How HBO Went from a Scrappy Cable Network to Changing TV Forever

What started out as a small cable network airing mostly sports events has grown into one of the most successful and influencial names in TV.

HBO completely dominated this year's Emmys with 96 nominations and 43 wins, not to mention the fact that their highest rated show, Game of Thrones, made Emmy history by bringing home 12 awards, which is the most any show has ever won in a single year. So, what's the deal? What's going on over at HBO that makes them so special?

Well, the answer becomes quite apparent when you take a look at this supercut by video essayist Fernando Andrés, in which he expertly cuts together clips from HBO's best shows, like The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Leftovers, Veep, and True Detective to pay tribute to the network that helped make TV a cinematic medium.

TV has always been seen as the "lesser" art form compared to film. For a long time, the best talent in showbiz would be the ones making movies, while the rest would be kicking around on TV waiting for their "big break" into cinema. However, in the last several years there has been an incredible shift. TV is where it's at now—some of the best producers, writers, directors, and actors have made an exodus to television and have left the cinema behind to lie in its superhero-themed bed. But why?

It all started in the 90s when HBO found success with their original programming: Tales from the CryptTracey Takes On..., and The Larry Sanders Show. The network, though not as popular as ABC, NBC, or CBS, was able to gain cult status, as well as some nominations and wins from the Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes. And because it was subscription-based, it didn't have to air traditional commercials, which meant that since they didn't have to adhere to pressure from sponsors to clean up content, they were able to create original programming that pushed boundaries. Producers, writers, and directors could take more risks and include more graphic content, including nudity, profanity, and strong violence—you know, stuff you'd see in an R-rated movie.

'Game of Thrones'

This freedom and risk taking seems to be the thing that helped HBO usher in this new Golden Age of television, with shows that look and feel more like the films of today, but remind us of the challenging, visceral films of the past. Now, cable networks like Showtime, and even streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have been coming out with fantastic shows, like HomelandOrange is the New Black, and Transparent respectively. So, who knows what the future holds for television, but thanks to HBO, television has one.     

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HBO doesn't have Mad Men or Breaking Bad, so it can't be that good.

September 19, 2016 at 4:00AM, Edited September 19, 4:00AM

Henry Barnill
Director of Photography

HBO has True Detective (1st season) and The Night Of so, actually, it IS that good.

September 19, 2016 at 8:24AM

Richard Krall

And Game of Thrones. And The Wire. And The Sopranos. And Six Feet Under. And Band of Brothers. And Angels in America. And all the other incredible shows in the montage.

It's a legacy that cannot be topped or matched. Truly transcendent. So great to see it all together in one place.

September 19, 2016 at 5:54PM

Oren Soffer
Director of Photography

No mention of the excellent 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon? This is what, for me, put HBO above "replaying the same movies dozens of times" status.

September 19, 2016 at 8:25AM, Edited September 19, 8:25AM


HBO is steadily losing its quality. There's a reason there are joke slogans like "It's not Porn, it's HBO" floating around. They're starting to mask basically C grade scripts with T&A and ultra violence, and even more swearing.

With their upcoming "Westworld" it looks like they've taken GoT and amped everything to 11 along with graphic violence towards women and pushed into the NC-17 category with its sexual depictions. That's all they have to offer: puerile, base content to get people to tune in every week.

"Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" are far and away better scripted shows than some of the big hits on HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime, and prove they can do far much more with less given a creative show runner, superb actors, and wonderful writers. Since the characters can't swear as often due to them being basic cable shows, they've honed adult language into a scalpel and made it sharp edged again rather than use it in every other sentence and dull the impact.

September 25, 2016 at 10:42PM, Edited September 25, 10:47PM