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"This isn't broadcast TV, it's HBO. The moral wild west of television."
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The Home Box Office. Originally conceived in 1971 as "The Green Network", then changed to HBO prior to its launch in November 1972.note  It was started by Sterling Communications, founded by cable television executive Charles Dolan and majority owned at the time by the legendary magazine company Time, Inc. (and in the channel's early years, was noted as being "from Time-Life"). It remained as part of the Time Warner conglomerate when Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, and remained with TimeWarner even after the magazine side was sold off in 2013, and in turn was renamed WarnerMedia upon the company's acquisition by AT&T in 2018. Unlike most cable networks, HBO is a premium channel, meaning you have to pay for the right to watch the channel on top of what you pay as far as cable packaging is concerned (though in recent years, most cable and satellite networks have started offering premium TV packages that do include HBO and its sister channels, including Cinemax). Note the start dates above, too - until about 1980 the concept of "basic cable" didn't exist. There was broadcast TV delivered by cable (at least one of each of the then-three major American networks plus at least one PBS station, several independent stations from a wide radius and, at least in the northern states, CBC, CTV and other Canadian broadcasters) and there was "pay TV".

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To entice people to pay for the channel, HBO had long offered free "preview" periods, allowing potential subscribers to sample its programming. Depending on your cable provider, HBO will temporarily "unscramble" its channels for the briefest of periods (usually for one week, one weekend, or one month) to draw in customers who will then pony up the money to buy the channel full time. However, HBO does it much more rarely than Showtime or Starz to keep its cachet (Dish Network offers one HBO preview weekend every calendar quarter), and usually only on weekends, where its highest-profile series are launched and biggest movies are screened.

HBO's lineup mainly consists of major studio films, shown uncut and commercial free. While the main HBO channel focuses on new blockbusters, sister station Cinemax focuses on older films and more arthouse-centric movies. In addition, HBO produced original films, and started producing their own series in the '80s (such as First And Ten and Dream On). However, HBO's popularity increased even further in the late 1990s, when two of these series, Sex and the City and The Sopranos, really took off. These two series gained a great deal of acclaim, and swept the Emmys for a while. HBO would get a third mega-hit in 2011 with Game of Thrones. In addition to original programming and movies, HBO was also famous for its coverage of boxing matches, which ran from January 22, 1973 to December 8, 2018.

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HBO has six sister networks that are almost always included with the main HBO channel to make the network a good value for most of its audience (the collection of networks was once branded as HBO The Works):

  • HBO 2: Launched in 1991, it airs more films than the main HBO with the same variety, and series usually premiere here on a one-day delay to offer viewers a second (or by the end of the week, 46th) chance to view them. Branded as HBO Plus from 1998 until 2002.
  • HBO Signature: Also launched in 1991, a female-targeted network mainly airing "high-art" Hollywood releases, romantic comedies, and art films. Initially branded as HBO 3 from 1991 until 1998 and was originally another timeshift network like HBO 2.
  • HBO Family: Launched in 1996, the network's competitor to Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, with movies and children's programming both created for the network and internationally made, and nary a movie rated R or TV-MA programming in sight. It's actually the network's third attempt at such a channel; the first two, Take 2 (1979-1981) and Festival (1986-1988), failed due to lack of subscribers and distribution issues (among other factors). HBO itself occasionally showed Disney films prior to Disney Channel's debut in 1983.
  • HBO Comedy: Launched in 1999, it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin; Comedy films and the deep library of HBO comedy specials and series air here. Think Comedy Central if everything that aired was truly uncut and uncensored, didn't have commercials, and was of better quality (ironically HBO parent company Time Warner used to co-own Comedy Central, as it was a merger of HBO's Comedy Channel and Viacom's HA!, and continued to co-own the network until 2003).
  • HBO Zone: Also launched in 1999, it's the younger-targeting part of the HBO suite which mainly airs films appealing to 18-35'ers and plenty of science fiction films. HBO has aired original series marathons on this network more lately. Also outside of the few adult shows airing on HBO, the only HBO network which prior to 2018 aired soft-core adult content, along with old episodes of Real Sex.
  • HBO Latino: Launched in 2000, mainly a Spanish-language simulcast of the main HBO channel, but also features Spanish-language movies, series from HBO's Latin American channels and boxing events.

