24/7 Episode Three Recap: Nate Ewell Got Screen Time, One of the Many Reasons This Was the Best Episode Yet

Now that’s more like it.

As so many of you called me out on, I had a lot to criticize about episode two of HBO’s 24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic when it aired last week. I felt it was a retread of the intense, excellent week one. While perhaps I was too harsh on some of the filler material (Sorry, Mario), I still maintain my original point that it lagged behind episode one in excitement and in pure innovation.

Well, I doubt they did, but it sure seems like HBO listened to all of my complaints and gladly corrected them for episode three, which did all the things I predicted it would do (find natural, new things to try out) but in none of the ways I expected (War room/referee communication? Mind exploded). Half of it was intense, bottle episode set inside the NHL’s most intense rivalry, a fantastic, never-before-seen look at two clubs that hate each other, with nothing getting in the way of unfettered access.

The other half felt like your favorite office comedy on television (I’ve made Michael Scott allusions before) which followed the characters around Christmas time, each vignette more delightful than the last. Add the early foundations of the Winter Classic rink at Heinz Field, and you’ve got yourself an unparalleled episode of sports television, and perhaps television overall, in 2010. A true accomplishment for HBO and the NHL. Show this to anyone who’s ever turned off a hockey game and let the pictures prove them wrong.

First off, let’s give a massive amount of credit to two departments that might not get a lot of the initial credit from critics such as myself: the writer, Aaron Cohen, and the music supervisors for the show. Cohen’s words, as read by the ever-reliable Liev Schriber, are nearly pitch-perfect for every second. The script never dominates the pictures and audio, but supports it, giving it just the extra bit of tension and levity the show needs at whatever particular point it deserves. For a show that blends action, comedy, drama, and at times all three, that’s no easy feat.

But the music on this thing, oh, the music. You knew they got it from the start with the Maxine Nightengale montage in episode one, and added to it with the Boston clip in show two. However, not one but two stunning, almost music video quality sequences highlight this episode of 24/7, and they both show off what the show can really do. Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Out to Dry” sets up the walk-up and preview to the game. It is a song I never would have thought to use in a sports show, but is a great tension builder for the task at hand.

Then, the real money moment for the series came at the end, where clips of the Capitals and Penguins in their post-rivalry game mode meshed with the set-up at Heinz Field, all set to My Chemical Romance’s gorgeous “Welcome to the Black Parade.” I’d bet you some people didn’t even recognize the song without the vocal dramatics, but man, I bet they’ll be on HBO’s music page when they update it begging to download it. There aren’t words to describe how much I enjoyed that, as it was one of the best sports montages I’ve ever seen.

Back to the rivalry game that was the centerpiece of this episode. An intense, freewheeling, uncensored look at the best rivalry in the game. If there was something more you wanted to see from the more than 30 minutes spent on the Pens-Caps game from Thursday, well, there’s just no pleasing you. From the already stellar ice-level look at the highlights, to the stunning scene that was the NHL war room’s conversation with the referees at ice level, everything clicked.

Another thing I liked was that they finally got coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma’s speeches to the teams back-to-back. It was interesting to see the contrasting styles, with Bylsma remaining almost entirely technical, even watching highlights of the first period after the period ended, while Boudreau blending in more of a rah-rah style. A fascinating comparison, if you hadn’t already put the two speeches up against each other from the previous episode.

The Christmas scenes were a delightful add-on. The Bylsma and Boudreau families were a more welcome diversion this time around, and some unexpected characters really broke out off the ice. From Evgeni Malkin complementing Ben Lovejoy on his new scars (That was the real gruesome part of the show, as Lovejoy began to resemble the elephant man), to Mike Rupp talking to his family as if he’d clearly watched the first two episodes of the show a million times already.

Everything fired on all cylinders in this episode, at least everything I can name. Episode four will have to go a long way to take it down, but I have a feeling we’ve got a shot to see yet another special episode of television next week.

A Correction

In Puck the Media’s most recent post, we stated that a Rangers/Canadiens broadcast in 2008 was NBC’s lowest-rated broadcast on record. However, it was pointed out to us by a friend that this might not be true, and they were correct. There are at worst two games of lower ratings in NBC history, and both occurred this season. However, we think the original point – that NBC tried to show a game featuring a Canadian team and it ended up with some of it’s lowest ratings ever – remains.

Regardless, Puck the Media regrets the error and apologizes.

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So Today We’re Going to Waste Energy Telling You That Damien Cox is a Moron When it Comes to TV Issues

(NOTE: This is an editorial featuring equal parts comedy and pathos, so don’t take everything in it too seriously … just the important parts. Enjoy.)

