HBO: How do I love thee, let me count the ways...

Category: , By Rev/Views

Deadwood, The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, John Adams, Generation Kill, In Treatment, The Wire, Carnivale, Band of Brothers, Flight of the Conchords and Big Love; these number amongst my favourite shows or mini-series and they all have one thing firmly in common.

They are all from Home Box Office.

In the world of American television there are three networks that I consider to be ones which provide a higher level of quality television than the rest. These are FX, Showtime and the aforementioned HBO. FX and Showtime are networks I keep an eye on and sample shows from them - sometimes I find greatness (Rescue Me and Weeds for example) and sometimes I find shows which I'm not that fussed on (Nurse Jackie), but HBO is a network which I've come to realise never has any of the latter type. Every single HBO production I've watched (and I've seen nearly all of them now) has been quality that is within the top percentile of television shows.

Three of the most significant shows of the last decade came from HBO (The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under) and collectively HBO shows represent around 10% of my personal top 100. That's a huge sweep for a single network, especially when you consider that I'm not an exception in this - many others have similar praises - TVGuide's top 100 episodes of all time features several episodes from HBO; and most critic's top ten "best shows of all time" lists will include at least two or three HBO shows. Empire's list has The Wire and The Sopranos; Time Magazine's has several, as does The Guardian and even Bloggers can't resist including them in their lists (for example here).

It's kind of incredible really, HBO is just one network - a subscription one at that - and in all honesty that's pretty much all I personally know about it. I don't live in America, I watch TV in a detached from timeline fashion that mostly involves boxed set marathons, I don't have any form of subscription television and yet my tastes in television shows are dominated by this one institution which consistently seems to raise the bar for storytelling in a televisual context by not seeming to compromise on depth and only occasionally where accessibility is concerned (out of the show's I've mentioned only The Wire truly requires one to work at their viewing to click with it).

I don't think every network has to be like HBO, there's room for most kinds of programming on the airwaves, but I do feel that more networks and shows should be aspiring to surpass HBO's standard of excellence. Right now there's no doubt (for myself at least) that HBO is my preferred source of television. That said there are networks who do seem to be working on becoming quality providers; the aforementioned Showtime is trying - but is suffering from a lack of consistency, same with FX. The other network which might rise up to become a contended is AMC; but at the moment all they seem to have is Mad Men and Breaking Bad, two most excellent shows, but they're going to need to bring some more big hitters to their lineup - and I suspect they intend to over this year.

In the UK, on the other hand, things seem to be at an all time low - the BBC has very few good quality new dramas or sitcoms and ITV has even less. British television has never been at the forefront of innovative TV - the best show on the screens right now is the frankly ancient Doctor Who, it's still brilliant - but it's hardly enough by itself. We're desperate over here for a quality subscription channel which provides strong and original British programming - but until then I'll keep watching everything HBO brings us.

So how about it HBO? How about giving us Home Box Office UK?


2 comments so far.

  1. Matt M 8 February 2010 at 10:18
    "Every single HBO production I've watched (and I've seen nearly all of them now) has been quality that is within the top percentile of television shows."

    Little Britain USA?
  2. Rev/Views 8 February 2010 at 18:39
    And that would be why I added the caveat "I've watched". XD

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