The 10 Historically Best Reasons to Spend Your Hard-Earned Cash on HBO
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The 10 Historically Best Reasons to Spend Your Hard-Earned Cash on HBO

By Rob Payne | Seriously Random Lists | June 25, 2013 | Comments ()


When the Home Box Office network first showed up on the national television stage in 1975, it broadcast the highly anticipated "Thrilla in Manilla" fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and thus cemented itself as a one-of-a-kind channel willing and able to make itself actually be worth a premium price. Even though it was one of the only places to see Hollywood produced movies in the comfort of your own home, it never rested on that laurel to reach an ever expanding audience. Original programming, from "Fraggle Rock" to "Tales from the Crypt," was in HBO's mission statement from the very beginning, and much of that programming does help ease a subscriber's pain. But only a few shows really make the whole package... well, the whole package.

Please to enjoy the Ten Best Reasons to Have Ever Had an HBO Subscription:

Boxing (and Sports)
Boxing, whether on pay-per-view or otherwise, has never been a draw for me, but it is for many people and since it premiered in the 1970s, HBO's coverage of the sport has been the place for many a legendary match. So I've heard, anyway.

"The Larry Sanders Show" (1992-1998)
Garry Shandling's second meta-textualized sitcom (after Showtime's "It's the Garry Shandling Show") was considered groundbreaking almost immediately, and gained in popularity over the seasons as celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, David Duchovny, and Alec Baldwin all made some of their most memorable television appearances in glorified cameo roles. It also gave us our first glimpse at Jeffrey Tambor's brilliance:

Stand-Up Comedy Specials
Whether it's series like "One Night Stand" and "Comedy Half-Hour" or showcase specials featuring the comedy world's best working performers, HBO has been a font of must-see stand-up for nearly three decades. And unlike the TV-friendly sets needed for late night broadcast and prime time Comedy Central, comics have free reign on this stage.

"Sex and the City" (1998-2004)
As much as I want to include "Mr. Show" here, which ended the same year SatC premiered, there's little doubt that more people, including critics, watched and talked about the "mature" miss-adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and friends for far longer and more excitedly than those of us who worshipped at the feet of Bob (Odenkirk) and David (Cross). It's amazing how silly the show's sexual politics was compared to "Girls" today. But, then, maybe that was the point?

"The Sopranos" (1999-2007)
The first unambiguously great show on HBO, appointment television, and quite obviously the precursor for an entirely new way of serialized storytelling on television. It was called "novelistic" and creator David Chase even compared each season to a single entry in a mafioso series. But what it really did was give us some of the absolute worst personalities in TV history and ample reasons to root for their continued survival, if not success. Now, every great drama can be described as "Tony Soprano in an ad agency" or "Tony Soprano making meth in the ABQ." HBO itself might be the biggest copycat.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" (2000-2011?)
Larry David's slow-burning, cringe-inducing modern-day farce not only proved that the "Seinfeld" curse powerless, it also proved who might have been the real comic genius behind the most popular sitcom of all time. It's safe to say, whether or not Larry and crew return for a 9th season, "Curb" is at least as pretty, pretty good as its cultural predecessor.

"Six Feet Under" (2001-2005)
In the wake of the acclaim of "The Sopranos," HBO and everyone else is still trying to recapture that lightning, with only varying degrees of success. A slew of "edgy" dramas were dropped on the prime time schedule including "Rome," "John from Cincinnati," "Carnivale," and "Deadwood," which gave it an honest shot but, unlike "Six Feet Under," failed to resonate with a wider audience. It doesn't hurt that the ending is just as memorable and was just as talked about as that ominous fade to black.

"The Wire" (2002-2008)
The second unambiguously greatest show on HBO, and perhaps the second (or first) greatest show ever in the history of the television medium. Sadly, David Simon's deconstruction of urban crime wasn't quite appointment TV when it was on, but it has since gained status as the ONE show you MUST watch at some point in your life; the sooner, the better. It's no wonder the show is still on HBO Go and On Demand. Watch it, already!

Original Movies
Like the network's stand-up specials, sports programming, and occasional mini-series and documentaries, their original movies alone are almost worth the price of admission. They consistently release movies that are just as good, and often much better, than the ones coming out in theaters nationwide and so everyone's talks about them either at the water cooler or on the message boards. And they're only available on HBO.

"Game of Thrones" (2011-)
There are other great shows on HBO right now -- "Girls," "Veep" -- or shows great-to-hate -- "True Blood," "The Newsroom" -- that make a solid argument about maintaining a subscription outside of ten weeks in the spring, but it is without question David Benioff's and D.B. Weiss's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire. This is, after all, a TV show that is unabashedly seen by many more people than actual subscribers and is either guilting or baiting people into reading epic (in length) books. Honest to R'hollor books. No one wants to spoiled, and even if they do, they still want to see it along with everybody else. Plus, dragons.

Critics (Incorrectly) Rank the 10 Best Movies of 2013 So Far | 5 Shows After Dark 6/25/13

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • wicked.whisper

    Jeffery tambors brilliance was glimpsed YEARS before on a little show called three's company. and I loved him on the short lived Welcome to the Captain.

  • watchholes

    I am look for this for so long .. cannot wait

  • Nick

    carnivale - tragically incomplete but so richly imagined

  • cgthegeek

    I guess I'm the only one here who remembers the Hudlin Brother's HBO short film, Cosmic Slop?

