As someone who became a teenager in the early eighties, I am used to thinking of music in broad categories: Rock, Metal, Country, Punk, Alternative, Jazz, Techno, etc. Mature markets tend to fragment; for example Wikipedia lists 19 genres of heavy metal music and 11 subgenres. The advent of cable channels has similarly fragmented television. Now you have channels dedicated to cooking, comedy, travel, outdoor adventuring, comedy, documentaries, news, music, arts, etc. HBO however, has bucked this trend of specialization in a specific genre but has instead chosen to focus on the quality of storytelling. In so doing, HBO’s rising boat, has raised the tide of television quality for all networks and inaugurated the golden age of television. HBO did not find its groove immediately but took some time to change its programing focus. A recent article on HBO identifies “The Larry Sanders Show” as the beginning of the HBO quality revolution. By coincidence, I have been watching this series again and it has held up well; I believe that Larry Sanders paved the way for 30 Rock.
From the article:
“How different things are today. At the beginning of the 21st century, there is nothing sharper in the cultural firmament than American television writing. You don’t have to brave the multiplex or pay exorbitant theatre ticket prices to watch the most compelling drama, the most scabrous satire, the most committed actors. From the sassy 23-minute sitcom to the magisterially drawn-out series, TV as an art form has grown up. It is changing our habits, and our scale of values. The ultimate act of cultural immersion used to involve going to see a Polish mime troupe in a downtown warehouse that couldn’t afford its heating bills. Today, it is to sink into a DVD box set for an evening of home-comfort transcendence.
This near-miraculous transformation is almost entirely down to one company. This year, for the 10th successive year, HBO, the pay-TV network, received more prime-time Emmy awards than any other network. HBO shows and artists challenged for 104 awards in last weekend’s ceremony. They included 21 nominations for the mini-series Mildred Pierce, 18 for the prohibition-era epic Boardwalk Empire, 13 for the fantasy series Game of Thrones, and 11 for the financial meltdown movie Too Big to Fail. HBO won a total of 19 awards, the most successful network.”
As an Economist, I am fascinated by “The Wire”, a series created 10 years ago was a shot over the bow to the systematic and nearly intractable problems in governance, media, education and the decaying middle class in America. Deadwood is meditation on how informal institutions arise in the absence of formal legal structures, and the community that forms around them.
And then there are "The Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", "Rome", "Entourage", "True Blood", "Boardwalk Empire" and "Game of Thrones" to name a few. All palettes are covered.
And then there are documentaries like “Public Speaking” or “Too Big to Fail”.
And then there are the miniseries like “Mildred Pierce” or “Band of Brothers”.
And then there is Bill Maher, the progressive firebrand renewed last season for 32 episodes this year.
Thank-you HBO. I salute you. You play to all my biases. You are a generalist that delivers quality storytelling.
I am a generalist that delivers quality economic research. As I have said in several posts, society needs to welcome the return of the educated generalist.
HBO is doing just that; it is showning you can be a generalist and still be excellent and relevant.