Do you remember what your television viewing experience was like before you discovered HBO? Between interchangeable reality shows, tired situational comedies and censored late night talk show hosts, for many, cable TV can be a wasteland of horrible programming. There is a reason why multiple actors, directors and producers utter the words “God Bless HBO” at the podium before they stroll backstage with multiple golden statues in tow. HBO finds the most creative content creators on the planet, gives them a gigantic budget and stands back to let them do what they do best.
HBO has always delivered amazing content but this year in particular brings with it an entirely new allotment of television masterpieces. Not only has the production value shot through the roof, the sheer number of must-watch-television coming out of your Home Box Office is simply astounding. Maybe you’ve already thought about subscribing. Maybe you’re already a subscriber but you’re thinking about shaving that extra $20 off of your cable bill. Maybe you’re already subscribed and we’re preaching to the choir. Allow me to introduce, or reintroduce you to the eleven reasons HBO will be your entertainment headquarters this year.
Game of Thrones – It has been heralded as ‘the most anticipated television series of all time‘. And for many, it is. If you haven’t heard of George R.R Martin’s epic fantasy series ‘A Song of Fire and Ice‘, you will certainly hear of it this spring. Game of Thrones is the first in what will most likely be an ongoing series set in the fantasy world of Westeros. Think- Lord of the Rings meets The Tudors. With all of the things you love about high fantasy (magic, strange beasts, etc) and all of the sex, violence and political intrigue of a period medieval piece such as The Tudors. Top it off with an absolutely massive budget (4.5 mil / episode) and you’re no longer thinking about Xena, Warrior Princess production value. With scores of characters and almost infinite content to draw from, the creators of Game of Thrones begin their journey into Westeros on April 17th. ‘Winter is Coming’ to HBO.
Mildred Pierece – Historical docu-dramas are all the rage right now and HBO is leading the way. John Adams scooped up several awards last year as it took us back to the founding of our country. Mildred Pierce is also a period piece but we’ll be journeying to Glendale, California in the 1930’s this time. Less docu and more drama than John Adams, Pierce stars Academy Award winner Kate Winslet and from all indications, looks to be an Awards Show magnet. Mildred Pierce premieres on March 27th.
Bill Maher – Love him or hate him you’re going to be talking about him at the water cooler on Monday morning so you might as well watch him. Let’s face it- HBO subscribers are the perfect demographic for Bill’s show and the creative freedom that the network gives him is perfect for him to remain in his comedic element. HBO and Bill Maher are a match made in progressive heaven. With interesting guests, quotable jokes and no punches pulled, Real Time with Bill Maher is one of the most pointed political programs available. His new season is in full swing right now, every Friday night at 10PM. That time doesn’t work for you? Fire up that DVR I know you have and/or check out HBO Online.
Documentaries – ‘HBO Documentaries’ is one of the only venues offering an array of quality expose’s on cable. HBO often funds it’s own documentary teams to go out and explore controversial and interesting issues. In 2009, The Cove was featured on HBO and subsequently won the Oscar for Best Documentary. More recently, HBO’s Gasland was nominated in the same category and Reagan gave us a more realistic look at the 40th President of the United States. I know documentaries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I encourage you to navigate over to the HBO Documentaries On Demand menu and watch one that catches your eye. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll most likely learn something!
Boardwalk Empire – Boardwalk Empire utterly dominated the Golden Globes this year. And if awards and accolades don’t convince you to try watching this program then perhaps ‘one of the largest budgets for a television program ever‘ will. Boardwalk Empire can be summed up thusly– think– Sopranos during prohibition, in Atlantic City. With award winning acting, massive sets, top-notch writing and Steve Buscemi leading the way, Boardwalk Empire’s second season is one of the most anticipated television events of the year. Look for it again sometime this fall.
Entourage -Mark Wahlberg has promised us a final, albeit shortened season of Entourage with the possibility of a Big Screen movie sometime in the future. Men around the world have hung out with these guys via HBO and most of them have loved every minute of it. If you haven’t seen the show you’re probably going to need to start at the beginning as season seven left off with a drugged out main character (Vince) being punched in the face by Eminem at his record release party. If that doesn’t get you to watch this show, I’m not sure what will. Do it now or Ari Gold will show up at your house and believe me, he won’t be happy.
Treme –Season 2 ramps up this April 24th with the same all-star cast and the production team from HBO’s The Wire. Antony Bourdain is even on board to write most of the restaurant scenes this season! If you haven’t seen the first season yet pick it up on DVD or take a look on HBO Go.
Sports – Between Real Sports, Hardknocks and the NHL’s 24/7 HBO has you covered as a supplemental to your favorite sporting events. HBO Boxing is your number one source for access to all of the biggest fights as well. If you’re a sports fan, you’re going to want to see what HBO has to offer.
Movies Movies Movies – With all of these great original programs on HBO we often forget that our ‘Home Box Office’ started as a pure movie-fest on cable. HBO is almost always first with ‘movies you want to see’ at no extra cost other than your subscription. Why rent Avatar for 6.99 on Blu-Ray when you’re already subscribed to HBO at no additional cost? HBO recently announced that they’d be featuring most of the Academy Award winning movies from this year’s oscar nominations. Haven’t seen The King’s Speech, The Social Network, or Inception yet? You can soon on HBO!
Everything is Online – Speaking of online; have you heard about HBO’s latest online venture? Not only are new and current shows available on demand for paid subscribers- HBO has vowed to put everything it has rights to online! No one else has even come close to doing something similar and again HBO leads the pack. HBO Go is available for free to anyone who pays to get HBO via cable or satellite. However, only a handful of distributors are offering it via broadband. Comcast, Cox, Verizon and AT&T all have deals with HBO, but other major distributors, including Time Warner Cable, which is Southern California’s largest provider, do not as yet. Ubiquitous or not, this is a giant step in the right direction. You pay for HBO, you get HBO– any show, anywhere, anytime.
It’s Cheap Entertainment, People! – It baffles me that someone can look at this list of wonderful content, complain about the $20 a month fee and then go spend $100 on drinks at the bar in one night! Compared to most of the things we do for entertainment, HBO’s fee is perfectly acceptable and completely doable for most cable subscribers even in this economy. In fact, it makes more economic sense than a lot of entertainment choices out there. So say goodbye to some of those loud, low-brow reality shows on cable and say hello to your new entertainment headquarters for 2011.