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HBO last night debuted "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," and viewers were "thoroughly entertained," according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. Just a minute into the show, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau "dropped his first of many f-bombs." LeBrun wrote, "Now that's hockey, baby, whether commissioner Gary Bettman was squirming or not. ... You want real? You got it in this show." The Capitals "welcomed the HBO crew in the middle of a brutal stretch," and Boudreau told his players, "It's a tough month and HBO is in here. But at the same time, I can't sit here and watch (what) we've been going through without saying what needs to be said." Boudreau then told the players that the documentary "will no doubt focus on one team struggling and the other, the Pittsburgh Penguins, having the time of their lives." LeBrun wrote there is an "obvious attempt in the show to reach out to a wider audience and not just the normal hockey fans," which "makes sense given the hype HBO and the NHL gave this." The documentary explains how Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "started his NHL coaching career in incredible fashion by winning the Stanley Cup," which was "old news for the majority of viewers, but a needed component for newbies" (ESPN.com, 12/16). In Albany, Pete Dougherty wrote of the series, "It truly is compelling TV." Dougherty: "If I were to nitpick, I wish we could see a little more from the fights. It's not the fist-throwing that's interesting ... but rather the post-fight conversations to which we're not usually privy. HBO gave us a couple of glimpses of that, but I would have liked to have seen more" (TIMESUNION.com, 12/15).
HEAT OF THE MOMENT: In DC, Dan Steinberg wrote Boudreau was the "runaway winner in profanity, with a whopping 31 of the F-bomb deployments." An "extremely unofficial count recorded 70 varieties of F-word usage" from everyone appearing on the show, along with "four s-words, one bull-(bleep), two asses, a b**ch, and a douche. For a 60-minute show, that's not too shabby" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/15). Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog, "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. ... A couple of wins should help the vocabulary." He added the show is "fabulously produced and gives viewers an unprecedented look behind the scenes. Unfortunately, however, this coincides with our losing streak and is at a time when Pittsburgh was in the midst of its winning streak" (TEDSTAKE.com, 12/15). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "distinguished between" Boudreau's language and Jets coach Rex Ryan's obscenities during HBO's "Hard Knocks" series. Bettman noted Boudreau's language was "in the heat of the moment." Bettman: "Watching him deal with what he's had to deal with takes this to a new level of reality." Meanwhile, NHL COO John Collins also compared the series to "Hard Knocks," saying that such a documentary series is "more potent when games count than before a bout or the NFL season." Collins: "The regular season is more unpredictable." Bettman added, "In the preseason, the emotion is who will make the team. This is real life." Meanwhile, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly noted HBO is "promoting this everywhere -- not just on hockey outlets." Daly: "It's nice to see" (NYTIMES.com, 12/15).
UNDER PRESSURE: Leonsis during the show talked about the pressure that faced his team. He said, "We need to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the pressure that’s on us. We don’t want to have a great team that almost gets home. The internal pressure that we put on ourselves now is with this group of players growing up coming into their prime. ... We have to win a Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh’s already won theirs.” He added, “We have a lot of work to do, so that’s a pressure that’s on Alex (Ovechkin) and the other leaders of the team. Last year we had a fantastic year statistically and we lost in the first round of the playoffs. It was a failure of a season and that binary success and failure in sports is very daunting” ("24/7 Penguins/Capitals," HBO, 12/15).
TWITTER REAX: ESPN N.Y.’s Don La Greca wrote on his Twitter feed about the debut of the show, “24/7 was awesome! You know it's good when you hate to see it end!” Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Michael Russo: “A+ for 24/7 Part One. Effin awesome, as Bruce Boudreau would say. Well, not necessarily about the episode, but in general.” Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Brian Stensaas: “HBO should do this for every sport. Very cool.” N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman: “NHL 24/7 first HBO episode a killer. Rex who?” Newsday’s Neil Best: “Sports TV shocker of the year: Caps' Bruce Boudreau out-F-bombed Rex on HBO's NHL 24/7! My ears!” Toronto Star’s Damien Cox: “Watched HBO 24/7 show on Pens/Caps. Pretty good. But not for kids. F-bombs every other word.” NBC Sports’ Joe Yerdon: “Can we award the next NHL TV contract to HBO? Is that possible?”
