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HBO WWII Miniseries To Storm the Internet

Like the World War II soldiers at its center, the Web site devoted to Home Box Office's Band of Brothers
widened its mission this week, deploying video and interactive content for viewers that wanted historical context and behind-the-scenes intelligence for the 10-part miniseries.

With an army of site programmers and technicians working on new and updated material, the Band of Brothers
Web site will be used to advance the miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. But HBO also aims to make the site itself a piece of living history by offering historical footage, accounts submitted by World War II veterans and interactive educational content.

The site has offered historical information and trailers for weeks. With Sunday's debut episode, it will enter its second stage, focusing on the TV action.

"The challenge — and, hopefully, what we've succeeded at — is making sure that we're not regurgitating information on the Web site but giving you additional information, and at the same time making it all feel integrated," said HBO vice president of original programming and production Bruce Richmond. "You don't want to step on each medium's toes, as it were, and you want it to feel very holistic through the experience of going from channel to Web site."

It isn't your average Web site devoted to a TV show. Although it includes the standard promotional information about air dates, cast biographies and trailers for the upcoming episode, it also involves a swarm of video-intensive, interactive features that add more history to the Band of Brothers
story, Richmond said.

"We put it together in a way that you could go to the site after the episode is over and learn about what you just saw," he said.

One such feature is an interactive map, which pinpoints where the action for each night's episode takes place, with hyperlinks that generate historical tidbits. Users can also scroll across pictures of each character to get their back-story information and tap a timeline that details the events of World War II.

Another section features equipment and machines from the war, including an interactive of a soldier. Users can click on him for details about the individual pieces of gear he carries.

The whole idea is to give users a better idea of the bigger picture of the series and the history it portrays.

"It will give you an idea of where this was happening and then, what happened," Richmond said. "Once the episode airs, we will of course add an in-depth synopsis. We're trying to balance giving you a bunch of information to help you along through the episode, but at the same time not giving away the entire plot so we don't ruin the episode for you."

With a complex plot line and a large cast, the producers expect viewers will need such a blow-by-blow resource for reference.

"Basically, you can go back through the lexicon and look at all of the content on the site if you are going to a past episode," Richmond said. "There are a lot of replay strategies that go on at HBO between the multiplex, and we wanted to make sure we were taking advantage of people maybe seeing the first episode, or coming up on the third episode, and wanting to go back and see the first episode."

Yet another part of the site ventures away from the series and into the reality of World War II. The "Living Memorial" link allows vets to log on and add their stories and pictures about the war. Even before the series debuted, the site had already collected more than 100 such accounts.

"These are all people telling their stories," Richmond said. "That's kind of the whole idea — that we wanted to create something that started to feed on itself."

The real-life accounts extend to the series itself. A section called "Recreating the War" provides plenty of video about the production, including the physical trauma endured by the actors during a grueling preproduction boot camp, and a behind-the-scenes look at how critical war scenes were recreated.

With no shortage of video, the site's a playground for broadband users. Though HBO doesn't want to exclude the narrowband users who make up most of the viewing audience, those with high-speed connections will have more to see and hear, Richmond said.

"Truly, when you get on the site, you can see that we have tried to lean towards giving people who have broadband an enriched experience on broadband," he said. "This whole thing is such a great rich broadband site in the sense that this has a very interactive feel to it.

"Everything moves, there is a lot of cursor interactivity, a lot of animation. The whole site is basically what you would expect to see if you went into the Museum of Science and Industry and saw something local on one of the kiosks."

While the Web effort may seem elaborate for just one miniseries, Richmond argues that it's fitting, given the subject.

"There's a lot going on on this site, and it's its own thing in its own right," he said. "We've tried to really kind of do things that were in keeping with a dramatic event of that size. We wanted to make sure the Web site had enough size and weight to it, as well."