It’s Sunday night as I write this and while I kind of want to see the Jets-Dolphins game, the fiance has been pretty pumped for the Season 5 premiere of Dexter, and since I, too, enjoy that show, I’m not putting up much of a fight over the remote control. The thing is, I’m not real big on television to begin with, and I never watch more than four or five shows during any given television season. Paul recently complained that he’s tired of what’s on TV these days, and that got me to thinking as to which television shows I actually do go out of my way to see. That, in turn, made me think about what network on television is the best. And after realizing which network most of my favorite shows appear on, I came to the conclusion that the answer is quite obvious. Again, I’m not huge on TV to begin with, but one network does indeed stand out from the rest as consistently worth watching.
Now, many of the cynics among you (and I’m sure there are several) will accuse me of writing this article as a plug, but I assure you that this isn’t the case. Trust me, I’d be more than happy to earn an extra bit of money hyping up a television network, but things don’t work like that over here at Unreality. One commenter suggested on my list of 10 of the Baddest Fictional Movie Weapons that I had included Wolverine’s claws as a plug for the new Wolverine movie, and that totally blew my mind. Are people that cynical? Whatever – getting back to the topic at hand, for me, the best network on television is HBO, and it isn’t particularly close. Yes, it’s a pay channel, but you certainly get what you pay for, season after season.
Even though it’ll be Dexter I watch tonight, I plan on following it up with Bored to Death and Eastbound and Down on HBO right after. And I’ll be recording Boardwalk Empire (the first episode was real good – good enough to get me excited for the second, which is all you can ask of a first episode, really) to watch tomorrow night. The new “season” of HBO has begun, with three shows worth watching – and that’s just for Sunday night. Before I discuss the rest of HBO’s programming, though, I want to discuss what’s shown on other networks.
On the big networks (CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC), there isn’t, in my opinion, much worth watching anymore. Apparently Two and a Half Men and those CSI shows do great in the ratings, but those are just a handful of shows. Lost is gone and The Event is here, but that’s yet to prove itself as a great show. 24 is done, as is Heroes, and it seems as if the major networks are scrambling to find the next big thing. Significantly, it’s not so much the good or watchable shows that are on a network that make it worth watching; it’s the rest of the programming that makes a network good for just a few hours during any given week. Even when FOX was churning out episodes of 24 and Prison Break, even with House and NFL Football (sports absolutely matter – more on that in a bit), there was so much unwatchable garbage on during the week that FOX could easily be replaced with, you know, Hulu. The same goes for CBS, NBC, and ABC.
Cable networks are a bit more tolerable as a whole since their programs aside from their major draws are usually decent. For example, Comedy Central is usually worth watching aside from just South Park or the Daily Show, because during its “down” times, you can catch something like Idiocracy or old stand up bits. FX has some great shows, too – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example – and its “down time” programs are usually something decent, too. This is the strength of cable over basic television – instead of awful shows and news, you’ll get decent movies and worthwhile programming. But HBO goes above and beyond and does this better than any other channel, pay or otherwise.
HBO used to be primarily a movie channel – and I suppose it still is, to an extent – but it’s evolved into something much, much more. The days of original programming date back to when I was a kid, and I remember staying up late to catch Tales From the Crypt followed by Dream On, two great, creative shows with adult themes that enabled different writers and directors to showcase their talents (Tales From the Crypt especially). HBO has continued to invest in original programming and has churned out not only watchable, but classic, critically-acclaimed shows for years. So when new(er) movies like The Dark Knight aren’t on, you’ll be able to (or were able to) watch The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Oz, Da Ali G Show, Six Feet Under, True Blood, Deadwood, and I mention it only for its cultural relevance, Sex and the City. No network can boast a lineup of so many memorable shows over the years, especially considering two of those shows (The Sopranos and The Wire) are considered two of the greatest television shows of all time.
In addition to all the original programming (which is sure to continue), there’s comedy specials, sports specials, and sports programming, like boxing and the always entertaining Hard Knocks. Yes, Showtime has some good original shows, too (I love Californication), but it can’t compare to HBO.
HBO is indeed a pay channel, but it’s worth the money. Where almost all networks continuously struggle to find or develop interesting programming, HBO has been a staple of watchable television for years. I don’t expect this to change anytime soon, especially with Boardwalk Empire already off to a great start. I doubt anyone will be able to convince me that there’s a network “better” than HBO, but I’m willing to listen to arguments. In the meantime, I’ll be getting ready for Eastbound and Down.