NBC producer Mark Levy, a 22-time Emmy Award winner, is the man behind the new NBC Sports Network program “NHL Rivals.” He sat down with the Tribune-Review to discuss the new series, Pittsburgh’s role in NBC programming, Sidney Crosby’s interview with Bob Costas and where hockey on television is headed.
Q: How important is Sidney Crosby in your desire to elevate hockey’s profile?
A: Very much. When we came out of the interview (with Bob Costas) and went into the edit room, it was just great. It was great to see Sidney off the ice. I don’t believe his reputation is make-believe. I believe it is genuine. That’s always how he comes across. I enjoyed hearing him talking about athletes he’s admired over the years, and what it was like meeting Michael Jordan at Mario Lemieux’s golf tournament. He’s just so genuine. As elite as he is, he’s so grounded.
Q: Sid isn’t always good for bulletin board quotes. How did it go?
A: He was thoughtful. It’s light in nature. No fly off the cuff responses. He’s heard all the questions you can imagine. As far as specifics, I love listening to him talk about the gold medal game in Vancouver. That moment, that winning goal. It was one of the greatest moments of his life. And in contrast, he talked about how bittersweet it was to be on the bench during Game 7 in Detroit. He wanted to be on that ice.
Q: Having a presence like Bob Costas can only help NBC’s desire to push hockey, correct?
A: Most definitely. This is something Bob wants to do. This isn’t an assignment on a monthly schedule. This is something he loves. He loves sitting down with the characters and the stars of sport, be it present day or former athletes. He loves having conversations with these people. We just did a Bobby Orr interview a few weeks ago. It will be out in November. There aren’t many in the business better than Bob, and I think it shows.
Q: You guys are pushing the rivalry series pretty hard. Why?
A: Our viewers, the real diehard fans, have an appetite for this. I think fans will be very interested to know that there was a Pittsburgh hockey team in the 1920s. They wore black and gold. Then they wore blue after expansion, and then went back to black and gold because of the success had by the Steelers and Pirates. Harry Sinden was very upset by this. There was bad blood. We want people to know about the history of the teams and of the rivalry. When we put this show together, we put on the draft when Mario was drafted. Just to see draft day, and then Mario’s first goal, it’s something every Penguins fan will eat up. NHL fans in general will like this material.
Q: Pittsburgh and Boston are both great sports towns. Are they natural rivals?
A: I think it grows from what takes place in the series and the matchups. Look back at 1991 at the Cam Neely/Ulf Samuelsson moment in Game 3. It happened a number of years ago, but people still look back on it. Some will be introduced to it. Neely, we spoke to. Samuelsson, we didn’t. Many of the players on the ice and on the benches can speak to that rivalry. I don’t necessarily know if it speaks specifically to an attitude in terms of what the towns represent. Boston and Pittsburgh both have a scrappy attitude and I think that’s great in the world of sports. Both teams have a passionate base.
Q: NBC is going to keep pushing hockey hard?
A: It’s part of our hope. We want to provide the destination for the hockey fan to be able to come and stay and enjoy the hockey programming, be it watching a live game, or a show we’ve worked on, or Bob Costas sitting down with Sidney Crosby. We want the viewers to put the remote on the table and enjoy hockey for an extended period of time. We have a history of storytelling. Look at the Olympics, Sunday Night Football, the Triple Crown – We base our productions around telling stories. It’s all about making the viewer care more about the characters involved. That’s what we strive to do.
– Josh Yohe