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The Usual Suspects

HBO turns its candid cameras on NHL Add to ...

For hockey fans, HBO’s 24/7 documentary series that made its debut Wednesday is an early Christmas present. For hockey-deprived U.S. fans, it was Christmas and Thanksgiving combined. For Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, it means instant inclusion into the Profanity Hall Of Fame.

HBO is a seminal cultural institution in the United States, and devoting four one-hour segments gives the perpetually insecure NHL an unprecedented profile in an oft-indifferent market. (Hello Glendale, Ariz., city council!) The opener Wednesday showed the slumping Capitals and surging Pittsburgh Penguins behind the scenes this month. It wasn’t Peter Puck. Says Max Talbot to Santa, “I want your two little helpers.” Replies Santa, “I know.”

Players are miked 24/7 (hence the title) and while we don’t end up in a limo with puck bunnies and a bottle of Cristal, the funky, funny representation of NHL life is engaging to even non-hockey fans. In Pittsburgh’s case, life is grand. For the Caps, it sucks. The first instalment was – surprise – not Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby overkill. While the pair are the stars of the series, the producers wisely decided to spend some time developing the supporting cast.

Pens coach Dan Bylsma delivers a classic Knute Rockne speech before the Pens fricassee the Toronto Maple Leafs. Oh … and did we say Boudreau turns the air blue, with his team in a seven-game losing spin? “My mom already called me about how many f-bombs I used,” Boudreau told the Washington Post Thursday. “It was a passionate speech. It wasn't anything that I'm sitting there and manufacturing up the word just to say the word. When you're talking with passion, I'm not sure what's coming out of my mouth, quite frankly. I know the ideas, but that's what came out.”

So far, the players seem natural, although there is always the question of whether the camera is enhancing reality. Our favourite vignette was probably doctors stitching up Pens defenceman Deryk Engelland after his bout with Toronto knuckle boy Colton Orr.

Judging by the Twitter traffic during and after the show, 24/7 should be a hit on the lines of Hard Knocks, HBO’s documentary series which focused on the New York Jets’ training camp for the 2010 edition. Judging by the rumours surrounding Boudreau’s bumbling Caps, we might also get the first documented firing of an NHL coach, too.

BIRD BRAINED

There is good hockey publicity (HBO) and then there’s the Atlanta Thrashers, who tried to create a little buzz of their own this week. They staged a fake O.J. car chase involving their mascot, a “stolen” Zamboni and some cops with time on their hands. The idea had the mascot Thrash – turned postal by poor ticket sales – taken into custody for driving a stolen Zamboni on a Georgia highway.

Video caught the entire cheese-ball effort as Thrash was held by cops till – hold your sides – 5,000 tickets are sold to a Thrashers game. Apparently the 5,000 tickets were all bought by a fan in Winnipeg. Cough. We’re here all week. Tip the veal and try the waitress.

NOT SO FAST

Have you bought your 3-D TV for Christmas yet? After all, the NHL dove in last weekend, funny glasses and all, to the latest consumer bauble, showing the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in the added dimension. ESPN has a 3-D NBA game Friday from Miami. If the $3,000 or so for a 3-D set hasn’t burned a hole in your Visa yet, you might want to wait. Fox TV president Eric Shanks is not so sure 3-D is the next hot thing – and no, it’s not the glasses. Shanks told a technology summit that his network passed on a 3-D World Series and has no plans to show the coming Super Bowl in 3-D.

Shanks said that, for now, the technology is still expensive and experimental. Besides, Fox affiliates are concerned that the separate 3-D productions needed (CBC had two crews doing a game last Saturday) might split the ratings. “When we did the [major-league baseball] All-Star Game in 3-D [last July], we took a lot of heat from the affiliates, even though the viewership for that was small,” Shanks told the Sports Video Group’s League Technology Summit. Satellite and cable carriers aren’t crazy about the costly extra channels needed to show 3-D, either.

Trevor Pilling, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada, is also in wait-and-see mode. In a conversation with Usual Suspects last month, Pilling stressed the difficulty of getting equipment to produce 3-D. And he also mentioned the glasses. “We’ll have to wait and see if the public embraces the idea of having to wear glasses to watch,” he said. Knowing consumers, the glasses will soon end up between the cushions on the sofa with the remote, spare keys and a $1.47 in loose change.

PUCK THE HALLS

Finally, the hockey Belfast Giants try a little Christmas video publicity of their own to generate ticket sales for their games in the British hockey league. Must be something in the water. Or the Guinness. Maybe HBO can get Sidney Crosby to do Away in a Manger.

 

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