Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Officials: The Comedy Series that Upholds Hockey's Laws of Anarchy

After the failure of MVP, Power Play, and Rent-A-Goalie, it might seem like TV shows about hockey are destined for failure. But with The Officials, Greg Rosen is out to prove Hockey Night in Canada doesn't have to be the only successful hockey series.

"Four years since writing the 22-minute pilot episode in my crappy student apartment I think I finally put something together that hockey fans will nod in agreement and feel like is a series for them—for us."

The Officials, developed from Rosen's final year Radio and Television Arts project at Ryerson University, is a single-camera web comedy that follows Shane Wolfe, son of the most infamous goon in the NAHL (the show's version of the NHL). But instead of following in his father's footsteps, Shane decides to go in the complete opposite direction and become a referee.

"Shane is a bright-eyed young guy who refereed street hockey games instead of playing," Rosen said. "He calls everything by the book and does everything by the book."

But a beer league hockey dressing room is where naivety goes to die. And Shane is quickly schooled by a motley crew of officials, including one who, according to Rosen, "is in complete denial that he is farsighted and partially colour blind."

"Shane, along with the viewer, get schooled on what happens on and off the ice and the unwritten code of conduct," Rosen said. "He learns 'Our uniforms might be black and white, but it doesn't mean we officiate that way'. Despite his best efforts to distinguish himself from his father, he learns perhaps he isn't so different from hockey's most badass enforcer."

No discussion about hockey in movies or TV is complete without at least a passing reference to Slap Shot, and although Rosen describes it as his Bible, the idea for the show wasn't totally inspired by the 70s classic.

"The idea came from a lot of frustration," Rosen said. "Frustration that Canada, the greatest hockey playing nation on Earth, could not produce a series that hockey fans actually watched. There has to be a reason why people weren't watching."

One reason for past failures like Rent-A-Goalie or MVP, according to Rosen, is that the shows tried to create too much of their own history for fictional leagues, something that could never replicate the long, storied history of the NHL. A fictional rivalry between two TV teams has a tough time getting fans emotionally invested in the same way they do for a rivalry between teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

To combat this problem, The Officials intends to take storylines straight from the pages of hockey's history books, something that helped Goon become a great hockey movie. The Officials includes references to famous incidents in NHL history, "like a fan falling through the glass trying to get at Tie Domi", plus plenty of more subtle jokes for hockey fans, like "jock straps with drawn on stitches," a clever homage to Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers.

Leafs fans, in particular, will get a kick out of the reference to a famous non-call that still haunts them to this day.

"One of our referees is Russ McCafferty, who became a raging alcoholic due to the backlash from a missed call in the 1993 NAHL playoffs, costing a team the series. Now he officiates in a local arena to escape it all," Rosen said.

The source material isn't entirely NHL based, however. Rosen, like many Canadians, spent a lot of time in the hockey rink growing up and used those experiences for the show, something he hopes will make it more accessible.

"The sights, the sounds, the loud, crazy hockey moms, the funny looking Zamboni drivers that always scream at you to stay off the ice until the gates close—those are the kinds of stuff most players and fans can relate to."

There are a lot of hurdles to overcome before the show makes its debut, however.

Rosen, who has received plenty of guidance from actor/producer Fabrizio Filippo (Billable Hours, Queer as Folk), initially tried to develop the show for traditional TV, getting letters of intent from actors Sean Cullen, Gabe Hogan (Heartland), Dov Tiefenbach (Billable Hours), and even tentative support from Rick Mercer. A deal was close with a national broadcaster, but bad timing and budget limitations ultimately stalled the efforts.

Rather than being discouraged, Rosen is excited to create the series for the internet.

"You have so much more freedom away from television mandates and CRTC regulations," Rosen said. "The Officials needed to be a web series because if you want to create a show that is a cross section of hockey culture, you need swearing, you need vulgar locker room stuff, and you need chirping. The internet gives you the license to do that."

HBO's fantastic 24/7 series has proved that there is an appetite for raw, uncensored locker room culture, even among casual hockey fans, something The Officials hopes to tap into.

"[24/7] provided a clear window into hockey without sweeping too much under the carpet. It also made players into characters instead of jersey numbers. This allowed people who weren't hockey fans to become attached."

Now the issue is finding a production company to help make the show. Rosen has the entire first season written (six 10-minute episodes) and has created a teaser trailer with the help of friends, all freelancers in TV and radio working on their own time after hours. Rosen sees the trailer as part of a grassroots effort "to rally true hockey fans that want to see a real hockey series," and hopes it catches the eye of an interested production company.

It's not going to be easy, but Rosen is dedicated to making the show happen.

"I have always planned to shoot this series, with or without the support of a company. Of course money and backing would certainly help, but a first episode can and will come from a grassroots effort by myself and a network of industry buddies willing to lend a helping hand."

Greg Rosen is a freelancer working in the television industry and can be reached by e-mail at or on Twitter at @TheOfficialsTV.

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