Most of these channels are also broadcast worldwide, but there's also a few other unique international HBO channels:

  • HBO Hits: An HBO Asia channel which airs popular movies and blockbuster films.
  • RED by HBO: Another HBO Asia channel and a joint-venture with the Hong Kong studio Mei Ah Entertainment, RED by HBO mostly airs foreign Asian films in their original language. Localized subtitles are available for all of the movies shown on this channel. Originally branded as Screen Red, this channel used to air only movies from China, Japan, and South Korea, but upon its rebrand to RED by HBO the scope increased to include Southeast Asian movies as well. Unlike other HBO channels, films shown on RED have several program breaks placed in-between scenes.
  • Some regions still have HBO channels called HBO 3 or HBO Plus.
  • HBO Canada: A franchise owned and operated by Bell Media's Crave premium service (originally known as First Choice, and later as First Choice Superchannel and TMN (The Movie Network)), Canada's leading premium movie broadcaster. Airs most of the the series HBO owns, as well as the occasional non-HBO US show, TMN original series (without the HBO branding) and archival Canadian films to comply with domestic content regulations.note 

For streaming options, HBO has the internet service HBO Go, which offers nearly every original series, documentary and special created after Sex and the City premiered and the current movies airing on HBO. Like most TV anywhere apps, Go is available only to cable and satellite subscribers with their customer login, though a swell of non-cable viewers looking for their Game of Thrones or Girls fix have wanted HBO to offer a paid subscription to the service. On October 2014, HBO announced just that, a standalone subscription service called HBO Now. It was initially available only through Optimum in the New York area; it has since been expanded to both other TV providers and via various streaming devices. Most recently, a new streaming service, HBO Max, was announced to debut in 2020, featuring both content from HBO and its various sister companies and channels at WarnerMedia, including exclusive "Max Originals". Subscribers to the linear channel on select cable and satellite providers received all HBO Max content through the HBO Max app at no additional charge, while HBO Now was depreciated, with all current direct and select third-party subscribers to said service receiving Max programming immediately upon launch as well.note  In June 2020, WarnerMedia announced that HBO Go would be shut down at the end of July that year, citing customer confusion over the different HBO-branded platforms and because most subscribers who receive the linear HBO channels now get access to HBO Max. HBO Now (briefly rebranded as simply "HBO") was discontinued in December 2020 after Roku and Fire TV reached agreements with WarnerMedia to carry HBO Max.

Additionally, the HBO Go branding is still used in Asia where the HBO Max and HBO Now branding were never used. HBO Go in Asia was initially tethered to subscription to select Pay TV providers in the region, however is now following HBO Max's footsteps and the service is open to direct subscription by the people in the region.

HBO has also made films for themselves, and are sometimes shown theatrically; they use the name HBO Films for those purposes. They first began original film production in 1983 under the name HBO Premiere Films, then under two names, HBO Pictures and HBO NYC Productions, which were merged together in 2000 to form HBO Films. Other divisions for film production have popped up over the years, and they have had two joint-venture theatrical arms (the first being TriStar Pictures). Almost all of their original films are documentaries or dramatizations of historical events, usually with a political angle.

They also have a stake in the home video market with HBO Home Entertainment. That division began back in the late 70s as Thorn EMI Video, distributing their early theatrical productions, as well as Thames Television product and Orion Pictures films, among other titles. They then formed a joint venture with HBO in 1985 called Thorn EMI/HBO Video. They were then renamed to HBO/Cannon Video, after The Cannon Group bought EMI's film division in 1986. At this point, they were also distributing films from Hemdale, as well as some Tri-Star releases (due to HBO's stake in the venture). This version of the label didn't last long before Cannon sold its share to HBO (after selling the EMI library), and was renamed HBO Videonote . Orion left to form its own video label soon after Cannon dropped out. By this point, they were distributing productions not only from themselves, but also from a large amount of other companies, including Miramax Films, Thames, De Laurentiis, Hemdale, and Samuel Goldwyn, among others. However, in the early 90's, as these companies found other labels or quit the business, they began to concentrate on HBO material. Nowadays, in addition to HBO original movies, they also distribute HBO's large amount of series and specials, although they have since renamed to HBO Home Entertainment (with Warner Bros. distributing the physical media.)

For more on the history and development of the channel, former employee Bill Mesce wrote a series of articles chronicling the channel's timeline which can be found here.

    Series and miniseries broadcast by HBO 
Bold denotes ongoing programs.

