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!
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.