Every season, TV writers and producers are faced with the challenge of keeping their product fresh and edgy for viewers. HBO’s 24/7 is the same in that respect. But unlike their peers, the Emmy-winning series creates their shows without a set script, and only have four episodes to build anticipation for the payoff, which is an anticipated PPV fight instead of a season finale. On Saturday night (October 23), series veteran Manny Pacquiao and newcomer Antonio Margarito will take center stage as the latest boxers to open up their lives up to the 24/7 drama.
Senior HBO producer Dave Harmon has been involved with 24/7 since its beginnings hyping the Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya superfight in 2007. Neither Pacquiao nor Margarito’s last fights had the back stories to warrant a 24/7. But each man’s recent out of the ring activities (Pacquiao’s congressional win in the Philippines , and Margarito’s license denial in California) have supplied the necessary ammo to warrant the first 24/7 since Mayweather-Mosley in May.
But will this truly be a new experience, or simply a rehash of past exploits? Dave Harmon explains why fans can expect surprises with this edition.
Ismael AbduSalaam: Before we get into the show, lay out exactly what your responsibilities entail as senior producer of HBO 24/7.
Dave Harmon: I’m a senior producer for 24/7. That means I’m responsible for the big picture of the show. There are producers who work in each camp. We have one producer who gets all the footage from Pacquiao’s side, and a different producer who gets all the material from Margarito’s side. These segments we put together for the greater whole, which is the 24/7 half-hour show. I’m in charge of making sure the two segments are going well, and when the big picture is combined into one show it all makes sense.
AbduSalaam: When you send those producers in there, do you have set storylines or look to see what develops spontaneously?
Harmon: It’s a combination of both. In Margarito’s camp, we know we want to talk about his suspension for the illegal hand wraps. We want to talk about his new trainer. On the Pacquiao side, we wanted to talk about his becoming a congressman. At the same time, with our crew being there for five weeks, lots of things do happen that we don’t expect. We have lots of flexibility to show that stuff, too.
AbduSalaam: Do you have any issues with fighters being open and emotionally accessible with the cameras being around?
Harmon: Now that we’ve done so many, they’re very open to us. They’re very familiar with the series even if they haven’t done it before. Margarito hasn’t, but he’s certainly seen the show and understands what’s required. Everyone is as open as we can possibly hope for.
AbduSalaam: Have you been involved with 24/7 since the beginning in 2007?
Harmon: Yes I have.
AbduSalaam: Maybe you can clear up some possible hyperbole. Floyd Mayweather has boasted since the show’s inception that he’s the creator of 24/7. Can you verify if it was his idea?
Harmon: Well, I’m not on the side of where it came about. Once it did come about, then they assigned me to work on it. So, I’m not really qualified to answer that.
AbduSalaam: Let’s talk about the post-production window. What’s the process of getting everything compiled into one weekly show?
Harmon: It takes a week because we don’t air things that happened more than a week ago. If something happens that week, it goes on the air that Saturday night. There is a cut-off of Thursday; anything that’s shot on a Friday really couldn’t make it back to us in time to edit and put in the show. So I would say it’s on a cycle of Friday-Thursday that goes into the next week’s show.
AbduSalaam: Has there been cases where you haven’t aired footage because it’s been too over the top?
Harmon: The only thing I could think of is every once and awhile you’ll get someone that’s very aware of the camera. It’s usually not the fighters. They play to the camera and don’t talk in a normal tone of voice. They’re either whispering or yelling. And we want to keep it as real as possible, so we wouldn’t use a scene like that. But there are no content things we’ve seen that have been too crazy. We do show everything that’s happening in the camp.
AbduSalaam: How difficult is it to maintain interesting storylines? There are only two superstar fighters in boxing in Mayweather and Pacquiao, so we’re seeing the same fighters getting showcased in many of the 24/7’s. Is this becoming a major issue?
