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Look, I really enjoy HBO. The series work they do is everything they claim it to be -- groundbreaking, intelligent, well written, well acted, and fabulously shot. They sweep the awards every year.
That said, its hardly in the same category as an actual network. A network like say, NBC, or ABC. You see, those guys can't just write checks and produce shows. They don't cater directly to a paying audience. The audience is remarkably removed, in fact, from the decision process and is only marginally important in it. No, they have to cater to their affiliated stations -- hundreds of them. Those affiliates range from what would be considered a small business by most definitions, all the way to mega media programming corporations which own large swaths of the larger markets. Those affiliates in turn are responsible to advertisers -- not viewers.
HBO creates a show with the ultimate goal of fascinating an audience wealthy enough to purchase the premium channels and old enough to be home to watch them rather than just running to the clubs and movies. xBC has to create a show which they can pitch to affiliates, who can then re-pitch it to media buyers who in turn want to use it to sell goods and services. Those media buyers want young, hip buyers with spending money or plastic, who make impulsive purchases, who buy on fashion and style. They need their products and services associated with "fun" shows that make people feel good. Sure, those people 'say' they feel good with the kind of shows HBO sells, but those media buyers are too smart for that. They know those kinds of shows make you think. They can be disturbing. They don't run well in all markets all the time. Sometimes there's sex in them instead of just killing. Middle America hates sex, but loves violence. They don't say that, but the media buyers know. Nobody wants to think about buying a new whitening toothpaste after watching the Sopranos. No, they want to think about the Sopranos. That's no good for media buyers at all.
Personally, I really like the product I buy with HBO. I enjoy watching and thinking about what they put on the air. Its just entertainment, but its done well. Its GOOD entertainment. In fact, the only thing I don't like, is that they call themselves a network and try to force actual networks (with affiliates to appease) to compete in the same space. All that really does is discount the value of the awards processes since the outcome is predetermined. I'm sure xBC would love to produce a show like The Sopranos, Wired, or Deadwood. They can't though -- the nature of a network is such that it can't run with content like that. Not even if you remove they dirty words and sex and replace it with more killing.
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