The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: An Ode to HBO

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageHBO holds a “Get out of Jail Free Card” in my book. Where I would get mad at other networks for mixing up airing schedules or delaying an episode or a season finale for a week or two, I forgive HBO and still hold it in high esteem. In my book there is not a lot HBO can do wring. So how did HBO get this “GooJFC” you ask? Well, have you looked at their track record recently?

If there is one network you can count on to continuously deliver quality television, it is HBO. (If you’re a prude, maybe it’s not so much your thing, but then I say you don’t know what you’re missing.) Over the years HBO has given us shows that changed the face of television forever – or at least in some cases should have done so but some TV execs never learn.

Just read this list of titles: Rome, In Treatment, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Generation Kill, The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Band of Brothers, True Blood… and I am probably still omitting your personal favorite. Anyone who knows anything about quality in the visual arts has to admit that most of these mentioned programs were of more quality than any Fox show could ever dream of achieving (you decide which ones I might be excluding from this “list of exquisite quality”).

Some might say achieving the level of quality HBO brings to the airwaves – and I am not saying you couldn’t do it EVEN better in some instances, but probably not in this reality – is easily achieved when you have as much money and scheduling freedom as a pay-TV channel. To this I say, you’re not looking at the whole truth.


This ancient Roman alley is no more…

Money has to be earned – in most cases anyway – and HBO couldn’t have gotten so big if they hadn’t at one point started with quality that didn’t cost them a fortune. From there the ball got rolling for sure, the better the quality was, i.e. the more people subscribed to their channel, the more money they had. The decisive step in this ladder to TV Olympus though is that having money doesn’t necessarily always motivate people to invest it in quality. Most people would go out and buy all the crap they had always wanted, just because now that they have money they can. Instead HBO rebuilds a life-sized model of the public forum in Rome to shoot a historical mini-series on. (Sadly, a large percentage of the original set for Rome burned down in the California bush fires a few years back, making a Rome movie very costly and unlikely.)

So, money doesn’t automatically equal quality. Hell, FOX has money and yet they manage to produce heaping piles of dung with astonishing regularity. Or even mess up the few good things they have (need I mention my rampage against the writers of Bones again?). It doesn’t take more money to write a good script for something, it just takes someone more talented than your Average Joe in the writers’ room at Network Mass Commodity.

Now, the other argument – that HBO has more freedom in scheduling (the first season of In Treatment ran every weeknight for seven weeks) and marketing and so on – also has two sides. See, freedom can be liberating and make creativity just burst out in explosions… or it can lead to total chaos (I don’t even need to draw the political parallel here, do I?). Most people or even artists wouldn’t even know what to do with real freedom, because by our nature we like rules, at least some rules. Left to our own devices, we tend to copy each other and arrive at conformity once again. So it takes stamina, determination and vision to create something unique when no one tells you what to do at all.

ImageAnd this is HBO’s true accomplishment. They don’t have “one thing” they do well. They produce shows and mini-series of all genres (compare the gut-wrenching realism of The Wire to the fantastical dealings in True Blood), about all topics (insert any motif here, it will be represented in HBO’s programming somewhere), in all formats (the long-running The Sopranos or the limited-to-a-few episodes mini-series) and so rise above the crop.

In conclusion, I think HBO’s quality lies somewhere in between all the factors I have mentioned. Yes, money makes a lot of things easier, but it can also make you blind for what’s good, because you can afford the easy way out. Yes, freedom sounds enticing, but it also can leave you hanging dry with no sense of direction whatsoever. (And let’s not forget that HBO is subject to market rules just like every other television network. If no one tunes in, they are equally as screwed as anyone else.) Yes, HBO integrates sex, drugs and violence into a lot of its programming, which some might call sensationalist or exploitative, but – let’s face it – there is a lot of sex, drugs and violence out there, so why edit it out of our TV shows? I’d much rather see my TV characters run around naked than I want to see one more woman covet the sheets around her breasts as if she would instantly die if she revealed them to her partner the morning after.

TV is by its nature always a hoax and imperfect. That’s part of why I like it; there is always something you could do better. What HBO accomplishes for me is applying a high standard to all aspects of their shows – be that the script, the cinematography, the sets, the direction, the sound editing or simply the patience they have shown over the years with some shows to find their own voice, in spite of the fact that only a fraction of HBO subscribers were watching (The Wire was criminally underwatched when it originally aired.)

So, for all of this effort, sometimes more and sometimes less successful, I am glad HBO exists. Over to you.



Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


Tuesday, March 2nd
 8 p.m.  Lost (ABC)
 8:30 p.m.  Better Off Ted (ABC)
 9 p.m.  Lost (ABC)
   NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
 10 p.m.  Lost (ABC)
   The Good Wife (CBS)
Wednesday, March 3rd  
 8 p.m.  Human Target (Fox)
   Mercy (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  The Middle (ABC)
 9 p.m.  Modern Family (ABC)
   Criminal Minds (CBS)
 9:30 p.m.  Cougar Town (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 Psych (USA)
   Leverage (TNT)
   Nip:Tuck (FX)
   Ugly Betty (ABC)
Thursday, March 4th  
 8 p.m.
 The Deep End (ABC)
   Bones (Fox)
   Vampire Diaries (CW)
   Community (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Parks and Recreation (NBC)
 9 p.m.  Fringe (Fox)
   Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
   CSI (CBS)
   The Office (NBC)
   Supernatural (CW)
 9:30 p.m.  30 Rock (NBC)
 10 p.m.  Archer (FX)
   Project Runway (Lifetime)
   Burn Notice (USA)
   Private Practice (ABC)
   The Mentalist (CBS)
Friday, March 5th
 8 p.m.  Ghost Whisperer (CBS)
   Smallville (CW)
 9 p.m.
 Medium (CBS)
 10 p.m.
   Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz)
Saturday, March 6th
Sunday, March 7th
 8 p.m.  The Simpsons (Fox)
 9 p.m.
 Desperate Housewives (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 Brothers & Sisters (ABC)
   Cold Case (CBS)
Monday, March 8th
 8 p.m.
 How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
   House (Fox)
   Chuck (NBC)
 8:30 p.m.  Accidentally on Purpose (CBS)
 9 p.m.
 Two and a Half Men (CBS)
   24 (Fox)
   Heroes (NBC)
   Fringe (Fox)
   Life Unexpected (CW)
 9:30 p.m.  The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
 10 p.m.  Damages (FX)
   CSI:Miami (CBS)




Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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