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HBO to produce NHL reality series

Will follow Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals

TORONTO -- The National Hockey League has made it to U.S. pay TV.
 
HBO Sports' "24/7" reality franchise is pacting with the pro hockey league to take viewers inside the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals with a four-episode reality series to air in December and January.
 
The HBO sports reality show will follow the Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby, and the Capitals, led by Alexander Ovechkin, on and off the ice for a month in preparation for a December 23 regular season matchup, and a Jan. 1 “Winter Classic” showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
 
The series will debut on December 15, and climax with a Jan. 5 finale.
 
“We will bring sport fans unprecedented access to what goes on behind the scenes in a sports league, and to two teams as they prepare for battle,” HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, told a teleconference call on Thursday.
 
“These are two teams that don’t love each other. The rivalry aspect will play out well,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman added.
 
Production costs for the pay TV reality series were not disclosed.
 
News of the HBO deal follows the NHL coming off record ratings for its 2009-2010 season, followed by the Stanley Cup playoff rounds, ultimately won by the Chicago Blackhawks over the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
Rather than chronicle this year’s championship round next spring, HBO decided to portray a regular season run for the Penguins and the Capitals.
 
All four episodes of the HBO Sports show will have multiple replay dates on U.S. pay TV channel, and the series will also be available on HBO On Demand.
 
Greenburg said the “24/7” series will be sold into the Canadian market.
 
The NHL’s Bettman added that the tie-up with HBO would not necessarily impact the league as it prepares to negotiate for a renewal of its current TV rights deals with NBC and the Versus cable channel.
 
The contracts with NBC and Versus expire after the 2010-2011 season.
 
Bettman dismissed speculation that the NHL is seeking a possible return to ESPN after a rumored bidding war for the league’s future TV rights between Comcast and Versus and Disney’s ABC and ESPN properties.