A Look Behind The Scenes Of HBO’s “24/7”

4 Jan

A long week’s work was finally finished. The second episode of HBO’s “24/7” had been cut and was just awaiting airtime. Inside the editing bay the computer was shut down and the light-switch was ready to be flipped off so everyone could go home.

Then the night became a long one.

At center ice in Philadelphia, Claude Giroux took a knee to the back of the head from teammate Wayne Simmonds. On went the lights. On went the computer. All of a sudden, a lot more work needed to be done.

Instead of letting the second episode air as edited, Giroux’s concussion had to be added. Instead of enjoying some time off before the show hit the air, it became a race against the clock. You wouldn’t know it from watching the show, but the editing process stopped at 8:30 p.m. that Wednesday. The show aired at 10.

“The network doesn’t want us to be done an hour before air,” Dave Harmon, vice president of sports production and senior producer for HBO Sports, told Philly Sports Daily. “This isn’t broadcast news when someone’s running with a tape through the halls. We did have to change the show for that. Not just showing that he got kneed in the head. We had other material in there.

“The show was done, but you think you know what the hour’s gonna be. So we had to decide what’s gonna come out in order to get that in, to get [Wayne] Simmonds’ reaction. We had the microphone on the bench saying ‘Sorry, G.’ We’re like, ‘Oh my God.’ So we tell the network, ‘We got it. We have something that has to be here.’ That created our, hopefully, only close call.”

It went off without a hitch and wowed viewers. The whole series has been that way and on Thursday, the four-part documentary will end for the season.

The players say that the crew has been, as Danny Briere put it, “part of the team.” But Peter Laviolette said after the Winter Classic, “Yeah, we are all ready to say goodbye to HBO.”

Whatever the view may be on the access that was given to the crew, or their part on the team, it seems like everyone learned something about what goes on behind the scenes.

“I’ve never been in the locker room when the coach talks to the team,” said Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. “That’s the inner sanctum. Now I know how Peter talks to the team and how [John Tortorella] talks to the team. It’s great stuff.”

“HBO did a tremendous job of handling themselves with a ton of class and a ton of respect to our organization and what we need to do,” added Laviolette. “You know, I think the product speaks for itself.”

For nearly five weeks, one crew followed the Rangers, another the Flyers. They became engrained in the teams they covered.

“It was a pretty cool experience,” said Briere. “The crew that was there with us there were great. It was a great experience. It’s going to be weird not having them around and having all the space in the dressing room. It was fun.”

Sure, it was fun for the players. It was fun for the viewers. They didn’t have to do the work. Countless hours and a lot of stress go into basically producing a show in real time. Entering the filming of the series, the ones most nervous about the outcome were the folks at HBO.

“Before the season, we thought it was gonna be different because the Rangers and Flyers got to watch tape,” said Harmon. “No one had ever seen this before with the Penguins and Capitals. So we thought they might look at it and say, ‘You know, that kinda access, that’s kinda crazy. We’re gonna dial back on it a little bit.’ We were legitimately worried about that.

“I think you can tell from what we’ve seen, they let us have the same run of the place. All the fears are gone. We’re totally happy with the access we got. But we thought that would be the big difference.”

The only time HBO didn’t get full access from the Flyers side was the initial tests on Giroux immediately following the hit that gave him the concussion.

“You need both the doctor and the patient to agree to that and that’s the only reason why,” said Harmon. “I couldn’t tell you in the Penguins/Capitals that we were ever in the situation where we had to ask the doctor and the patient for that kinda thing. I think last year we probably, in that situation, we probably wouldn’t have been let into that room either.”

After watching three episodes this year and all four last year, it appears as though HBO could make a 60-minute show about ice freezing to be a fascinating sight. Even without the presence of Chris Pronger, HBO made the series captivating.

“It’s a big disappointment to lose him,” said Harmon. “We didn’t have one team on a 10-game winning streak and one team on a seven-game losing streak this year [like the Penguins and Capitals last year]. So we did find, look at this team’s success, the immediate success they had after losing him, and we said, ‘OK, we have our story anyway.’ So we got some positive out of the negative.”

So on they searched for a big personality. The crew set up exclusive interviews with each one of the Flyers back in November. In and out they came. Wayne Simmonds. Danny Briere. Peter Laviolette. James van Riemsdyk. Then Ilya Bryzgalov walked in.

Maybe he had some “nice tea” before he came into the locker room; maybe the crew just asked insightful questions. But when Bryzgalov came into the room in that leather jacket, the HBO crew had no idea what had hit them.

“I can honestly say that when we first interviewed him, we knew he was a great interview, but we didn’t know that we were gonna get nuggets even after that,” said Harmon. “The Siberian husky discussion was just at a team breakfast. We weren’t looking for ‘Let’s get Bryzgalov — let’s put him on in this scene.’ It actually happened the way you saw it.

“We’re like, ‘Shoot the breakfast. You never know what’s gonna happen.’ And he does something that had to be on national television. And it was supposed to be because we knew the next week, you’re gonna meet the dog.”

With one episode to go, believe it or not, there is still some great Bryzgalov footage still to come. But we may not get to see it all.

“The problem we have this week is that with the Winter Classic, we still only have an hour,” said Harmon. “If we can fit it, but it might not fit the narrative of ‘What have they done this week?’ They went to Pittsburgh. They had New Year’s Eve. We’re not gonna force a Bryzgalov comment in because it’s funny or crazy just for shock value. It has to fit what we’re doing, knowing that we’re going to his house for Christmas, those are the kind of ways to kind of fit it in without it being forced or fake.”

So what if there’s something that doesn’t make the cut? Harmon also worked on the boxing versions of “24/7” and there were some scenarios where HBO.com got some extra assets for full-length interviews. While he wouldn’t promise that would be the case here, it remains a possibility.

HBO had 12 cameras at the Winter Classic; that’s why they needed the extra day and will air the fourth episode on Thursday instead of Wednesday. There could probably be a fascinating piece just in what will be left on the editing room floor on Thursday night in the HBO editing bays. Hell, with all that footage, Harmon’s crew might be flirting with deadline once again. But if the first three episodes are any indication, the finale will look picture perfect and at least on the surface, will appear to go off without a hitch.

For a transcript of the full interview with HBO’s Dave Harmon, click here.

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