Lately, I’ve been wondering about how people get to the places they’re at and how they got there. I assume for almost all of them, it was a case of hard work, determination, and knowing the right people when it mattered. I like to think of myself as an optimist who believes that every successful person is both being rewarded for hard work with their position, and doing a strong enough job to keep it.

However, in the case of Toronto Star writer Damien Cox, I have to wonder why he remains where he is in both employment and stature. Cox, through his columns, TV appearances and numerous books, is likely the most popular Canadian sports writer of a generation, and I’m certain that he deserved to get to that level of esteem legitimately.

In the internet age, however, he seems to be finding himself increasingly confused and slowly more irrelevant. Though he keeps a blog, and has a Twitter account, he’s extremely ignorant about how he seems to feel he should interact with the rest of the world. His Twitter bio reads as the following:

Damien Cox, the Toronto Star’s hockey columnist and blogger enjoys interaction with interesting members of blogosphere. The rest? Buh-bye.

I don’t need to spell it out for you: If you disagree with Damien Cox, or maybe – gasp! – suggest that he’s not the all-intelligent being he perceives himself to be, you will be blocked from his Twitter account (No, it hasn’t happened to me as of this writing). What a petty move by a man who should be well above this sort of thing. Instead of attempting to engage a potential new generation of readers who might look to the next best thing instead of the journalism stand-bys of the past, completely ignore them, just in case their opinions don’t gel with that of yours. The ultimate in trollish behavior.

However, who am I to judge Cox, right? I’m a lowly blogger who knows a thing or two about the way the NHL’s TV deals and media rights work. I’m in no position to deem whatever he does on Twitter as right or wrong. I’m sure one or two of the people he’s blocked have legitimately harassed him and made him feel uncomfortable. It’s the dozens of others (guestimate) who annoy me. I’m sure Cox just sees them as an example of the blogosphere’s ignorance to all the things that matter so deeply to him.

Anyway, Cox made it personal when he decided to lay down the law on some issues involving the Winter Classic, as well as the NHL’s TV deal with NBC. The technique you’re about to see was of course pioneered by the amazing people at Fire Joe Morgan, and you should go read everything that those guys have ever done, and especially watch Parks and Recreation, the television show one of FJM’s writers co-created, Thursday nights at 9:30 PM ET on NBC starting January 20th. I hope that, after all that, I have the proper blessing to steal their moves. Anyway, what follows is the series of tweets Cox started posting on his account this afternoon:

Gotta laugh at how NHL celebrates only U.S. teams for Winter Classic while revenues of six Canadian teams carry entire league.

Watching NBC/NHL pretend Canada doesn’t exist over next two days makes you. . . pray for rain. . . 🙂

First NHL outdoor game was, of course, in Edmonton. But don’t expect to hear that on Saturday. Canadian NHL teams need not apply.

Yeah, things like revenue are interesting. Do you happen to know how the NHL’s television contract with NBC works? The term “revenue sharing” is something I’m certain you’re familiar with. Well, the NHL has a revenue sharing contract with NBC, and has for the past six years. How does it work, you might ask? Well, NBC pays no rights fee upfront, like some other networks do in the hundreds of millions for sports leagues, but they do pay the cost of distribution and for the talent. Your TSN cohort Pierre McGuire, who is NBC’s star analyst, could’ve explained this to you over coffee one day. I’m sure you were busy.

Now, how does NBC and the NHL make any money on this deal? Well, they split advertising costs. Before either entity sees any money, they make back the production/distribution costs, but after that, they split whatever is left. The key, though, is the advertising money. They come from price estimates sent out by networks to potential advertisers based on ratings and demographics. The higher the ratings NBC can promise the advertisers and the better demographics (18-49, 18-34, Men in both those age ranges) they can give the right advertisers, the more money they can make for the league and for, eventually, themselves. It is a great way of keeping a prestigious sporting event without having to overspend. This practice will likely end by the time the next TV contract comes around, but for now it is what we have.

Now, who exactly drives TV ratings for the NHL? They’re hard to figure out, sometimes, but we know this: The Penguins definitely do, with all their star power and recent prestige. The Detroit Red Wings have faded, but still pack a punch around playoff time. The Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, and now the Chicago Blackhawks are also decent ratings factors.

Something the NHL has struggled to do is to get the average fan to care about the league’s rivalries ever since the fade of the Detroit-Colorado wars of the late late 90’s/early 00’s. They seem to have struck a bit of lightning with Penguins-Capitals, which is consistently among the network’s highest rated, non-Winter Classic regular season matchup.

