cover image It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO

It’s Not TV: The Spectacular Rise, Revolution, and Future of HBO

Felix Gillette and John Koblin. Viking, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-29619-6

Journalists Gillette and Koblin debut with a comprehensive and brisk history of HBO. The cable network launched in 1975 with “some 375 subscribers,” and from that inauspicious beginning, the authors trace the company’s early successes, including original series Tales from the Crypt and Dream On, as well as hits that the network missed out on, such as It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (which went to Showtime). More recently, a big fish that got away was Netflix, the acquisition of which was considered in 2006 as the startup expanded to streaming. Instead the company developed HBO Go, which experienced numerous hiccups (reviewers were “unimpressed with the paltry amount” of programming) before being rebranded as HBO Max in 2020. Throughout, there are vivid accounts of the players who shaped the network, among them former director of documentary programming Sheila Nevins, who recalls the company’s “boy’s locker room” atmosphere in the ’70s, and CEO Chris Albrecht, whose arrest for assault in 2007 marked a particularly challenging era. The authors are especially sharp in highlighting the contradictions in HBO’s recent investment in “female-centric” shows: “When it came to selecting the visionary HBO creator... the role was still largely reserved for men. Even, in many cases, on shows about women.” The result is a thorough, warts-and-all account of an entertainment industry giant. (Nov.)