Why the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs are (and aren’t) the problem with 24/7

NOTE: Derek Rocco's usual 24/7 piece will not be seen today. I thought I would step in to give a slightly different look at the show than usual. 

Every time the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs seem to play a certain team in the past month, hockey fans start to wonder what could've been. 

They see the Florida Panthers and their successes and wonder — even though they'll never be in a Winter Classic — what it would've been like following an underdog team that kept beating the Detroit Red Wings for a bit. They see Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and wonder how the characters from the first NHL season of 24/7 have developed since. Then, last night, they saw Matt Martin chirp at Drew Miller and wonder if he and John Tavares hanging out in New York for a month could be a better show. 

24/7: Road to the Winter Classic has jumped the shark for a lot of people in a lot of ways in its third season on HBO. They jumped the shark because the Red Wings and Maple Leafs have both, on at least one occasion, denied the cameras access at key moments. Or they jumped the shark because the show started airing, censored, a day later in Canada. But the one criticism the show can't shake is that 24/7 is bad because the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are boring teams filled with boring players. 

That may be true, but that's not necessarily where Detroit and Toronto are at fault here. Yes, criticize the Red Wings and Maple Leafs all you want for breaking the only supposed rule of the show, even though doing so allowed HBO to get a compelling shot of the camera just waiting outside as Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle ripped into his team's effort. They didn't even get that shot with the Red Wings, because bench boss Mike Babcock no doubt took his microphone off before tearing into his players.

But it's not as if we've all felt that hockey players are some interesting secret wrapped in an enigma that the Wings and Leafs are keeping under lock. While hockey's characters are solid, there are few teams, much less individual players that — beyond the foul language — are interesting enough to carry even a four-episode reality show on their own. HBO has to play the hand they are dealt, and they have done some good things with that hand.

Episode three was far better than anyone will give it credit for, because people are tired of the format of the series. The look into Daniel Alfredsson's Swedish Christmas was charming and showed a father trying to keep his family traditions from home alive with his family in America. Joffrey Lupul: Fashionista in New York at Christmas and James van Riemsdyk and Brendan Smith's sojourns with their families in New Jersey and Toronto were all worthwhile. Frankly, it wasn't a bad episode. 

The fact is, we've reached the point in 24/7 that plagues every reality show: we've seen it before. Now show us something bigger, better, weirder or don't bother. 

Every reality show, including the 99 percent that have never dealt with hockey, runs into this problem. Even the ones that are trashy fun (The BachelorRock of Love, that garbage Tila Tequila show) are only so for about a season. Then it's all just something you've seen before, unless (and this is something that The Bachelor has been amazing at, if clips on The Soup are any indication) you find a way to manufacture something more and more outrageous. 

Hell, 24/7 was able to conjure that up in its second season. Frankly, there wasn't all that much memorable from the Rangers/Flyers edition of the show (Marian Gaborik carrying a Christmas tree?) aside from Ilya Bryzgalov. And he tended to do what all explosive personalities do on reality shows: he ate it alive, to the point where there was little room for anything else to get inside its humongous universe. If you took out the Bryzgalov scenes, you have a show that is very disappointing in comparison to the Penguins/Capitals show. 

Only two things can happen in reality television: you either manufacture something that makes it crazier, or manipulate it so that you never look bad at all. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs are clearly well-run organizations that don't want to see the former, so they've found ways to do the latter. Frankly, you'd be far more worried about how they were being run if somehow there was another version of the show where Pavel Datsyuk said crazy things or Randy Carlyle kept doing talking heads with barbecue sauce on his face. 

So yeah, you can blame Detroit and Toronto a little bit. They have aided and abetted the process of 24/7 becoming more or less a series of GQ fashion shoots set to cool music and slow motion shots of players getting on planes. But this was going to happen, no matter who was put into this season of the show. Eventually, even what we thought the coolest thing ever can become boring if it sticks to a format. Maybe it's time for 24/7 to shut down while we remember it fondly. Either that, or figure out a way to dream up the whole thing all over again. 

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.