Cinemax is a premium cable network launched in 1980, which HBO owns as a "sister company", that specializes in airing movies. Much like HBO, it has a bouquet of multiplex networks (previously promoted under the name MultiMax); these include ActionMax, 5StarMax, etc. Unlike its rivals Showtime and Starz, Cinemax has not really focused on original programming throughout its history in prime time outside of documentary programming and the final season of SCTV in the early 80s after NBC dropped it. The network was conceived as a "movie junkie's" service first- however, what it airs late at night has turned it into the stuff of legend for a whole generation.
You see, Cinemax has a block called Max After Dark that starts after its last prime time movie has ended (usually between 11 and midnight). Max After Dark is one of the only places on American television that airs softcore pornographic films and original series, usually with such names as Erotic Confessions, Co-Ed Confidential, The Best Sex Ever and Zane's Sex Chronicles. In The '90s, this gave Cinemax a reputation as one of the edgiest and most risque networks on cable, earning it the nickname "Skinemax" — a reputation that still holds, to some extent, even now that the internet provides much more explicit content and its premium cable rivals have started pushing the envelope of what's permissible in prime time. Back in the day, adolescent boys would frequently stay up late at night in order to catch the skin flicks that would air then — telling your friends in school that you caught late-night Cinemax was an easy way to establish yourself as one of the "cool" kids. It was far from hardcore pornography, and much of it was Bowdlerised compared to your average Jenna Jameson skin flick, but for most kids back then, just seeing naked ladies on TV was enough. (Sister network HBO Zone also airs some of this content, as do most of the MultiMax networks.)
Cinemax has been more than happy to cultivate its reputation. A quick glance at their website will show heavy promotion for their late-night series, complete with cast interviews, behind-the-scenes stuff, and more, just as one would expect from any other TV series... except it's porn. The shows also usually make an attempt at actually looking like TV shows complete with intricate plots for what they can do with No Budget and lesser-known actors, instead of cheapo skin flicks, so you have to give them credit for that.
Cinemax has 7 sister channels:
- Moremax: Launched in 1991. This channel airs a movie schedule similar to that of the flagship Cinemax channel, and also airs independent, foreign, and art house films. Known as Cinemax 2 until 1998.
- 5 Starmax: Launched in 2001. Airs modern-day classics, including award-winning classics and timeless classics.
- Actionmax: Airs, well, action movies. Known as Cinemax 3 from 1995 to 1998.
- Cinemáx: A Spanish-language version of the flagship Cinemax channel.
- Moviemax: Launched in 2001. Airs movie aimed at audiences aged 18-34. Formerly known as W-Max and originally a family-oriented channel.
- Outermax: Launched in 2001. Airs science-fiction, fantasy, and horror films.
- Thrillermax: Launched in 1998. Airs suspense, horror, and mystery films.
In 2011, Cinemax would began airing more "mainstream" original programming to complement the shows on HBO. They began with action series, such as the British import Strike Back, Banshee, and a television adaptation of The Transporter. They've since ventured into more Darker and Edgier territory with shows like The Knick, Outcast, and Quarry.