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Why the Gun Sounded on 'Inside the NFL’

Just days after New York Giants’ upset victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII came another National Football League shocker: HBO was canceling Inside the NFL, a weekly highlights and commentary show that had been a staple of its sports lineup for 31 years. HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg talked to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the network’s decision to discontinue the program, as well as the network’s boxing and sports-documentary strategy for 2008. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: Why did you decide to cancel Inside the NFL after 31 years?

Ross Greenburg: It was a sad day for us. The “Show the Pros Watch” was also a very popular show amongst nearly 2 million viewers who watched every week. There’s no clear cut explanation, other to say that there are so many ways to watch highlights in modern-day America, whether it’s through the Internet or the multitude of NFL review and preview shows on a number of basic-cable networks.

We felt it was time to put the best football show to bed. It was a difficult decision.

MCN: Were you surprised at some of the negative reactions over the decision? Inside The NFL host Bob Costas, for example, said during the show’s last episode that HBO made a “bonehead” decision.

RG: The reaction has been pretty interesting. I guess you don’t know what you’re missing until its not there anymore.

MCN: Will you look to replace the show with a similar NFL-oriented series?

RG: I think we’re now energized to look for different ways to get the NFL on HBO. We will continue Hard Knocks (a summer miniseries that follows one NFL team’s pre-season training camp) and discussions are ongoing now to see what team we’ll follow this season.

MCN: HBO generated a network record $200 million in pay-per-view boxing revenue in 2007. Can you repeat that?

RG: I think we’re going to surprise some people by with some big fights live on HBO in the first half of the year. We’re going to prop up the sport again on HBO and then have some big blockbuster pay-per-view fights to look forward to. The upcoming [Bernard] Hopkins-[Joe] Calzaghe [light heavyweight title fight] will be on the network April 19.

MCN: What are you working on from a documentary perspective?

RG: We’re developing a documentary on the 1960 Cherry Hill U.S. Open golf tournament where, on the back nine, three generations of golf legends squared off against each other. Ben Hogan, the great Arnold Palmer and the amateur and future of the sport, Jack Nicklaus, all fought it out. In the fall, we’re going to do a documentary on the integration of college football. In the 1960s and early 1970s the landscape of college football changed, particularly in the South and Southwest, and we want to explain how that story unfolded.