HBO and the NHL partnered on “24/7: The Road To The NHL Winter Classic” for three series, as the groundbreaking reality show revealed the gloriously profane, incredibly heartfelt and inherently bizarre inner world of hockey. And in Ilya Bryzgalov’s case, revealed it can all be found in one person.
Alas, that partnership ended, as the NHL pulled out of the 24/7 franchise for this season to produce its own version of the show. It won’t be called 24/7 but it’ll capture the spirit of the thing.
Where would it air? Could it recapture the uncensored (though not unedited) nature of the HBO presentation?
The answer is EPIX, according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com.
The question then becomes, “What the hell is an EPIX?”
You know when you’re flipping through the cable guide and you see “Marvel’s The Avengers” on and you try to watch it and it says aren’t subscribed to that network?
It’s a network created by Viacom after Paramount Pictures, MGM and Lions Gate decided to bolt from their agreement with Showtime. It has some big name films, a rather deep library of classics, but doesn’t have much in the way of original programming.
That obviously changes with the new NHL show. Or should we say “shows.”
According to Burnside:
Not only will Epix, the cable entity that is a collaboration of heavyweight Hollywood film studios Lionsgate Entertainment, MGM and Paramount Pictures, produce four segments leading up to the Jan. 1 game at Nationals Park between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks, they will produce another four-segment series that will lead into the Stadium Series game Feb. 21 at Levi’s Field between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, a source told ESPN.com.
The shows will be available on cable and multiple platforms in the United States. It’s expected Rogers Communications, which owns the NHL’s national broadcast partner in Canada Sportsnet, will share the production costs and air the series in Canada.
Here’s why the NHL left HBO:
1. They wouldn’t do a second series, which the NHL wanted. HBO was actually cool with doing the Kings and Sharks, but wasn't interested in revisiting the Capitals for a Winter Classic "24/7."
2. The NHL was tired of carrying the financial burden for the series. The first season was a joint venture between HBO and the League; the subsequent two other seasons were on the NHL’s dime, with financial support from Rogers. HBO didn't contribute financially.
According to Burnside, each episode will have a $400,000 budget, which is high end for a reality show. EPIX is expected to shoulder a good portion of that figure.
(This happened after 24/7 creator Ross Greenburg left as HBO president to become the NHL’s chief producer of reality show content. We imagine the relationship with HBO wasn’t exactly sunshine and unicorns going forward.)
3. Gary likes to be loved.
As much as there was prestige in the NHL partnering with HBO, this move to EPIX is completely in keeping with Gary Bettman’s history of partnering with fledgling networks that hand-hold the NHL instead of major networks with other priorities.
This is a pay cable version of choosing Outdoor Life Network over ESPN.
And that’s of course why EPIX is willing to ante up for the NHL. Burnside writes that EPIX is available to 50 million subscribers. It’s still fighting for carriage deals – AT&T U-verse recently added it – and having a property like the NHL is important. Hockey fans are activists. If we want to see “EPIX Twenty-Faux/Seven” and don’t get the network, then we’re going to (announcer voice) “call our local cable provider” and ask for it.
Which essentially means that the NHL traded a limited, subscriber-based audience on HBO for an even more limited subscriber-based one on EPIX, even though Burnside writes “as part of the agreement with the NHL, all hockey fans in the United States will have access to the finished product.”
Considering how the owners feel about limiting the League’s exposure – many still grumble about losing out on ESPN – one assumes EPIX is willing to cover many, many costs for this series.