It's easy to take HBO for granted these days. The network's slew of quality programming has been pleasing viewers for almost thirty years, and for decades before that they were airing films, fully uncensored. Before the network's creation, it was almost impossible to see a movie uncut outside of a theater.
Even with the advent of streaming technology, HBO remains relevant and a trusted source of quality original programming. As a celebration of this wonderful service, the following list will detail ten facts you may not know about it. These will include tidbits about its inception, special events, and its programming.
10 Launch Date
In the grand scheme of pop culture, HBO, or the Home Box Office, isn't that old. It launched on November 8th, 1972. Like most businesses, it started out small and hemorrhaging money.
At that time, its subscriber base was located entirely in the Northeast United States and it did not broadcast anywhere outside of the city. These days, people across the world are chatting about Game of Thrones, but back then, only a small segment of the population could chat about the movie or sports game they caught on that channel.
9 The First Broadcast
Because of its humble beginnings, the first broadcast went off to little fanfare. The movie shown was Sometimes a Great Notion, directed by and starring Paul Newman. It was based on a Ken Kesey novel, who many know as writing One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. The signal went out to just above three hundred people in Wilkes-Barre, a small city in Pennsylvania. A plaque in the city commemorates the channel's premiere broadcast. It is hard to imagine a time where one's desired program wasn't immediately at their fingertips.
8 The First Television Special
HBO is synonymous with television specials covering a wide variety of topics. The many stand-up specials gave edgy comedians a platform in which they could freely express themselves on television to a wide audience. The channel also aired documentaries covering subjects that primetime cable networks would not dare touch. What led the charge as the first television special on the new channel?
It was the Pennsylvania Polka Festival. Not as raunchy or racy as some of the other specials they would come to air, but polka music is especially celebratory, so one could think the musicians were joyously celebrating the first pay-per-view special.
7 Charles Dolan
The network was founded by Charles Dolan. His first step towards making HBO came from a system of broadcasting television in New York City through underground cables. Eventually, the idea of a subscriber-based channel was born, and then HBO came to fruition. Of course, many details and nuances happened before then, but the moral of the story is that anyone enjoying HBO's programming has Charles Dolan to thank. He also founded Cablevision, which he recently sold for over $10 billion.
6 The Terry Fox Story
HBO has also produced a slew of original movies whose quality and production values often mirror those of theatrical releases. The first of its kind was The Terry Fox Story, the true story of a long distance runner who treks across Canada on foot in an attempt to raise cancer awareness. When he made the run, he was already missing one leg from the disease. The inspiring story was ripe for a film adaptation and HBO heeded the call. The film received a relatively warm reception and was a sign of things to come from the network.
5 Satellite Broadcast
The previous method of broadcasting television had many limitations. HBO desired to spread its signal all over the country, and the only way to do that was through satellites. In 1975, the channel started broadcasting nationally and its popularity really started skyrocketing from there. People were initially uncertain about the new technology, with fears about satellites falling out of orbit, but the move proved to be the right decision.
4 The First Hour-Long Drama
These days, the channel is well-known for their hard-hitting dramas. Before Game of Thrones, The Wire, and even The Sopranos, it all started with a gritty prison drama called Oz. Tom Fontana, the show's creator, had previously worked on Homicide: Life on the Streets. With Oz, he tackled subject matter that was traditionally considered taboo. Oz is dirty, grimy, unfair, and every moment of its fifty-six episodes is solid gold television. Its cast was pure fire, and it is a good opportunity to see J. K. Simmons and Christopher Meloni in villainous roles they rarely play.
3 24 Hour Broadcasts
Believe it or not, HBO did not always broadcast for 24 hours a day. Even when it started airing in homes all across the country, it only broadcast from three in the afternoon until midnight.
Only in 1981 did it start broadcasting nonstop for all those night owls who need a good movie to watch while they fight off sleep. They weren't the first to move to all day programming, however, as Showtime and The Movie Channel had beaten them to the punch by several months. With the internet and streaming, this idea doesn't seem too special, but all night movies and television was an important step back in the day.
2 Captain Midnight
Television broadcasts aren't safe from invasion and hijacking. On April 27th, 1986, HBO's broadcast was commandeered by a fellow who dubbed himself Captain Midnight. Captain Midnight was in fact John R. MacDougall, who interrupted the network in protest of the high subscription fees satellite dish owners faced for accessing certain networks. Prior to this, people who used satellite dishes could pick up the signal for no extra cost. However, companies started to use methods of preventing this, which angered many. After the incident, hijacking a cable signal was made a felony.
1 Streaming Ambitions
In 2015, HBO launched HBO Now, a streaming platform where one could access most of their original programming and many movies. While the future of television is streaming, the network currently has no desire to make the same types of programming Netflix and Amazon produce. Bingeable television shows isn't what HBO is about, and they still release their episodes on the service one week at a time. Imagine watching a season of The Sopranos or Oz in a day. So many little details and nuances in the performances would be glossed over.