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"This isn't broadcast TV, it's HBO. The moral wild west of television."

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, then Warner Bros. Discovery in 2022 with the Discovery-WarnerMedia merger. 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".

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 and '90s (such as 1st & Ten and Dream On). It also imported a great deal of programming from Canada, Europe and even Japan in its early years, and even its first original weekly series, the Jim Henson production Fraggle Rock, was made in Canada. However, HBO's popularity increased in the mid-to-late 1990s with The Larry Sanders Show, Oz, Sex and the City and The Sopranos, the latter two of which firmly established the network as a major player in the TV industry. All four of these series gained a great deal of acclaim, and most of them swept the Emmys for a while. HBO would eventually get another 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.

As of 2021, HBO and Cinemax carry the cable premieres of new-release films from Warner Bros., Universalnote , Focus Features, Disneynote , and Summit Entertainment. However, all of these deals (barring Warner Bros. of course) are set to expire in 2022 and 2023 to further the streaming ambitions of said studios' parent companies. What HBO's position following the loss of these rights will be is unclear, though WarnerMedia's merger with Discovery, Inc. may provide it some additional content.

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 launched the HBO Go internet service in 2010, which offered 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 was 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 had 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 eventually expanded to both other TV providers and via various streaming devices.

After its acquisition by AT&T, WarnerMedia announced the launch of a new streaming service, HBO Max, in 2020, to compete in the streaming war. Unlike HBO Now, HBO Max features content from HBO and its corporate siblings in WarnerMedia, including those aired in other networks. As a result, it essentially superseded HBO Now, which was depreciated; subscribers to the linear channel on select cable and satellite providers received all Max content through the HBO Max app at no additional charge, while direct and select third-party subscribers to HBO Now also received Max programming immediately upon launch as well. 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 was briefly renamed to "HBO", before being discontinued in December 2020 after Roku and Fire TV reached agreements with WarnerMedia to carry HBO Max. However, the HBO Go branding is still used in Asia where the HBO Max and HBO Now branding were never used. Initially tethered to subscription to select Pay TV providers in the region, Asia's HBO Go is now following HBO Max's footsteps, with the service being open to direct subscription by the people in the region. The HBO branding would be removed in 2023 in favor of Max to make the service more appealing to an international audience.

HBO has made films for themselves. While most are aired directly on the network, a few are 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.

Additionally, 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).

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, as well as a memoir, Inside the Rise of HBO (2015).

    Series, miniseries, and made-for-TV films broadcast by HBO 
Bold denotes ongoing programs.

    Other films and television programs produced/distributed by HBO 
The following list is for series produced by HBO for airing on other networks, or films released theatrically. Some may find their way back to HBO.
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) (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)


This network provides examples of:

  • 30-Day Free Trial: Occasionally, HBO will unscramble (or partially unscramble) itself for a weekend, allowing people who don't pay their cable or satellite companies extra for it to view the content, the idea being that they'll want to add HBO to their channel lineup and pay the extra fees to do so. Although these free-preview weekends (which in the past resembled PBS pledge drives with interstitials between the movies exhorting viewers to sign up) were a significant source of new subscribers, HBO's practice of beefing up its programming offerings during the free-preview weekends also meant that many of the new subscribers dropped out when they realized the channel wasn't like that all the time.
  • Adored by the Network:
    • HBO produced seven seasons of Arli$$ despite its consistently low ratings and reviews well below the station's standard. HBO believed that it targeted a niche audience that otherwise would not have subscribed to the channel.
    • Despite falling ratings that dipped below a million viewers per episode, HBO put a lion's share of advertising behind Girls when it was still airing. Thanks to its polarizing lightning-rod creator/star Lena Dunham, her penchant for nudity, and the show's memetic Cringe Comedy sex scenes, it only trails Game of Thrones in terms of the network's social media buzz.
    • Surprisingly, after the Sesame/HBO deal, the HBO Family channel isn't doing this with Sesame Street reruns, instead usually having one or two airings in the morning, while the afternoon is used for the family-friendly movies airing on the HBO networks. This trope was however played straight with Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas, as it was aired once a day for the whole month of December, with some days having two airings.
    • Fraggle Rock was a complicated case. HBO promoted the series heavily and scheduled it in early evenings where it could reach its maximum audience, rather than burying it in the early mornings as it usually did with kids' shows. Nevertheless, when the network hit budgetary problems in the mid-'80s, Fraggle was one of the shows to get the axe, since HBO wanted to develop more original programming for adults despite the popularity of the franchise. Although the series was produced in Toronto, HBO had paid the show's talent costs, and although CBC could have continued production with a lower budget, Jim Henson decided the show should end on a high note rather than continue and sacrifice quality.
  • 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.
  • Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: While it probably will never be authoritatively confirmed or denied, some theorize that HBO ended Deadwood not so much because they wanted to cancel the show, but because creator David Milch got bored with it. Under this theory, Milch instead wanted to do his pet project, the "Surfing Jesus" drama John from Cincinnati, also for HBO, and the network decided that it would be better to let Milch create a new hit show than continue Deadwood if his heart wasn't in it. (The "new hit show" part didn't work out so well. John was canceled the day after the last episode of the first season aired.) Though HBO makes it sounds like this was the case Milch has denied it pretty emphatically in interviews and has made it clear that he very much wished to do Season 4 of Deadwood.
  • 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)
    • "HBO is Something Else!" (c. 1978-79)
    • "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)
  • Christmas Special: They were a staple of HBO programming during the '80s, from the award-winning Emmet Otters Jugband Christmas to 1981's The Trolls and the Christmas Express to name a few.
  • Deadline News: This almost happened once to HBO's boxing commentators when a riot broke out during a 1996 fight at MSG. George Foreman (after failing to dissuade the rioters) protected his fellow commentators and led them away from the chaos.
  • 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 from Kabel (also used by MTV) to Century Gothic). 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.
  • Easter Special: Jim Henson's The Tale of the Bunny Picnic first aired on HBO in 1986.
  • Edited for Syndication: Due to HBO's status as a premium cable network, it can air its programming uncut, resulting in more mature content than broadcast television or basic cable shows. Whenever Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm made their syndicated debuts on broadcast TV, some cuts were made.
  • 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.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: HBO did it as part of an April Fools' Day variant on their "Starship HBO" intro. It replaced the typical footage with a cheap, public-access style copy, with the ball in this case following the original music (another variant of the April Fool's intro had a cheap kazoo version of the music instead and no "bouncing ball" lyrics)
  • Follow the Leader: While it was usually Showtime and the other pay-TV services playing catch-up to HBO's innovation, The Movie Channel was the first to go to a 24-hour schedule in 1980, followed by Showtime a year later. HBO went 24 hours in late 1981 only in response to Showtime's move, despite the initial reservations of many within the company.
  • Humble Beginnings: HBO was hardly an overnight success: its launch in 1972 received virtually no press coverage, and by April 1975 they had amassed only 100,000 subscribers in one state (Pennsylvania). That changed after the channel began national satellite distribution in September 1975: within two years HBO had a million subscribers, and by 1980 it was available in every state of the Union.
  • In-Scene Title Text: There's an advertisement that HBO put at the beginning of their DVDs that edits show titles into clips from the show in this fashion. Used to great effect, as characters will seem to interact with the letters, even though the original scene featured no in-scene text/titles.
  • Insistent Terminology: "It's not TV, it's HBO."
  • Intermission:
    • The network has occasionally done this for longer films such as Oklahoma!, The Right Stuff, and and Amadeus.
    • When HBO ran Gandhi in the mid-1980s, it ran its own intermission graphics with a timer counting down to when the film will resume.
    • Prior to September 1982, the network used the term "Intermissions" to refer to the short films it ran between programs (the same intro sequence was used for music videos under the "Video Jukebox" branding). From September 1982 onward, these intermissions were renamed "Short Takes" (with separate "Shorts for Kids" run during family programming blocks) and Video Jukebox had its own intro sequence.
      • Intermissions in the late 1970s were often as simple as film of a bicycle ride through New York's Central Park accompanied by easy-listening piano music. Short films in that era were introduced with the tagline "Something Short and Special."
  • International Coproduction: HBO has had a long partnership with The BBC, co-producing British shows in exchange for airing them day-and-date outside the UK.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes:
    • HBO was insanely popular amongst movie tape traders in the 1980s and 1990s, as far as fans taping movies off the network.
    • As video rental stores became more popular and posed potential competition for HBO, the channel even ran promos encouraging viewers to use their VCRs to record programs off HBO, so they could watch a favorite film whenever they wanted with no rental fee.
    • HBO's shows are also insanely popular on BitTorrent sites, due to the vast number of non-subscriber fans of its original shows who want to follow them without having to wait a year or so for the DVD sets (which are often twice the price of normal network DVD sets).