Onto that Winter Classic. It is likely the biggest driving force in the advertising boon the NHL has seen in the new millenium. Companies that didn’t even care about the NHL (at least in America) have joined up with the league to help each other make some money. McDonald’s, Honda and Pepsico. are all behemoths that have seen the growth potential for the NHL, spurned by the success, the marketing and merchandising bonanza that the Winter Classic has been, and bought in.

Now, this goes back to my main point: Ratings help set advertising revenues. Who gets ratings? Pens-Caps. The NHL wants its’ biggest event to draw bigger ratings than the best of the Winter Classic’s (Detroit-Chicago, which drew 4.4 million viewers) so that it can set higher advertising rates for their package of games with NBC for now and in the future, and also, continue to show other TV networks that they’re a viable product worth spending money and airtime on. So, we’re all sorry if the Oilers aren’t involved in this.

Also, you know what? I bet you someone – Doc Emrick, Bob Costas, Pierre McGuire – mentions the Edmonton game, or at worst, promotes the game in Calgary later this season. I am so steadfast in this belief that I will quit this blog if neither are mentioned. That is a promise. Would you be willing to make the same?

And the rest of the schedule this season for the NHL on NBC? Not a single Canadian team. They just pay the bills, I guess. What an insult.

You’d think NBC might want to show the league’s reigning MVP. . . .

[On which Canadian team should participate in the Winter Classic] Oh, I dunno. Maybe the Montreal Canadiens, the most successful team in the history of the freakin’ league.

Okay, you make a sort of valid point in an idiotic way. NBC hasn’t been very good about spreading the love among teams since they went to a Game of the Week format back in 2008. While they did show 22 of the 24 American teams during their first two years of coverage, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks have yet to be shown on an NBC broadcast. Why is this, though?

The reasons are all quite simple, really. Canadian viewers, as terrific and passionate as they are, do not count in American television ratings. I’m not being mean, it’s just … you know, simple fact. The Nielsen company does not count Canadian households when determining American TV numbers. Which, you know … obviously they don’t. It’d be dishonest to do so on either side of the border.

So based on that, if NBC shows a game featuring a Canadian team, they lose a local market that can help prop up ratings. You know what a local league the NHL still is. This is unfortunate, but it is how things have to be. Having two local markets that will likely draw big ratings helps NBC overall and in the long run to get big ratings numbers, so that – once again – they can set higher advertising rates and eventually make more money off the contract.

In this case, Mr. Cox, Canadian teams are actually not paying the bills, they’re keeping the NHL from paying them. An example of this? The NHL On NBC’s lowest-rated telecast to date? A Rangers-Canadiens game from 2008. The team you’d like to see featured in the NHL’s biggest ratings event. Not only would the NHL lose a local market in the US that would draw massive amounts of hardcore and casual viewers (a quarter of the houses tuned to their TV’s in Boston watched last year’s game) but it would cause disinterest to the rest of the viewers, who simply haven’t given their interest to Canadian franchises. Oh, but Montreal did have good ratings in last year’s playoffs … because they were broadcast with the Penguins and Flyers, both teams that draw local playoff ratings on a level with regular season football.

And this fool thinks we can’t watch NBC in Canada. Oh my goodness.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! It isn’t about that. We don’t care if you get the game on NBC, CBC, from your mother’s house on Prince Edward Island to your uncle’s apartment in Vancouver, it doesn’t matter. I wish there were a nicer sounding way to say this, but in Canada, your viewership on American television networks does not count. Got it? Good.

Finally …

Last few Winter Classics generated about 4 million viewers. Geez, that’s not even a Grey Cup.

Totally the same thing. An event, created only a few years ago, that features a sport most American viewers are indifferent to, that in the end is a regular season game. That’s exactly the same as the winner take all, championship showdown of Canada’s second most popular television sport. Exactly the same.

At this point, I’ve got to be wasting my time. I’ve already wasted nearly 1800 words on this. Way too much for someone who clearly doesn’t get it, and just doesn’t want to. Please, sir, quit Twitter if you’re going to continue to behave this way. Quit blogging. Go back to your throne atop a stack of newspapers, where not one person can challenge your Gospel. Hopefully, by then, not one person will care enough to even feign interest. I certainly will not.

NBC Sets Up Early Schedule

Courtesy NBC Listings

January 1, 1:00 PM ET – Washington vs. Pittsburgh
January 23, 12:30 PM ET – Philadelphia vs. Chicago
February 6, 12:30 PM ET – Pittsburgh vs. Washington

No surprises here.

