I've spent a lot of the last six or so years writing about the experience of an NFL fan in the US as it relates to television. One of my long held theories is that hockey programming either isn't available enough, and when there is say, an NHL Network, there isn't enough good programming to consume. I would bet hockey fans in America probably have a more lopsided amount of content viewed on the internet vs. television than any other sport.
NBCSN has started making some strides and backlogging some original, ancillary program outside of the basic studio show. This season they've launched two series, NHL Rivals and NHL Top 10, that chronicle the history of hockey through a couple of different lenses. I've enjoyed both immensely so far, and they've added a ton to the network's coverage of the sport, if only to give me something to throw on after the games.
I spoke with Mark Levy, the producer of the show, on Wednesday. Levy is a 22-time Emmy Winner who works on NBC Sports' biggest properties. Olympics, Sunday Night Football, Football Night in America. Along with supervising producer Vinny Costello, he's bringing some of the influence of those shows to this one. In fact, one adventure combined NHL Rivals with one of them.
"One of our producers was doing a swing through Europe for the Olympics," he said "and while he was there, we went to the Czech Republic and interviewed Dominik Hasek." Hasek, along with 21 other hockey luminaries some way connected to the history of the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres, appears in tonight's newest episode. It's a list that includes names like Michael Farber, Brad May, Brad Park, Ray Bourque, Rick Jeanneret, Lindy Ruff, Kevin Dupont and modern heroes like Patrice Bergeron and Thomas Vanek.
The Top 10 shows have almost become sort of found footage festivals in a way. "Part of the thrill for me was seeing all the old footage from the late 80s and early 90s," said Levy. Episodes of that show will also focus on rivalries. Future editions are planned to air about both best team and 1-on-1 player rivalries in the future.
NBCSN has a few more tricks up its sleeve in the future. They spoke to Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr yesterday and set aside time to place his interview segments in the Top 10 episode that airs tonight (naturally, it's on defensemen). The network will also be planning a special on the greatest defenseman to ever play the game in the near future.
Something I wondered was whether the Rivals show would venture outside of the network's Wednesday Night Rivalry schedule. No plans for that at this point, though Levy told me there is space ahead of the NHL's trip to Sochi for a USA-Canada episode.
For now, however, the network has these two really quite good shows airing after their Tuesday night NHL broadcasts (tonight's Nashville-Minnesota, catch American Hero Seth Jones' national TV debut) that keep you on the network and keep you watching hockey. For the fan that remembers the days of OLN, when ancillary hockey programming was a weird Canadian sitcom about hockey parents, it's a long, long way indeed.