Harmon: It’s been easier than we thought. Almost each show has had a fighter that’s never been on 24/7 before: whether that’s Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto or Antonio Margarito. So we’re telling a story we never told before. On the flipside, we almost always have a fighter that’s been on the show before like Manny Pacquiao.
We’ve been lucky with Pacquiao. Last series there was a typhoon before he fought Cotto. We told the story of what was going on there [in the Philippines]. Here this time he’s on congress and juggling that with his boxing duties. So that’s a new story for us. The longer we go in the series, and the more times we go to Manny Pacquiao, perhaps it will be even more difficult. But so far we haven’t had that problem.
AbduSalaam: 24/7 right now is exclusive to the big, PPV attraction fights. Do you see it extending to the HBO network fights?
Harmon: I think it could extend to the fights on HBO. But I do think right now, HBO is concentrating on different sports for the network 24/7 shows. In January we did a story on Jimmy Johnson, the NASCAR driver, leading up to the Daytona 500. In December and January 2011 we’re going to do a show on the [NHL’s] Penguins and Capitols, and those aren’t leading up to a pay-per-view. It’s possible for boxing, but it seems the focus is keeping what we have and expanding into other sports first.
AbduSalaam: With the first show coming on Saturday, what do you think fans will be most surprised by? Will it be the hand wraps or anything else?
Harmon: On the hand wraps, that’s a difficult one. I’m not sure it’ll surprise fans, but Antonio Margarito himself hasn’t been on camera in a very many places talking about this issue. He’s kept fairly quiet and let other people do his talking for him. So viewers will get to see for themselves, and hopefully for the first time, Margarito saying he didn’t know about what was going into the hand wraps. They can decide for themselves how genuine he is when he says that. And whether they feel he did know, or is telling the truth. I think that’s pretty significant.
In this coming episode, I had only heard about Pacquiao’s congressional responsibilities. When I see it in video, it surprised me how serious those responsibilities are. I had a hard time imagining it at first. But you get to see it and the people who depend on him. You see the place where he has to show up and face two feet of paperwork at his desk. You realize that he’s not just fooling around and actually doing this.
AbduSalaam: Regarding the hand wraps, you know the fact that Margarito is being allowed to fight again, let alone in a big fight, is very controversial in itself. In gathering all this footage, did this change your personal opinion on that situation?
Harmon: [Pauses] I am paid to be a television producer…My opinion is not something I care to repeat in an official interview. I’m sorry.
AbduSalaam: No problem, I understand. Let’s switch gears real quick to the NHL 24/7 you mentioned. How differently do you approach the series when dealing with a team sport?
Harmon: The approach is actually fairly similar. Obviously, it’s different with 20 players as opposed to one fighter. But the approach is to find the type of access you can’t get anywhere else, and put that footage in there. Anyone can watch the Penguins play the Flyers. So we’re not going to chronicle it the way TV would cover it. We’re going to put mics on the players and show from the ice level what the players go through during the game. We wouldn’t call it game coverage. It’s more so covering the personalities. Like boxing, it’s trying to get the viewer something they can’t get anywhere else.
AbduSalaam: With Pacquiao-Margarito, how’s the production coordination being that they’re based in Mexico and the Philippines?
Harmon: Most 24/7’s have had shoots in the Philippines, England and Mexico. At this point, the world is a small place. We can get the footage satellited or messaged back in a fairly short amount of time. Whether in America or a foreign country, it’s not an issue at all.
AbduSalaam: Any closing thoughts?
Harmon: I have been very pleasantly surprised about the Pacquiao and Margarito storylines. Like one of your questions about keeping the stories fresh, I think people will be really surprised. It feels like a 24/7, but everyone has fresh and new storylines. And I hope people will enjoy it as much as I like it so far.
The first episode of 24/7: Pacquiao-Margarito airs on HBO this Saturday (October 23) at 10:30 PM ET. A new show will air every Saturday preceding the live PPV fight on November 13 at Dallas Stadium.