  • Killer App: The Sopranos and Sex and the City were this during the late 1990s/early 2000s, as the first HBO programs that caught on in the mainstream. By the 2010s, though, it's nearly impossible to talk about HBO without also mentioning Game of Thrones. It's not uncommon for people to subscribe on HBO solely to see Thrones.
  • 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 and Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)) 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.
  • Montage Ends the VHS: In the mid-'80s, Thorn EMI Video and its successor company Thorn EMI-HBO Video, had a habit of capping off tapes with a series of trailers; before HBO was added to the company's name, this usually ended with an extensive scroll listing a bunch of Thorn EMI tapes as easy listening music played. This habit was abandoned by the time it became HBO/Cannon Video and then simply HBO Video
  • The Moral Substitute: Prior to HBO Family, HBO tried to create two of its own — Take 2 in 1979, and Festival in 1987. Take 2 was actually HBO's first attempt at a spin-off channel, predating Cinemax. Both Take 2 and Festival were aimed at older and/or more conservative audiences who found the content of the "parent" channel offensive. Their lineups included newer and classic films, along with a variety of specials. Unlike the similar HTN, Festival did carry R-rated films, but unlike HBO, those films were censored.note  As the case with HTN, customers weren't interested in either Take 2 or Festival (Festival was also attempting to cover territory that Disney Channel and to an extent Nickelodeon had already covered for several years), and both services were very quickly discontinued. HBO would have more success with HBO Family, which simply doesn't feature anything "harder" than PG-13 content.
  • Mythology Gag: The 1983 "Feature Presentation" bumper has been so legendary that it's been referred to in all subsequent versions, with the 1998 one basically being an updated and expanded version (notice the presence of the movie theater and the city bus) and the 2017 one having at least one of the families featured be a replica of the 1983 one, while another is clearly watching the 1983 intro.
  • 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.
  • Network Decay: Currently in the Slipped territory. With its initials standing for "Home Box Office", one would expect HBO to show movies, and one would be right some of the time. But originally the name referred to other kinds of entertainment that would sell tickets at a box office, too — standup comedy specials, sporting events, concerts, and theatrical performances. Alongside theatrical movies, there's always been a great deal of original programming on the network. But over the decades even the movies have been de-emphasized in favor of focusing on original scripted series, with the network eventually becoming the poster boy of Tropes Are Not Bad due to many of those shows being wildly popular and acclaimed.
  • Otaku O'Clock: HBO made the Todd McFarlane's Spawn adult animated series with the intent of airing it in this kind of time slot, and Todd McFarlane ended up using the freedom that the time slot gave him to make the kind of show that could only be shown late at night when kids were asleep.
  • Out of Holiday Episode: While other films about the holidays only air on Christmas on the network, Last Christmas airs even when it isn't Christmas.
  • 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. The Movie Channel and Showtime have competed with HBO since the late 1970s, and during the '80s there were several other, much shorter-lived competitors vying for a piece of the pay TV pie, including nationally distributed channels such as Home Theater Network (HTN) and Spotlight, some regional pay cable services including Philadelphia's PRISM and LA's Z Channel (the former lasted until 1997 — thanks to PRISM's emphasis on local sports — and the latter until 1989, when it was folded into the now-defunct SportsChannel RSN group), and a bunch of over-the-air subscription TV services (most notably ON TV). Disney Channel, which started as a pay channel in 1983, also competed for the eyeballs of younger viewers and those who preferred family-friendly programming, and was likely a big reason Festival, HBO's short-lived answer to Disney, failed. 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) and The Jim Henson Company (it's now the exclusive streaming outlet for Fraggle Rock, including the classic '80s HBO series and the 2020s reboots, Rock On! and Back to the Rock). 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.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Bill Mesce's Inside the Rise and Fall of HBO tells the story of H. Taylor Howard, a former NASA scientist who, circa 1976, built himself the first TVRO (Television Receive Only) earth stationnote  so he could watch HBO for free and without the hassles of cable, but sent HBO a check for $100 so that he couldn't be accused of "stealing" the service. HBO refused the check, telling Howard they weren't in the business of selling their services and only dealt with cable systems. Only later on, when satellite dishes became more popular — especially in areas already served by cable (as opposed to rural areas outside the reach of broadcast signals and cable providers) — did HBO and other cable networks become concerned about the business they were losing, which led to the network encrypting its signal in 1985 (requiring satellite viewers to purchase a descrambler to watch).
  • Sliding Scale of Continuity: Many of its series fall into level 5 (Full Lockout).
  • Slogans:
    • "It's not TV. It's HBO."
    • "HBO is something else!" (c. 1979-1980)
    • "Something special's on."
    • "There's no place like HBO." (1983-1985)
    • "Great movie are just the beginning."
    • "HBO people don't miss out."
    • "The great entertainment alternative." (late 1970s)
    • "Nobody brings it home like HBO." (c. 1987)
    • "The best time on TV!" (c. 1989-90)
  • Station Ident: HBO has had many over the years, The 1980s "Feature Presentation" is almost certainly the most recognized American ident of the cable/satellite age, which is a bit odd when you consider HBO is a pay channel to which a lot of people don't subscribe. A 21st century refresh, by Pittard Sullivan, made an even more complex city in CGI that is zoomed through before the message appears and a quickened version of the theme plays.
  • 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. 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")
    • HBO Boxing had a pretty memorable theme tune, depending on which version you where watching you either got a synth/rock track for Boxing After Dark or a more grand version for World Championship Boxing as is heard here from their early 90's to late 2000's run
  • Too Hot for TV: Too hot for daytime TV, anyway. HBO historically restricted airplay of R-rated films until after 8pm, except for official "clean" versions of said films provided by the studios for daytime airplay. Anyone who watched HBO during the 1980s will remember the disclaimer "Home Box Office will show this feature [or "this version"] only at night" during the ratings bumpers for R-rated features. NC-17 or X-rated films were off limits entirely.
  • 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.
  • Vulgar Humor: HBO has raised this to an art form, as its comedies frequently feature this.
  • 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.
    • On a similar note, HBO employees who took calls from subscribers in the 1980s often found that the subscribers thought HBO and Showtime were the same thing (this would be understandable, as for much of the 1970s-80s, both services were pretty similar schedule-wise due to rampant duplication among premium TV outlets, meaning they all licensed the exact same movies, often airing them at similar times; with output deals becoming the norm later in the 80s, this generally stopped), or that HBO and their cable companies were the same thing (not so understandable)