This week marks the 50th anniversary of American premium television channel HBO.
When HBO was launched in 1972, television was the inferior art form to cinema. Today, it seems that the vast majority of on-screen prestige comes from our televisions.
Movie stars who would once have seen a series as beneath them are now flocking to tentpole shows for the opportunity to land a run in the kind of big-budget dramatic storylines that aren’t so easy to make anymore. the big screen.
It’s a massive shift in the market, and whenever you inspect one of the attitude-shifting shows, HBO is never far away.
Almost all of the big name TV shows are HBO products. The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, game of thrones and Succession, are just the tip of the network iceberg.
So how did America’s first subscription network change the game?
A sporting comeback
On November 8, 1972, HBO launched across the United States with just 365 paying subscribers. The first broadcast he did was of a hockey game, the NHL game between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks which was happening live at Madison Square Gardens.
At the time, there were no shows commissioned by HBO, but alongside sports, the network also aired movies. The hockey game was followed by Paul Newman’s 1971 film “Sometimes a Great Nation”.
Subscription to HBO cost €5.83 ($6) per month at the time, and the channel struggled to attract subscribers.
His fortunes, however, would soon change. As the pioneer of pay-TV, HBO only had to wait a few years before lawsuits and pressure from other companies allowed cable TV to proliferate in the United States.
Cable television users grew from 50,000 in 1974 to 1.5 million in 1978. By 1977, HBO was making a profit and the company’s future seemed set.
In 1975, HBO premiered its first comedy special, “An Evening with Robert Klein.” This, alongside an anthology comedy series “On Location,” laid the groundwork for HBO to become an important stepping stone in a comedian’s career.
HBO continued to grow, and in 1983 the decision was made for the channel to begin programming its own material. Original movies and miniseries made for cable with budgets far exceeding traditional TV shows.
“Not Necessarily the News” debuted in 1983, a satirical news program that is the stylistic grandfather of today’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
The channel’s first solo-produced film was “The Terry Fox Story”. Released in 1983, it was the very first film produced for cable television.
The stage was set for HBO to become one of the most influential broadcasters in history.
A single diffuser
Thanks to its subscription model, HBO has never had to pander to the needs of advertisers. Instead, it’s still solely focused on bringing quality TV and movies that audiences will connect with.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Make viewers envious, and they will come. But HBO’s attitude has always been one step apart.
Decades before streaming platforms showed up to independently produce their shows, HBO worked on the fact that audiences wanted big-budget, prestige shows that were worth watching.
The dramatic, comedic burst that HBO was ready to schedule when other American networks balked at content, came in the late 90s. ‘Oz’, ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘The Sopranos’ were all released for immediate attention.
All three dealt with adult themes in a way that shows on other networks then wouldn’t dare, and often still don’t.
Since then, they have distinguished themselves by the importance they place on quality rather than quantity.
Streamers are now adopting an in-house production method similar to that pioneered by HBO. But the breadth of broadcasts these streamers make means the quality just isn’t up to snuff.
The proof is in the pudding. HBO has dominated the Emmys since the ’90s. But it was at the 2001 Emmys that the network proudly scored more nominations in major categories than any other network.
At the 53rd Primetime Emmy Awards, HBO was nominated for 44 major awards, including 14 for The Sopranos alone. In the end, HBO walked away with eight awards, with The Sopranos winning three.
Since the 90s, the list of incredible shows produced by HBO is almost endless. From the fantasy epic “The House of the Dragon” to the family drama “Succession” and the comedy “The White Lotus”, HBO hasn’t given up on quality.
To this year Emmy Awards, HBO and HBO Max won 38 awards, with 50 nominations in the main categories and 140 nominations overall. It’s an incredible achievement for the network, which began with a hockey game broadcast to less than 400 people.
There’s a reason his catchphrase is “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”