ESPN averaged a 0.8 U.S. rating and 1.194 million viewers for its "30 for 30" documentary series, with films focusing on college football scoring the best audience figures. The series concluded last Saturday with the premiere of "Pony Excess," which focused on the scandal surrounding the SMU football program in the '80s. That telecast, which followed the Heisman Trophy Presentation, earned a 1.6 U.S. rating and 2.5 million viewers, marking ESPN's most-viewed documentary of all time. The previous high was for the premiere of "The U," which aired following last year's Heisman telecast and examined the rise of the Univ. of Miami football program. Prior to the "30 for 30" series, ESPN's best audience for a documentary was "The Greatest Game Ever Played," which earned a 1.2 U.S. rating and 1.811 million viewers following the '08 Heisman telecast. Listed below are the ratings and viewership for each "30 for 30" documentary (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).PREMIERE
DATEFILMNETU.S. RATINGVIEWERS (000)12/11/10"Pony Excess"ESPN1.62,51712/12/09"The U"ESPN1.62,36811/9/10"The Best That Never Was"ESPN1.52,2293/15/10"Winning Time: Reggie Miller
vs. The New York Knicks"ESPN1.32,05110/5/10
"Four Days in October"ESPN1.01,4509/7/10 "One Night in Vegas"ESPN1.01,40411/3/09 "Without Bias"ESPN0.91,2328/24/10 "Jordan Rides the Bus"ESPN0.91,19711/10/09 "The Legend of Jimmy the Greek"ESPN0.81,1804/13/10 "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson"ESPN0.81,11311/2/10 "Marion Jones: Press Pause"ESPN0.81,1076/22/10 "The Two Escobars"ESPN0.71,0684/27/10 "Run Ricky Run"ESPN0.79729/21/10 "The House of Steinbrenner"ESPN0.79726/16/10 "June 17, 1994"ESPN0.796310/12/10 "Once Brothers"ESPN0.78959/28/10 "Into the Wind"ESPN0.689410/20/09 "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?"ESPN0.687810/19/10 "Tim Richmond: To The Limit"ESPN0.68085/11/10 "Straight Outta L.A."ESPN0.67929/14/10 "Unmatched"ESPN0.67808/31/10 "Little Big Men"ESPN0.573910/26/10 "Fernando Nation"ESPN0.571210/27/09 "Muhammad and Larry"ESPN0.670810/13/09 "The Band That Wouldn’t Die"ESPN0.67077/29/10 "The Birth of Big Air"ESPN0.569210/6/09 "King's Ransom"ESPN0.56455/4/10 "The 16th Man"ESPN0.44635/4/10 "Guru of Go"*ESPN0.33944/20/10 "Silly Little Game"ESPN0.3356NOTE: * = Rating, viewership listed for "Guru of Go" is for the ESPN premiere for the film on May 4, 2010. The hour-long film originally aired on ABC on April 3 as part of a two-hour "ESPN Sports Saturday" telecast which earned a 0.4 rating and 560,000 viewers.
SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN: SI's Richard Deitsch writes in the "same year that ESPN broadcast 'The Decision,' the self-aggrandizing shamathon featuring LeBron James, the network also produced some of its finest content since its inception in 1979." The net in '10 debuted 23 "30 for 30" documentaries, including "arguably the four best ... of the series" -- "The Two Escobars," "Once Brothers," "The Best That Never Was" and "June 17th, 1994." There were some "misses," but "collectively the series helped legitimize ESPN within the film industry." "The Two Escobars" even was "screened as an official selection at the film festivals of Cannes, Los Angeles and Tribeca, and at Amsterdam's documentary festival, the biggest in the world." ESPN Films plans to "debut documentaries next year on the University of Michigan basketball's famed Fab Five and on Olympic speedskating champion and celebrated humanitarian Johann Olav Koss" (SI, 12/20 issue).
IT'S A CELEBRATION: ESPN's Bill Simmons, who pitched the "30 for 30" idea to ESPN execs in a one-paragraph e-mail in '07 and served as an Exec Producer for the series, chatted with Assistant Managing Editor Austin Karp to give his thoughts on the "30 for 30" series and the future for ESPN and sports documentaries.
Q: Did the series as a whole deliver?