    Films and television programs produced/distributed by HBO 

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, HBO operated two television production units that produced shows outside the HBO channels. HBO Downtown Productions (formed in 1988 and closed in 2001) produced original programming for Comedy Central (when it was a HBO/Viacom joint venture) as well as comedy specials for HBO itself. Another unit was called HBO Independent Productions (formed in 1990 and closed in 2006), this unit produced shows for broadcast networks (mostly Fox) and sometimes basic cable. Shows produced by HBO Downtown that were copyrighted to Comedy Partners (such as Dr Katz, Professional Therapist and the pre-ABC episodes of Politically Incorrect are owned by ViacomCBS (via Comedy Central).

Television series

  • The library of Time-Life Television and Talent Associates including
    • Get Smart (1995) — Revival to the original series, it aired on Fox.
  • The Ben Stiller Show (1992-93, 95) — The first twelve episodes aired on Fox, before moving to Comedy Central for its series finale.
  • Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (1995-99, 2002) — Aired on Comedy Central.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005) — Aired on CBS.
  • Martin (1992-97) — Aired on Fox.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1992-94) — From seasons 4 to 7, aired on Comedy Central. However, this show was otherwise independently produced (and currently owned by Shout! Factory). All references to HBO Downtown Productions and Comedy Central are removed from current prints and home media releases.
  • Politically Incorrect (1993-2002) — The Comedy Central era episodes were produced solely by HBO, while the ABC era episodes were co-produced by Brillstein-Grey/Brad Grey Television)

