Apr 192011
Authors: Matt Miller

As chance may have it this column is running on April 20, and as such, I have decided to devote my entire column to premium cable television.

If you would like to learn more about this day, just Google 420, go to Cheba Hut, go to Boulder or go to the Oval.

I’m not going to waste my time on a subject that has been beaten to death by writers much more adept and passionate than I.

I’m going to write about something I do care about: sex, violence and cursing.

These three things, which make any TV show better to watch, can be found on premium cable television stations like HBO.

I understand that as college students paying extra money for HBO seems out of the question, but there are ways around it. 

Should you ever have a “problem” with your cable, the good people at Comcast are good enough to give an angry customer a few months of HBO to keep them happy. If you’re just signing up for Comcast, or switching it from one roommate to another the company gives six free months of HBO.

So, I’m not some rich snob sitting in my tower throwing out wads of cash so I can watch my golden TV –– I just got lucky.

But even if you go through all this trouble to have a few months of HBO, what’s the point? It tends to repeatedly show the same few B movies. Why even bother to watch “I Love You Beth Cooper” (other than for Hayden Panettiere) over and over?

It’s all about the original programming.

Last Sunday, I sat down and turned on HBO to watch the season premier of their new show “Game of Thrones,” a plot-heavy, medieval fantasy based on the epic novels by George R. R. Martin.

A little back-story: Ever since I was a chubby third grader reading “Harry Potter” for the first time I have loved fantasy.  The genre opened my world to reading, and although I have traded in swords and elves for political satire and literature, it will always bring out the nerd inside me.

Fantasy TV shows tend to be cheesy shadows of the beloved books they’re based off of. Think ABC’s “Legend of the Seeker,” the television version of Terry Goodkind’s “The Sword of Truth” series.

But as I watched in awe at the high budget sets and costumes, the marvelous acting, and intricately woven and executed plot, I was reminded of what gave “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” the Academy Award for Best Picture. HBO used quick judgment, and after only one episode that drew 2.2 million viewers the station announced it would renew “Game of Thrones” for a second season.

Once my inner nerd calmed down and took a few inhaler hits I realized I wasn’t surprised at all.

HBO is the same station that has produced some of my favorite shows and some of the highest regarded television ever.

“The Wire,” which goes far beyond television into the depths of our politics and culture, is an HBO original program many call the greatest show ever made. I like to think of it as the “Citizen Kane” of TV.

Its unflinching look at politicians, police, gangs and drug wars is a reflection of the world we live in and much more important than entertainment. 

Then there are shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Sopranos,” “Band of Brothers” and “Boardwalk Empire” each just as influential and loved in their own ways.

Yes the sex, violence and cursing on HBO are great, but it offers something much better. The station has hit its niche with original programming, and without it the station would be almost nothing today.

Other basic cable stations are starting to emulate HBO’s strategy.

“Mad Men,” a show that was passed by HBO, became the cable station AMC’s first original program.  Since the show’s debut in 2007, it has won a barrage of Emmys and paved the way for AMC’s other hits “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead.”

In just a few years AMC has gone from a struggling movie channel to a producer of critically acclaimed TV shows.

Quality programming that was once only available to those who paid a premium is starting to be available to a wider audience.

Maybe HBO and AMC are on to something here. It might sound crazy, but maybe the key to a successful TV station is: A) to believe that audiences are attracted to something that appeals to a higher intellectual level and B) to put in the effort and produce something that isn’t crap.

Entertainment Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to verve@collegian.com.

Check these out:

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  • Words With Friends: It’s a free smart phone game that is pretty much Scrabble that you can play with other people. It’s fun and educational! My name is Millerhighlife41.
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