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NHL producer Ross Greenburg on separating from ‘HBO 24/7’ and reality TV Olympic plans

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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There’s a voice Ross Greenburg hears when he watches footage from his various producers in the field, as they follow NHL players around, catching candid moments.

It’s that smooth baritone that narrates “HBO 24/7”, the franchise Greenburg created, belonging to actor Liev Schreiber.

“I created a monster,” laments Greenburg, “Everything I do without Liev, everyone compares it to Liev.”

Such was the case with “NHL Revealed”, the new candid reality show on NBC Sports Network and CBC that debuted this week. Rossif Sutherland, son of actor Donald Sutherland, handled narration for the show in a performance that was meant to evoke Schreiber’s. It received mixed reviews.

“When people start to get close to Liev, people start to get irritated,” Greenburg said.

The trick for Greenburg and Toronto-based Bristow Global Media, which is producing the show, is to bring much of what works on “HBO 24/7” to “NHL Revealed” without seeming like a pale imitation. So far, so good: Reaction to the first episode was positive, as the cameras followed all nine Stadium Series teams and players that were headed to the Sochi Olympics.

We spoke with Greenburg, who left as president of HBO Sports in 2011 and joined the NHL’s production team, about the show and his plans for the Sochi Games.

Q. You have some many plates spinning on this show, how did you decide which players and teams to follow?

GREENBURG: On this particular show, you have to follow the best storylines. Kyle Okposo came out of nowhere. We knew about a month ago that his wife was due to have a baby. We knew if he let us into that world, we could show that a professional athlete isn’t any different from any other young kid starting a family – having a baby during working hours. That just magically appeared, so you just follow that story.

Then in the dressing room, you find out Corey Perry has all these wild superstitions and Ryan Getzlaf there teasing him. In Nashville, you have Erik Karlsson going to buy cowboy boots from this character that we didn’t even know we had: The Ultimate Salesman for Cowboy Boots.

We knew we were covering the nine teams in the stadium series. Then we looked at the roster and asked, “Who are the biggest stars?” And then lo and behold, Perry’s scoring the winning goal in a game, and it all falls into place, because stars started doing what you expect them to do.

I think people learned more about Okposo in that segment than they did in the last three seasons of his NHL career.

That’s right, and it’s not going to end here. We’re going to be with Kyle and his family throughout the series. Once you get a storyline, you continue the arc for the entire series.

But I also waned to learn more about Sidney Crosby. That’s he’s not just a name in a headline on a website. To learn a little more about him.

How does the coverage differ from “HBO 24/7” to this show?

The beauty of this show, frankly, is that you’re not camped out for 40 days with two teams. You’re ducking in and out for four days at a time. You’re not a burden. You’re coming in, doing your job, behind the scenes. You’re involved and embedded deeply, but you’re not embedded for 40 days. It’s less of a burden for the team.

In this situation, the PR staffs are actually asking us to come in and film things. It’s a nice change.

In comparing “24/7” and this show, the former is leading up to a singular event while “Revealed” has a few end points. One of them was the Olympics; how did you balance the coverage of the Olympics looming and the Stadium Series for these players?

We have to focus on these Stadium games, because they’re electric. We’re looking at the Stadium Games in and of themselves.

We’re now plotting two episodes that cover the Olympics, and as we get closer we’re going to start examining this dynamic with teammates becoming rivals, or rivals becoming teammates. We just got a great scene in the first act with Alex Ovechkin slashing Evgeni Malkin. That leads into them being teammates back in Russia.

We had to edit out a few choice words that Mr. Malkin had for Ovechkin at the end of the episode.You saw a few of them.

Is it true you guys are releasing directors’ cuts of each episode, unrated, via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video?

Yes. And this Friday, you’ll get an extra 20 minutes of footage that we had to cut from the first episode. And all the colorful, beautiful language.

When action shifts to Sochi, what kind of access will you have?

Understand this is a joint production with Canada. Julie Bristow’s company is the overriding producer of the series, and they have a great relationship with CBC. We have a great relationship with NBC. So we have those North American partners at our disposal.

We hope to get embedded with the family members over there, and shooting NHL stars when they aren’t playing or practicing.

We’re also be taking all the low camera isos that our partners capture and trying to reconstruct the game footage like you saw in the first episode. It won’t be our own cameras shooting, but the game action will be woven into other stories and narratives.

We want to give the "NFL Films" treatment to the Olympic games, where even when you’ve seen them you want to go more in-depth with them.

Finally, this was the first “24/7” that aired without you at the helm. Do you see it as a continuation of what you accomplished or is it someone else’s baby now?

I’m very close to everyone on that show. I’ll be honest: I watched Episode 1 and didn’t have time to watch the rest because I was prepping for this show.

I can’t wish anything but the best for everyone there. I want “24/7” to continue and be successful, and grow more programs like this to grow the sport.

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