NBC Previews the Winter Classic

NEW YORK – Dec. 29, 2010 – Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic from Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, on New Year’s Day airing live at 1 p.m. ET on NBC. The game will also be live streamed on NBCSports.com, a first for the Winter Classic.


Bob Costas will host NBC Sports’ coverage from Heinz Field and will be joined on site by Mike Milbury (studio analyst), Mike “Doc” Emrick (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst), Pierre McGuire (inside-the-glass reporter), Darren Pang (inside-the glass-reporter), and The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore (meteorologist). Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ executive producer and the former captain of the Williams College hockey team, produces NBC Sports’ NHL coverage.


CableCam, a regular for NBC Sports’ “Sunday Night Football” coverage, will make its Winter Classic debut at Heinz Field. NBC Sports will have six more cameras at this game than it did for the Stanley Cup Final, including iso cameras on Crosby and Ovechkin. An airplane will again be used for aerial shots.


RECORD VIEWERSHIP: The three previous Winter Classics have averaged 4.0 million viewers. The 2009 game at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings was the most-watched NHL regular season game in almost 35 years. An average of 4.4 million Americans watched the Red Wings defeat the Blackhawks, 6-4, from Wrigley, the biggest regular-season NHL audience since Feb. 23, 1975 (5.4 million, Philadelphia-New York Rangers on NBC), according to Nielsen Media Research.


STREAMING: This year’s Winter Classic will be streamed live on NBCSports.com, a first for the event. The streaming will employ an HD player with full DVR controls that allows the user to pause, rewind and slow-mo Winter Classic action. The player will also feature four additional live online-only camera angles, including two “Star Cams” that will follow Crosby and Ovechkin wherever they are during the game. Also available for viewers will be CableCam and Goalie Cam, which originates from inside the net. Fans can access highlight clips, stats and a live chat with experts from NBCSports.com’s Pro Hockey Talk.


CONFERENCE CALL: NBC Sports conducted a media conference call on December 21 with Costas, Emrick, Olczyk, Milbury, and Flood. Following are highlights:


Costas on NBC Sports’ coverage approach: “The way we approach this at NBC Sports is that we want it to be a broadcast that appeals to knowledgeable, hard core hockey fans, but at the same time recognizes that this an event which draws in a lot of casual fans, who probably won’t watch much hockey outside of this game, maybe the Stanley Cup Final and Olympic hockey.


“You have to capture the atmospherics of it, some of the back-stories, something that will draw in the person that isn’t necessarily watching the NHL night in and night out, which is not unlike how we cover the Kentucky Derby. Those who know how to read a racing form enjoy our coverage. Those who don’t follow horseracing outside of the Triple Crown events enjoy it as well. That’s how we approach this event.”


Flood on the Winter Classic as an event: “The key word that Bob said right off the bat is ‘event.’ We cover it like an event. It’s much more than a hockey game and we want to celebrate it, celebrate the sport, celebrate the two stars in the game as well as both teams and the city of Pittsburgh.”


Emrick on the buzz around the game: “I can’t run into anybody around our sport that doesn’t tell me what they’re going to be doing on the afternoon of this game. Invariably, it’s watching it. Even players who are going to be playing in other games on New Year’s Day say that they’re going to be watching it, too.”


Olczyk on being a part of the Winter Classic: “It’s a great day for hockey…for the city of Pittsburgh and a great rivalry between Ovechkin and Crosby and the Capitals and the Penguins. To be a part of it is certainly a privilege.”


Milbury on the host cities: “I think they get incredibly excited. Each of the towns where these events have been held gets incredibly buzzed about it. I’ve been to the last three of these things and each one of them had their own qualities, but each one of them a ton of fun for everybody that is involved. There are a lot of games in the NHL season, some of them I don’t get too wired up about, but this one is well marked on my calendar.”


Costas on history of the event: “This has become an anticipated New Year’s Day event. At the first one, in Buffalo with Pittsburgh and the Sabres going at it, we benefited from the snow, that snow globe affect that people found so compelling, and also the overtime goal from Sidney Crosby to win it. Then we took it to the iconic baseball stadiums: first Wrigley and then Fenway. Now, although we are in a new stadium and a football stadium, Heinz Field, we have the matchup of Crosby and Ovechkin. Each of these games has had … something different to make it stand out.”


Emrick on the uniqueness of the Winter Classic: “We don’t normally do games that have low-flying aircrafts, meteorologists and the threat of rain or snow that might affect the outcome of the game.”