Simmons: Yeah, I thought it exceeded our expectations. The first step was convincing Hollywood that we were serious about making quality docs and letting them do their thing. That happened. The second step was getting everyone at ESPN to appreciate how important the series was to us creatively. ... That took a while but we eventually got there. (Example: The night before our first "30 for 30" was Brett Favre's return to Green Bay on "Monday Night Football." We didn't run one "30 for 30" commercial during the game. But once the critical praise started building, internally, I think people began to realize how important the series was.) And the final step was getting the audience to trust the series and look forward to it. ... I don't think we totally got there until near the end, with the Marcus Dupree doc, which was two hours and yet delivered a big rating. I don't know if people would have committed to that doc in 2009. So I couldn't be happier. We established a brand and delivered some quality movies. Win-win.
Q: What were your favorite films from the series?
Simmons: My favorites were probably "The Two Escobars" (for originality), "June 17, 1994" (for degree of difficulty), "The Best That Never Was" on Marcus Dupree (because it epitomized the series -- a great story about a forgotten athlete), "Muhammad & Larry" (beautifully done) and "Once Brothers" about the relationship between Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic (just a cool story and I learned something).
Q: What stories would you want to see ESPN tackle as documentaries going forward?
Simmons: I want to see us continue to push the envelope and take chances. I want us to continue to tell great stories instead of predictable ones. I want to see us work with first-class filmmakers. And I want us to continue to keep looking for up-and-coming talent like the Zimbalist brothers and give those people their first big break. If we do these four things, I'm happy.
The Knicks last night unveiled KnicksNow.com, a new social media platform that seeks to aggregate exclusive video, game highlights, photo galleries, team and player-related Twitter, Facebook and FourSquare feeds, news content, user-generated content, a fan loyalty program, and other material into one centralized hub. The effort looks to build upon several years of aggressive social media initiatives by MSG for both the Knicks and Rangers, as well as capitalize on an improving Knicks team. "We're at a very important inflection point with this team," said MSG Sports Exec VP/Marketing & Sales Howard Jacobs. "The Knicks are on the way back up, and people are rediscovering this team and re-engaging with it. So our overarching question was what does the future of fan engagement look like? Our goal is to be very immediate and very engaging with this." The site will differ fundamentally from the club's primary web page, NYKnicks.com, in that the existing home page will remain more of a one-way channel for key information such as stats, schedules and ticketing, whereas KnicksNow.com will be a two-way destination, Jacobs said. The team was aided by The Kenny Miller Co., a N.Y. area-based digital consultancy. Mobile versions of KnicksNow.com are planned for a February release. KnicksNow.com does not include any monetization elements such as advertising or subscription-based content. Instead, the destination is designed in part to enlarge existing revenue lines such as ticketing, TV and radio consumption, and merchandise sales. MSG invested an undisclosed six-figure sum to start the site.
In New Orleans, Jimmy Smith cites sources as saying that Cox Sports Television and Charter Communications will announce tomorrow an agreement "to provide CST's New Orleans Hornets telecasts" to Charter subscribers on the north shore area of Lake Pontchartrain. Sources added that it is "likely the agreement will mirror a previous accommodation in which" Charter's subscribers in St. Tammany Parish "would pay a nominal fee, perhaps $5 monthly, for a sports tier of channels" that includes CST. Smith notes now that CST "will be available to north shore viewers, it opens up one of the largest population areas to receive Hornets' telecasts at a time when the team is seeking to boost attendance in the wake of a pending NBA takeover of ownership of the franchise" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/16).
GOING STREAMING: CBSSports.com and CBS Sports Mobile announced that they will again provide live streaming webcasts of select CBS broadcasts of college basketball games involving teams from the SEC, Big East and Big Ten conferences. The service, titled "College Basketball Live," will stream more than 20 games free of charge this season, beginning with Saturday's South Carolina-Ohio State game. Mobile users can access "College Basketball Live" on the CBS Sports Mobile iPhone app (CBS).
CTV CLEARED: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Etan Vlessing reported the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has "cleared domestic broadcaster CTV for repeatedly airing graphic video footage" of the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Vancouver Games. The council said that CTV was "within its rights to air" footage of Kumaritashvili "flying off his luge during a practice run and into a support post -- even if YouTube and other online websites scrambled to take the death video down." Vlessing noted the council was "responding to 145 viewer complaints" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 12/15).