FlowTV is a critical forum on television and media culture published biweekly by the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

HBO's Legacy and Future (Panel #19)

Panel Columnist: Walter Metz (Montana State University, Bozeman)
Participants: Amanda Lotz (University of Michigan), Steve Carr (Indiana University), Lisa Schmeiser (TV Without Pity), Lynn Zook and Gale Franko (savecarnivale.org), Jeffrey Jones (Old Dominion University), Dana Polan (New York University)
Moderators: Peter Alilunas (University of Texas at Austin) and Kristen Lambert (University of Texas at Austin)

Question: In 1999, when HBO began to win all those Emmy Awards for fictional, series TV shows, it seemed possible that the pay cable outlet would fundamentally alter the nature of American television. The difference between HBO programming and that offered by the networks was often quite striking. For example, short-runs of fiction shows of 13 episodes, sometimes airing in the summer months, offered a direct challenge to the network programming model. On the other hand, many of HBO's signature shows relied more on the ability to swear and show nudity than on some more important difference. Now HBO seems unable to match its initial innovation (The Comeback is not quite Sex and the City, for example). Furthermore, basic cable networks are offering both innovative imitations (Oxygen's women-centered "cringe-com" Campus Ladies as a re-articulation of Curb Your Enthusiasm) and arguably more compelling fare (the first two seasons of Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica strike me as just as compelling as even the best seasons of The Sopranos, never mind the gangster show in its latter-day tailspin). This round table will address the historic importance of HBO's shift to series programming and the potential for its future by addressing the following questions: Did HBO at the height of its series television innovations deserve the critical acclaim it received? How important were shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City? What will HBO's role in the future of the industry likely be? Can HBO continue to churn out successful shows that foreground their difference from the rest of the televisual landscape?


Blogger goshdurnit said...

Wanted to say that I really enjoyed this panel - lots of fun, lots of food for thought, had a great time.

I remember something Lisa Schmeiser said about HBO, likening it to Apple (or perhaps BMW) - a "boutique" item for a small (elite?) percentage of the total market share. They can remain profitable and respectable without having to gain much more of the market.

But now that Apple seems to have a slightly larger percentage of the overall computer market (I might be wrong on that; maybe they just have a higher profile), would it be possible for HBO to gain a significantly larger portion of the overall entertainment market, or am I carrying this analogy too far?

It also got me thinking about non-ad-supported online entertainment (e.g. davidlynch.com). Do you think such sites will never get more than 5% of the market (if that), or could they rival the revenues of the crappy ad-supported content that is sure to overrun the web in the next few years?

1:48 PM


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