Costas on the first Winter Classic setting the stage: “It more than got us off on the right foot, it sent us off flying. Even though we got a surprisingly high rating for a regular-season hockey game, the buzz was beyond the rating. People were talking about it for a long time afterward and that’s hard to measure. You can’t measure precisely, but you can definitely feel it and sense it. Within one year, it wasn’t building towards something that had standing as a yearly event, it became that in the space of one day.”


Emrick on playing outdoors: “It’s also the joy of playing outdoors and any player you run into whether European or North American recounts tales about playing outdoors on frozen ponds. I know that sort of becomes a redundant poetry that we have every time at this time of year, but I think it’s also necessary to convey what this event is like in the lives of players and also those of us who are able to watch them on a regular basis when they play indoors.”


Milbury on playing outdoors: “There is a quote from Bobby Orr about this day being a celebration of hockey and that’s really what it is. For some of those who are old enough to remember skating on the ponds, it is a throwback kind of a game, but for many of the present players, they never played outdoors. This is almost old timers day for young people.”


Costas on competing against bowl games: “The landscape has changed. Because the Winter Classic has worked out so well the first three years, it can more than hold it’s own.”


Emrick on the rivalry: “The one thing that we do have are two teams that really care about winning the game from one another. It’s about winning the contest. It’s about not really caring a lot about each other because there is quite a rivalry that goes back 20-25 years into the Mario Lemieux era between Washington and Pittsburgh.”


Flood on producing this year’s game: “We’re going to line up a lot like a normal football game. Doc and Eddie will be in the stands at the back of the lower section of seats so that they’ll be in the elements and experience the game as the players are, except they’re not going to be hit. Then we’ve got iso cameras, one for Sidney and one for Ovechkin, as well as a high camera in one of the end zone’s up on top of the scoreboard, which gets an incredible shot of downtown Pittsburgh that can then turn into the stadium and show the game.


“The important thing here is to show the game from a much wider perspective. It’s not a hockey game, it’s an event. Our goal is to capture how big it is and how different it is to have a multitude of people sitting in these stands and cheering for these two teams and, I’d imagine, a towel of a certain color waving in the stands. Things like that will make it different. There will be an extra six cameras than what we had for the Stanley Cup Final games. We really go all out to have as many cameras and machines to capture the total day.


“We’ve added a CableCam for the first time ever, which will capture some of the speed and also some of the scene. That’s the important thing, to let people know that there is something about this that is much more than a hockey game.


“CableCam is a camera used in football games that flies over the play so we can move it up and down, along the boards, move it up in the stands. Wherever we want to be to capture the event and capture some of the speed of hockey, which will be one of the fun things we get to do with it. We can follow a rush up ice and see what Ovechkin is doing as he brings the puck into the zone from an angle you haven’t seen before. We’ll do the same thing with Crosby. That should add something in addition to our normal iso cam.


“Once again we’ll have an airplane. That was a thrill in Buffalo doing the first replay in history of a goal from an airplane angle.”



The Best and Worst of Hockey Media in 2010

It has been quite the interesting year for hockey fans across North America. I don’t know how Canadians view it (probably differently), but to me, the fun and sheer glee that came from the Olympics seems like it happened in a different year, a different era. But we all have shorter attention spans now, and it was only 10 months ago. I miss it. Let’s find a way to bring the World Cup back so we can have some of that non-stop, all day hockey again?

Anyway, this year saw a ton of craziness beyond the Olympics, from another record-breaking Stanley Cup Playoff on VERSUS, to the Kovalchuk madness, to whatever Don Cherry was wearing and saying, to the continued worry and banter over where the NHL’s next television deal will take it. It was loaded with a lot of great and not-so-great moments. Enough of that, however, let’s hand out some fairly meaningless awards after the jump!

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Your Announcers and Open Thread for Bruins-Lightning

Boston vs. Tampa Bay, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
Rick Peckham
Color: Andy Brickley

Your Announcers and Open Thread for Wild-Blue Jackets

Minnesota vs. Columbus, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS (HD)
Play by Play:
John Forslund
Color: Billy Jaffe
Reporter: Bob Harwood

Announcers and Open Thread/Referendum on Gary Thorne For USA-Finland

USA vs. Finland, 8:00 PM ET, NHL Network (HD)
Play by Play:
Gary Thorne
Color: Dave Starman
Reporter: Fred Pletsch


24/7 Episode Two Draws Similar Ratings, Now Averaging 373,000 viewers

From Travis Yanan:

HBO 24/7 (10pm, 57 minutes)

– 0.363 million viewers

– 0.2/0 HH

– 0.2/1 A18-49

Episode one drew 383,000 viewers, but with those same ratings an 18-49 numbers.