Films


This network provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: A recurring theme among HBO programs since The Sopranos is that no character, no matter how significant they are, is safe from being Killed Off for Real. It's not uncommon to see main characters who are heavily advertised in their series' campaigns die within the first season finale.
  • Catchphrase: An example of a few of the slogans used through the years:
    • "It's not TV, it's HBO."
    • "The Great Entertainment Alternative" (c. 1977-78)
    • "America's leading Pay TV network" (early/mid-'80s)
    • "There's no place like HBO" (c. 1983-85)
    • "Make the magic shine!" (1985)
    • "Nobody brings it home like HBO" (1987)
    • "The best time on TV" (c. 1988-89)
    • "Simply the Best!" (c. 1989-91, using the Tina Turner song "The Best" in image campaigns)
    • "It can only happen here" (early '90s)
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: On April 27, 1986, the HBO satellite signal was momentarily jammed and viewers were treated to a test pattern with the message "GOODEVENING HBO FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT $12.95/MONTH? NO WAY! [SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]". "Captain Midnight" was eventually discovered to be disgruntled satellite TV installer John R. MacDougall, who hijacked the signal in protest over HBOs exorbitant ratesnote  for satellite TV owners which were hurting his business. Previously, viewers with satellite dishes could watch HBO for free, until the channel encrypted its signal in 1985.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Seeing promos and such from the late 1970s and 1980s can seem rather bizarre to viewers of today's HBO — the pace is variable (back in those days, they still ran short films and music videos branded as "Intermissions" between programs); the promo campaigns more over-the-top; original programming was slow to develop and typically consisted of documentary series and comedy, sports and music specials, and even some filmed theatrical productionsnote ; and kids programming was still in abundance.
    • Imaging in the early years also often referred to the channel by its full name, "Home Box Office," instead of with its initials. And then there was the logo used from 1975-81, which was almost the same as today's except that the B and O interlocked so it looked to some viewers like "HEO." Even after the revised, current logo was introduced during the summer of 1980, the channel continued to run idents featuring the old logo until "HBO in Space" (aka "HBO Starship") was introduced in September 1982, which coincided with a revamping/freshening of much of the channel's visual imaging (i.e. changing the on-screen font used for showing the titles and air days/times of programs). And "HBO Weekend" bumpers first used in the late '70s (with the old on-screen font) were still in use as late as 1984.
    • It didn't maintain a full 24-hour schedule until December 28, 1981 (though it'd been running 24-hour programming on weekends for three months prior). Previously, the channel did not typically sign on until 5 or 6 p.m. on weekdays or until about 2 p.m. on weekends. note 
    • The famous Starship intro wasn't introduced until September 28, 1982, and there were many variants of it early on, including "HBO Comedy," "HBO Music," "HBO Rock," "HBO Special," "HBO Theatre," "HBO Sports," "HBO Family Playhouse," "On Location," and "Standing Room Only," which were eventually phased out in favor of just the "Feature Presentation" and "Saturday/Sunday Night Movie" variations. There was even an alternate version of the "Feature Presentation" intro featuring a different musical score at the end.note 
    • Music videos under the "Video Jukebox" branding were a part of the HBO schedule starting in the late 1970s, both as interstitial filler and as a regularly scheduled series from 1981-86. As MTV did not debut until 1981 and took some time to grow, HBO was likely many viewers' introduction to music videos.
    • HBO occasionally showed Disney films in the days before the debut of Disney Channel in April 1983, such as Mary Poppins and Pete's Dragon.
  • Edutainment: 1980s and early '90s shows like Braingames, Encyclopedia, and the Buy Me That! specials hosted by Jim Fyfe fit this category.
  • Fanservice: Has gained Cinemax-like infamy for the amount of explicit sexual content in its original programming over the course of the Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s, with some shows such as Game of Thrones and True Blood bordering on Porn with Plot.
  • Insistent Terminology: "It's not TV, it's HBO."
  • Leitmotif: Part of Ferdinand Jay Smith's "HBO In Space" opener (mentioned below) has become a musical logo for the network, and it even shows up at least thrice in the music of the feature presentation openers used from 1999 until 2011 and from 2017 to present, and shows up once in the simpler 2011 open.
  • Lighter and Softer:
    • HBO Family, compared to its sister channels. Prior to HBO Family's debut in 1996, HBO had attempted on two other occasions a "family-friendly" variant of the main channel: Take 2 (1979-1981) and Festival (1986-1988). Both failed to attract enough subscribers to stay in business.
    • HBO itself historically limited airplay of R-rated movies until after 8pm (Eastern/Pacific; 7pm Central/Mountain),note  and when the channel still aired a fair amount of family-friendly programming, typically showed shows targeted at kids (such as Braingames, Seabert, The Baby-Sitters Club, and dubbed anime like Little Women) during early mornings and mid-afternoons. One big exception was Fraggle Rock, which at its peak was popular enough to be rerun as late as 7:30pm (Eastern/Pacific). With the exception of Fraggle Rock, HBO's family programming, albeit critically praised, was never particularly popular with kids themselves.
  • Network Death: The Indian/South Asian feeds of the HBO channels stopped broadcasting in December 2020. Despite existing for over a decade in the region, the network was unable to find a business model to sustain itself with its small audience.
  • Repeated for Emphasis: A common viewer complaint in the early years of HBO was how often movies and other features were repeated, often two airings in one day. The channel's explanation was that it wasn't programmed with the intention of being watched for hours at a time, but, similar to a Top-40 radio station, to make sure viewers were never far away from one of the channel's top attractions whenever they tuned in. Eventually, HBO remedied some of the repetition issues by adding more older titles back into rotation while at the same time allowing their "top hits" to stay in rotation longer (since they were required by contract to show each film a certain number of times).
  • Retraux: A couple of HBO's recent tele-movies have began with recreations of their early 80s' idents (although in comparison to the originals they don't look as good).
    • A "World Premiere Presentation" variant of "HBO in Space" aired in 2019 to introduce Dan Soder: Son of a Gary. The visuals were virtually unchanged, but the iconic musical score was re-recorded and sounded pitched down in comparison to the original.
