and getting people invested in its players.
“Our goal is always to bring in new fans to the game,” Weiner said, “and 24/7 is the perfect platform to do that because you really get to know the people and learn their stories and you care about them, want to see them play.”