How Showtime’s new NHL show might eclipse ‘24/7’
Ross Greenburg sounds reinvigorated.
That’s not to say that the prolific producer – the guy behind HBO’s HARD KNOCKS and 24/7, and the one who brought the NHL’s “Road To The Winter Classic” show over to EPIX last season – hasn’t enjoyed being in the trenches on his previous hockey projects.
It’s to say that ALL ACCESS: QUEST FOR THE STANLEY CUP, which premieres Friday, May 20 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime, is a different kind of NHL program – unprecedented, actually.
Remember how the “Road to the Winter Classic” shows would sometimes have to “manufacture” narratives? Remember how the on-ice action and chatter would sometimes eclipse the off-ice player stories? Remember how ‘these two teams are in the first third of their season are they’re going to play in an outdoor game’ wasn’t exactly high stakes?
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Greenburg says ALL ACCESS trims the fat and makes it clear that the stakes couldn’t be higher.
EPIX and Showtime both had a shot at running the show, but Showtime stepped up and the NHL and Greenburg decided to work with them for the first time. “They’re promoting the hell out of it and got behind it. And it’s working,” said Greenburg.
Consumers who do not subscribe to SHOWTIME will be able to sample the episode beginning Friday after 9:30 p.m. ET for free on the SHOWTIME Sports YouTube channel, Facebook page and website, SHO.com. (Including Yahoo Sports.) An encore presentation of the premiere episode will air Friday at 12:00 a.m. ET on NHL Network in the U.S. and on Sportsnet in Canada, and will be available at NHL.com on Saturday, May 21 at 10 a.m. ET.
We spoke with Greenburg this week about the new show, how it’s different and what to expect.
Q. How is this one different from the last ones?
The stakes are higher. And the intensity seems to be coming through. When we come into locker rooms now, the coaches and the players have taken it up a notch. You can feel the pressure. This kind of access is pretty exciting, because as far as I know no one’s ever been this embedded during the playoffs in any sport. So it feels pretty special.
Q. We have to imagine this was a nice change of pace for you and the production team. In the regular season, you’re scratching and clawing for the narratives. Here, it’s all pretty laid out for you.
The narrative’s called the Stanley Cup, so that’s made it easy. [Laughs]
But yeah, you have players like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton that have lived their whole lives without getting it. You have others like Sidney Crosby and five other Pittsburgh Penguins who want it again.
But it’s all about the Cup. We come off the top of the show talking about the history of the Cup and why it’s important, and set the show in motion from there.
You’re right: When you do these kinds of reality shows, it’s always nice to feel fresh. It’s always nice to feel groundbreaking. It felt that way when we first did HARD KNOCKS and 24/7. It felt that way in 2010 with our first ROAD TO THE WINTER CLASSIC. And this feels like a new series.
When you watch the first episode, you can see that it’s different. You can feel that it’s different.
Q. So how is it different?
We’re concentrating a lot on the ice, because it’s about the Stanley Cup. We’re not spending a lot of time going home with players, although Matt Cullen did let us in to his home. That’s not as important in developing the stories of the players as it pertains to the Stanley Cup.
There’s no manufacturing different stories. Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay. Thornton and Marleau. And the city of St. Louis, which no one seems to be paying attention to.
Q. That’s a great point, that last one.
One of my favorite lines in the piece is about Western expansion, as it pertains to St. Louis, and how it has such a negative connotation now that the Rams left for Los Angeles. We have shots of the decrepit football stadium, with signs on the box offices saying ‘No More Tickets Sold Here.’
It’s an awakening. No one’s really put the dots together on the St. Louis story. They suffered a devastating loss. Everyone’s so excited about the Rams in LA that no one talks about the impact it had on St. Louis. And the Blues’ run helped bring some excitement back to the city. It makes you want to root for them.
Q. What’s also different about this show is that you had some roulette going on here. You had no idea which teams you were going to cover, unlike the Winter Classic shows.
Chris Dilegge is our line producer, and poor Chris has been coordinating all of our travel schedules and plans to go into motion.
We started covering rounds one and two, so we had boots on the ground, working individual playoff series on a nightly basis. But once we saw what the Final Four was likely going to be, we went into planning mode and somehow – I don’t know how – somehow got everyone on site 24 hours before the conference finals began.
But that was kind of a hair-raising couple of days. [Laughs]
Q. Also different: This is a 30-minute show.
Yes. I wasn’t sure that an hour wasn’t too much. It’s going to be a fast-paced, gut-wrenching half hour. And in watching it, the show just slides by. I wanted the viewer feeling as if they want more and anticipating next week.
Q. Is it sort of a week in review show?
It kinda is. But it’ll be up to the minute. All the games through Thursday night in the show. It’s continuing the saga, the storytelling. It’s a half-hour book with a beginning, middle and end.
The other thing that’s fascinating about it is doing it on a Friday night. There was never a way to avoid a game being played on the same night you wanted to premiere, but for the most part Friday’s are fairly clean if you look at the schedule. Unless there’s a Game 7 next week.
Q. How on Earth did you get the GMs and teams to sign on off on this, when there’s even pushback during the regular season for this kind of show?
You’d have to send a bouquet of flowers to Gary Bettman, first and foremost.
He’s believed in these projects since their inception in 2010. Now, he’s implored all the GMs and presidents and owners that it’s very important to the growth of the league. He made a statement to all of them, wrote letters and just basically told them that we were coming in, and that we should let us in.
Without his support and Steve Mayer, John Dellapina and Gary Meagher [of the NHL] this just doesn’t happen. They made it a lot easier for us to go in with our field producers and get this done. And the NHLPA too deserves credit. They’ve gotten behind the project.
Showtime stepped up too. I thank Steven Espinoza [of Showtime Sports] for the opportunity. It’s not an easy sell, but he understood what we wanted to do by going in the playoffs. The tension was going to be ratcheted up if we got the access.
And he watched the first episode today and said ‘there we are.’
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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