  • The Rival: Several. During the 1980s and 1990s, HBO's main competition was the LA-based "Z Channel", NYC-based WHT, as well as The Movie Channel and Showtime. Of these, the latter two were the only ones to find lasting success, although Showtime remains a distant number two in the pay-cable races. In the 2000s, FX, previously filled with Fox-owned reruns, became its main rival, as far as copying HBO's formula and producing a line-up of shows (The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) that rivaled HBO (and was on basic cable).
    • More recently, AMC, which has found rousing success with original series such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, has become increasingly referred to as the HBO of basic cable. However, as the former two shows have ended, with the over-saturation on The Walking Dead franchise and AMC not having much success with their other original programs, this has quietly subsided, though Better Call Saul and Killing Eve (the latter shared with BBC America) have done some work to turn things around.
    • On the streaming side, given its programming lineup, Apple TV+ clearly aspires to be a rival to HBO, with an emphasis on original prestige programming with star-studded casts (The Morning Show, Truth Be Told, Defending Jacob) and directors (Servant), big-budget Game of Thrones-style epics (See), and even programming from Sesame Workshop (Helpsters). Given its much lower profile and consistently spottier reviews for its content, this arguably puts Apple in the position of an Unknown Rival to HBO.
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: Many of its series fall into level 5 (Full Lockout).
  • Telethon: The network's Sneak Preview weekends, in which participating cable systems put HBO on an open, unscrambled channel for non-subscribers to sample, featured on-air hosts extolling the virtues of HBO and exhorting non-subscribers to sign up, similar to a PBS pledge drive. They also irked existing subscribers to the extent that HBO had to install separate phone lines just to deal with complaints from viewers upset about the interruptions to normal programming or that they hadn't been offered the cushy deals new subscribers were getting.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: HBO in Space, the ident to new movies they'd play in the 80s and 90s where the camera goes up into space and the HBO logo spins. It was written by Ferdinand Jay Smith, who would later go on to compose several works for the network. Nothing got people more pumped up to watch a movie than this introducing it.
    "This intro makes me feel like I am about to witness the most important event in the universe." -sterpinator
    • Early on, this logo was used for just about every program on HBO, not only movies - concerts and comedy specials, sporting events, regular series like Fraggle Rock or Not Necessarily the News, you name it - and there were a number of variations of the ident in addition to the standard "Feature Presentation" and "Saturday/Sunday Night Movie." Each variation ("HBO Family Showcase", "HBO Comedy", "HBO Rock", "HBO Music", "HBO Special", etc.) had its own unique musical tag that played as the camera angle moved to inside of the "o": for example, for "HBO Rock" or "HBO Music," you'd hear a blaring rock guitar solo. The variations were phased out around 1986 or 1987, as HBO crafted new, separate idents for non-movie programming as well as a new "HBO Movie" ident with a blaring rock guitar/synthesizer musical logo.
    • Inverted with HBO's brief and simple original programming ident. A Theme Music Power On, but not Up. It's What Connects Us.
    • The 1984 movie Flashpoint (the first of HBO's several ventures into films for the big screen) is the only chance to date to experience this in cinemas, as a shortened version (albeit with a logo credit to "Silver Screen Partners") appears at the beginning. (It was distributed by Tri-Star, but their logo only appeared in the end credits.)
    • For those curious about the making of the HBO In Space opening, there's a ten minute making of special on YouTube.
      • The set took three months to build.
      • It took 14 hours to film each take of the 20 second sequence.
      • The HBO "Spaceship" was made from brass and was chrome plated - it was not CGI.
      • The lights swooping around the "O" were not CGI nor animated - they were fiber optic.
      • The people sitting down to watch HBO at the beginning were filmed last.
    • Then there were the HBO April Fool's intros, with the entire opener being purposely cheaply re-done, sometimes complete with bouncing ball. The ratings would sometimes mock the films, such as rating The Breakfast Club "B for Boring" ("No sex, no violence, WHY BOTHER?!") or Police Academy "NG for No Good".
    • In 2019, a "World Premiere Presentation" variant of the "Starship" (the shortened version, beginning with the fog over HBO City) introduced Dan Soder: Son of a Gary. The visuals were virtually unchanged, but the iconic musical score was apparently re-recorded in a lower key.
    • A YouTube user had the 1983 HBO opening shown in one of the YTP (YouTube Poop) videos when he mixed the opening sequence with scenes from Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers with the robotic cat saying "I have come for the fish" (in the style of "HBO has come for the fish")
  • Vindicated by Cable: invoked In The '70s and The '80s (early 80s, at least), HBO was starved for programming, so they aired tons of content that was either low profile, low budget, box office bombs or obscure. For a while, it was joked that HBO stood for "Hey, Beastmaster's On!"
    • Even original programming (outside of unscripted music, comedy or sports specials) was usually more "miss" than "hit" in the early years; the success of Fraggle Rock was the exception, not the rule, and it would be many years before the channel found another original show that was as popular with both viewers and critics. HBO had some success with its first original movie, The Terry Fox Story, in 1983, but that was followed by a string of flops lasting until 1987's Mandela. The channel's documentaries, while they garnered much praise and respect from the industry, typically attracted low viewing figures.
  • Voiceover Translation: The HBO Asia channel RED does this for at least its Vietnamese feed, where a Vietnamese voiceover is placed over the programs' original audio. This extends to the channel's promos, which were originally in English.
  • We Interrupt This Program: HBO was the first pay cable outlet to show Star Wars, on February 1, 1983... unannounced, at 12:01am. Although this was the date on which the film had been slated to premiere on all pay movie channels, the surprise airing allowed the channel to claim it had beaten Showtime and The Movie Channel to the punch (despite the miniscule viewing figures at that hour). Needless to say, many fans were not happy when they awoke and learned that HBO had already aired the film while they slept.
  • Wrongfully Attributed: There's a tendency for British people to assume that all prestigious and/or Darker and Edgier American drama series are HBO products, including ones that actually are by rival channels like Showtime. This reached its peak when Sky launched its Sky Atlantic channel for imported US drama with blanket references to HBO in the publicity, despite the fact that many of its highest-profile licenses were not HBO shows.

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