Contrasting streaks drive debut of HBO's Winter Classic series
Viewers who tuned into Wednesday's debut of “24/7 Penguins-Capitals Road to the Winter Classic” witnessed a tale of two teams: the Penguins, who were riding a long winning streak during the filming, and the Capitals, who were struggling along a long losing skid.
That contrast was on the mind of coordinating producer Bentley Weiner as she considered the episode's closing scene.
“My co-producer, who handles the Capitals side of the show, and I take turns producing the closing montage of the show each week,” she said in an exclusive post-episode interview with Trib Total Media.
“This was my week and so I chose to focus on the incredible differences that had so clearly developed between the two teams as the Penguins continued to coast, and the Caps to falter. The images of happy Penguins players on the charter home and the despondent Caps on theirs, as well as the snowball fight that broke out with Pens players after dinner in Buffalo, and the anguish on the Caps players in the training room, really said it all.”
Q: Pittsburghers couldn't help but notice some signature shots (Ft. Pitt Tunnel into the skyline, South Side Slopes) and sounds (“It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh!”). How did your knowledge of the city play into the decisions to go with those?
A: My knowledge of the city played heavily into all of those decisions. As soon as the series was announced and I knew I'd be producing the Penguins portion, I immediately thought of starting the first episode with the Ft. Pitt Tunnel. And I knew (Hall of Fame Penguins broadcaster) Mike Lange's famous “It's a hockey night in Pittsburgh!” must also be included. After I observed the Penguins locker room and the beautiful imagery of the uniforms hanging and, later, players putting them on and lacing up their skates, I had the entire opening sequence completed in my head.
Q: What became your favorite part/moment and why did you have to keep it in the episode?
A: My favorite Pens portion of the show is the segment that starts off with Pascal Dupuis having an intimate moment with his family as he heads off to Buffalo. I think that scene and all the moments that followed – Pascal in the car talking about his deep respect for linemate Sidney Crosby; Pascal joking to (Evgeni Malkin) as he walked into practice; the plane ride and the team prank – were each very revealing in their own ways. My favorite moment within the whole sequence is when “Right Back Where We Started From” plays during the team's travel. I used the song as sort of a wink-wink to all the “Slapshot” fans out there.
Q: How did you come to the decisions to dig deeper into the characters you did and in the sequence that you did?
A: The top stars of the team and Dan Bylsma were obvious choices to focus on. And as for Matt Cooke, Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis, the other players we got to know well during this first episode, I chose each of them for different reasons, but mostly because they're among most colorful and charismatic guys on the team.
As for the timing of getting to know each character, I knew we'd establish Sidney and Dan right off the top; but I then I wanted to introduce the others not in any order of importance, but instead in a way that felt natural in the progression of the events of the episode. Malkin, for instance, was briefly introduced at the top of the show on the exercise bike, but really didn't get much air time until the Buffalo game when he practiced with the team for the first time during the morning skate. We didn't see much of Jordan Staal in this episode because he wasn't a part of the team's games and activities last week. But viewers can expect to see more of him in the future, as well as additional players and front office members, in upcoming weeks.
Squirrel Hill's Bentley Weiner is a coordinating producer for HBO's “24/7 Penguins-Capitals Road to the Winter Classic.” Each week she will share with Trib Total Media her thoughts following episodes of the series, which airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m., followed by repeats at 11 p.m. and at various times afterward (check local listings.)