Tonight is the premiere of HBO's straightforwardly-titled series 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic. Want to know exactly which expletives Bruce Boudreau spat at his Caps during their 7-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday? Now you will.
The four-part miniseries, airing at 10 p.m. Wednesdays, will follow the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins through a month of play that includes their first head-to-head game, on December 23, and culminates with their matchup in the fourth annual Winter Classic, held this year at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. (I'll be there, by the way! Who wants to hang out?)
But for now, viewers will be treated to a hotly-anticipated red-faced rant by Boudreau during a timeout he called Sunday as the Caps were being manhandled in Madison Square Garden to lose their sixth straight.
"It's easy for the Penguins, because everything is going so well," said HBO producer Greg Harmon on Greg Wyshynski's Puck Daddy Radio podcast on Monday when asked whether the teams had actually given the level of unfettered access that the league and HBO have been boasting about. But he praised the Capitals for allowing producers to show all the ugliest moments: "We have every word that he said."
"During the nighttime version you'll have to hide the kids," Harmon continued, adding that 24/7 is more profane than even Hard Knocks, with Boudreau out-Ryaning Rex. To their credit, the reaction of Capitals' officials when shown the footage was a good-natured shrug. "Hey, he said it, you shot it, it goes on the air," Harmon described their response. And Caps owner Ted Leonsis issued a goodnatured warning today on his blog:
What previously had been a player's or a coach's safe haven for expression now is chronicled by HBO. It's compelling, but please beware it contains profanity - parental discretion is advised. As you might imagine, in the heat of battle, between periods and immediately following losses, our players and our coaches are upset with themselves and our performance. They are proud and they are passionate, and frankly, they are angry. It shows; you will see it and hear it. It certainly is a unique look at our players and our game, and it is fascinating television.
The series couldn't be coming at a more opportune time for the league. An explosion of hockey enthusiasm during and following the Vancouver Olympics has solidified into fairly promising, if still not entirely bonkers, viewership numbers in what is a contract year for the NHL, whose agreement with NBC is due to expire. (ESPN, FOX, and Versus have all been said to be interested in a deal.)
The existing NBC deal wasn't exactly a boon, inked as it was on the heels of the 2004-2005 lockout. It cost the network no money up front, with profit split on the back end. But the relationship with NBC has been vital in one particular way: it brought about the start of the annual Winter Classic, a game played outdoors on New Years Day that has become one of the NHL's biggest success stories. The first game was a picturesque snow-covered contest that lived up to its "Classic" title, and 2009's Red Wings-Blackhawks matchup at Wrigley drew hockey's highest rating in decades. Last year, a nailbiter game at Fenway went into overtime.
(The Wikipedia entry is worth it, by the way, for the "Other NHL outdoor games" section, which includes grasshopper infestations in Las Vegas and the following sentence: "Curiously, the Detroit Red Wings played a game on an outdoor ice surface on February 2, 1954 at Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan against the inmates in 21F degree weather. After the first period the Red Wings led in the game 18–0; the rest of the game the score was not kept.")
If the Winter Classic has been a coup for the NHL, the HBO miniseries is its well-choreographed victory march. The network has proven that it has a sharp, playful eye for sports documentaries — Hard Knocks is always a delight, and other 24/7 programming, like its boxing series, is too. And while Hard Knocks is recorded during preseason, the NHL program has the added benefit of being done entirely in-season. Behind-the-scenes moments hope to show a view of hockey that isn't just from the ice. Cameras have been set up at players' homes, in the locker room, and on the plane. We'll see Evgeni Malkin undergoing rehab and Mike Rupp's 1-year-old son screaming on Santa's lap at the Penguins' team holiday party.
And there ought to be some good hockey too — or at least some good-looking hockey. One drinking game instructs you to drink once every time "there is an artistic slow-motion shot of a pedestrian hockey play that makes it a billion times cooler than it is (i.e. a goalie making a routine save; a faceoff)." I'll be dead on the couch by 10:30.