  • csb

    Good list, but I can't help but feel that Band of Brothers deserves a mention.

  • ferryman

    Agreed, but even with the evidence presented, no. HBO is not a must for me.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Dangit... now I have the theme from the Gary Shandling Show stuck in my head... again.

    "... we're almost to the part of where I start to whistle...."

  • "Inside the NFL" got its start on HBO. For the late 70s-early 80s it was pretty groundbreaking sports coverage with the long form analysis and the great work from NFL Films. I am also disappointed there has been no "Fraggle Rock" mention so far.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yes! to Fraggle Rock.

  • Andrew

    I'm pretty sure Babylon 5 was the first to do serialized storytelling on a season and series wide basis.

  • John W

    I finally did watch The Wire, because of PPP (Pajiba Peer Pressure) a few years ago and yes it deserves the accolades.

  • Mentalcase

    Seconded. And I'm stealing that...PPP. It'll save me tons of time explaining why I watch or don't watch what I do.

  • LB

    What? No Deadwood?

  • apsutter

    I'm gonna throw a vote in for Tales From The Crypt. I loved that damn show, even the strangely British final season.

  • Buellie413

    The song in the opening credits immediately makes me feel like I'm 9 years old again and watching this show when my parents weren't looking.

  • Maguita NYC

    Perfect! The ending for Six Feet Under. I was just thinking I'm in need of a good cry.

  • apsutter

    I cried a little watching the end of Mad Men yesterday

  • Maguita NYC

    There-there little bear, here's your picker upper.

  • Mel C.

    I know everyone's on the Game of Thrones wagon now, but the first three seasons of Big Love absolutely floored me. Some of the best TV that's ever aired.

  • Mr. E

    Deadwood. Band of Brothers. Georg Carlin Specials.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Brain Games!

    That interstitial was almost as important as the movies my family watched together on HBO.

    HBO's pretty good with airing documentaries during the summer as well.

    I just can't with Larry Sanders though. I hated Seinfeld when it originally aired because of its whining, shallow characters...Larry Sanders is that even moreso. I'm not saying it might have some good points, but it's too cringe-inducing for me to watch.

  • Jamie Dello Stritto

    Brain games...are now...over.
    Sad face.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That is also a catchphrase in my family.

  • Buellie413

    I'm liking this for the Brain Games mention-I was obsessed with them as a kid.

  • HBO seems to fund documentaries based on how likely it is to leave me a blubbering mush. Last night I was watching their latest about little girls with special needs in their own special needs beauty pageant. Or there was the one about how horribly we've abused all these Elephants. Or the one about the Iranian family who has a child who is dying and they can't get to the US to have the child treated.

  • HBO fantastic.

    The Conchords get lost in the shuffle because the show was so uneven. But when it was on it was ON.

  • apsutter

    I'm going to see them for the Funny or Die comedy fest and I'm freaking excited. Singing chords awesomeness AND Dave Chapelle? Hell yes!

  • Fredo

    I would add HBO Go to that list. You get to enjoy all of HBO's stuff on the go? Tablet or phone?

    That means, lunchtime with the Lannisters...summers with Swearingen...Christmas with Katie Morgan...

    wait, strike that last one!

  • Maguita NYC

    Bathroom break with Shameless.

  • Pawesl

    That would be showtime

  • Maguita NYC

    You're right. But I'd still take my bathroom break with Shameless.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    No. Don't.

  • BWeaves

    OK, I know I'm in the minority here, but my parents got HBO when it first came out in 1975. In between movies, I'd watch the time count down while watching the helmet cam of some guy cycling through a park. I swear, I watched that for hours.

  • Max

    Sex and the City over Deadwood? BULLSHIT.

  • JJ

    No kidding! Oh, and Flight of the Conchords, Big Love, Veep, Boardwalk Empire, and a little miniseries named Band of Brothers?

  • Arran

    Brilliant Deadwood may be, but it is of a piece with HBO's earlier dark, antihero-driven drams like The Sopranos, so its omission is understandable in this historical context. I hate SATC myself, but I get it.

  • Dream On, while clearly not a contender for any sort of HBO top ten list, will always hold a special place in my 14 year old, ahem, heart.

  • mclbolton

    OZ was the reason I have and always have had HBO --I am amazed at how vividly I still remember that series after seeing it only once.

  • Strand

    Oh hai, George Michael.

  • Bananapanda

    Definitely! It made several actors careers and upped the violence factor which Sopranos and Sons frankly owe a large debt to (better or worse).

  • prince_of_montagu

    I'm always sad at how people seem to overlook Oz because it was one intense fucking show filled to the brim with great characters (I still think Chris Keller is one of the most interesting characters i've ever seen on TV) and performances (J.K. Simmons as that Aryan bastard Schillinger). There might've been some low-points, but for better or worse, there has been nothing like it on TV, plus, it's the show that started it all.

  • Zen

    I was waiting for OZ to show up, and it never came.

  • pumpkin

    Me too. OZ was absolutely shocking. We would watch with our mouths open.

  • Al Borland's Beard

    I just wish The Life & Times of Tim was still on. That show was vastly under appreciated.

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    "Inside the NFL" got its start on
    HBO. For the late 70s-early 80s it was pretty groundbreaking sports
    coverage with the long form analysis and the great work from NFL Films. I
    am also disappointed there has been no "Fraggle Rock" mention so far.

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