Rushfield: Prestige TV's Mr. Magoo
HBO has thrived under one bad owner after another. But can any brand survive streaming dilution?
Amidst the turmoil of this past week — and past year(s) for that matter, it's nice to stop for a little breath and look at something that works in Hollywood. Or has worked and hasn't had the life beaten out of it yet, anyway.
And it's nice to ask about something in Hollywood: why did this thing work? What went into building this?
Felix Gillette and John Koblin's breezy and gripping new book, It's Not TV, captures the unlikely saga of HBO, the network's astonishing rise from fourth-tier sports purveyor to sacred totem of the educated American elite. The story plays out almost like an episode of Mr. Magoo as the little network stumbles upward while corporate chaos wreaks havoc around it, from the AOL merger onward.
Most notably in its penultimate chapter, HBO survives its nearest brand near-death experience at the hands of AT&T and the philistine empire that seemed determined to snuff out everything unique and distinctive about the network.
And yet it emerged. With barely a scratch. Brand intact, audience loyalty unshaken, still able to create hits at a batting average that is the gold standard of the Streaming Wars, and lives to fight through another regime. At least with the ascent of David Zaslav they begin with an owner who says the right things about HBO, unwinding the madness of the past few years back to the Bewkes game plan.
How will it work out?