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Creator / HBO

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"This isn't broadcast TV, it's HBO. The Moral Wild West of television."

The Home Box Office. Originally conceived in 1965 as "The Green Network", then changed to HBO prior to its launch in 1972.note  It was started 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 stations, 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 (one of each of the three major networks plus several independent stations from a wide radius and, at least in the northern states, CBC) and there was "pay TV".


To entice people to pay for the channel, HBO used to offer free "preview" periods. 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.


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.
  • 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 (formerly 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.

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 will receive all HBO Max content through the HBO Max app at no additional charge, while HBO Now will be slowly transition to Max, 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, meanwhile, will continue to (temporarily, pending future deals with Roku and Amazon Fire TVnote ) operate but will drop the “Now” branding.

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. (Warner Bros. through Warner Home Video currently distributes HBO Home Entertainment 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 include:

This network provides examples of:

  • Catchphrase: "It's not TV, it's HBO."
  • Crazy-Prepared: Out on Long Island at HBO's satellite uplink facility, they have a direct fiber-optic to Atlanta and cousin CNN. Why? So that HBO and Cinemax can be uplinked from the CNN Center in case they were to experience serious technical problems; it can even go in reverse and uplink CNN and the other Turner networks in case something bad happens in Atlanta.
  • 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.
  • 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 branded as "Intermissions" between programs), the promo campaigns more over-the-top, the original programming was lacking, and kids programming was still in abundance. They weren't a full 24-hour network until December 28, 1982 (though they'd been going 24 hours on the weekends for some time prior), and the famous Starship intro wasn't introduced until September 28 of that year (prior to that they'd been using a variety of "HBO Feature Movie" intros).
  • 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.
  • Humans Are Bastards / Humans Are the Real Monsters: If you’re watching anything original from HBO, be it a series, movie, or documentary, chances are you’ll see humanity at its very worst in them. HBO just doesn’t like people.
  • Insistent Terminology: The "It's not TV, it's HBO" promos.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • The Rival: Several. During the 1980s and 1990s, HBO's main competition was the LA-based "Z Channel", NYC-based WHT, and Showtime. 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).
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Some of the most cynical and most nihilistic shows are broadcast on HBO.
  • 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
    • 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.
      • 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".
    • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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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