What’s the Best Network on Television?

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.

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  1. TBS? I mean, they re-air just about every decent comedy show around. Seinfeld, Friends, Home Improvement, Fresh Prince and others. Plus it does have some good movies. However, in true case, none of them are original shows.

    I want to say the Discovery Channel. But it has a lot of shows that don’t interest me personally, but it does boast a line up of Mythbusters, Man vs Wild, Deadliest Catch and tons of specials.

  2. Hello unreality! I’m from sweden so i can’t say i know all about your networks, but what i do know is that almost all of the series i like is on HBO (love eastbound and down). So yeah, i agree with you

  3. Fox gets the best shows, but only the weak survive.

    NBC kills off shows that need to stay and keep ones that need to die.

    ABC is lost.

    TNT may as well just rename itself L&O

    TBS is actually TPS (Tyler Perry’s Sitcoms)

    Discovery used to be tops, but they’re running out of myths to bust and are becoming more and more a reality station.

    History no longer deals with history.

    FX is probably the tops when it comes to basic cable. Comedy Central right behind it (though Tosh is going to push them over the top, I think).

    HBO and Showtime are probably tops for premium cable, though you can never forget about the late night shows that Skinemax presents to the world.

  4. See I think the reason HBO is so much better is the time they give their shows to develop and get a base group of fans. Nowadays they are getting a lot of people to jump onto their new shows because you KNOW it’s not going to be cancelled after 3 episodes. A show like The Event might not be so well received on NBC/ABC (can’t remember which one) because we as viewers have been trained into thinking “well, this won’t last, why bother” But if it had been on HBO, we’d be more willing to give it it’s time to develop character/storyline wise.
    Now I’m someone who just started watching The Wire on DVD last month. I’m actually happy i waited because now I can watch the whole thing at once, but I can definately assume that when people started watching it, they knew they were going to get a good story, beginning, middle AND END! HBO & Showtime give you that opportunity to get into a show and watch the characters develop. Network shows just throw a big bang at you in the first episode and expect you to be so WOW’d that you keep coming back. Lost is the last one to do it for me, nothing else has done it.

  5. I’ve been saying this forever. I’m an idiot though. I’ll sit around in my room for an hour flipping channels the ENTIRE time without even realizing it, when I already know there’s nothing to watch anyway.

    HBO has really grown on me.

    Something interesting (maybe?) though, is I’ve been debating whether or not I should shell out extra cash for Starz next year, or at some time in the future, for Torchwood.

  6. HBO is clearly number 1. Great choice. But when you talk about HBO, you have to include one of the greatest, although shortlived, shows ever. That is Rome. It’s a shame it had to be cancelled after the second season because production costs were too high, but that show was phenomenal!

  7. I’m a little surprised there is no mention of AMC here. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Prisoner, Rubicon, and the Walking Dead starting Halloween? AMC is producing top tier, original stuff.

  8. If you asked me 15 years ago, I’d say NBC. I grew up watching Seinfeld, Fraiser, News Radio, etc (I miss Phil Hartman). However, I wholeheartedly agree with you about HBO. From True Blood to Eastbound and Down, I like almost every show they produce. I find Hardknocks hilarious and fascinating at the same time…but the Jets? Come on…

  9. agreed with Nomad.

    AMC is the basic cable network that is finally taking a page from the HBO book and churning out exceptionally high quality shows. Mad Men is easily the most sophisticated and adult show on television right now… gawker even publishes the ‘spark notes’ on each episode, including symbolism, hidden themes and literary allusions… honestly, whatever their model is, amc has been exceptionally successful at putting top-tier shows on the market, with no real misses to speak of.

    there has been a paradigm shift in entertainment… the epic narratives of our day are being told on the small screen instead of the big one now. television producers have figured out that the 10-14 hour season is the new canvas for creating rich, developed stories. the brilliance of the wire could never have been told in the context of the movie theater.. it needed hbo to work.

    but hbo has got to watch it’s back now, because the competition is getting closer. yes, the start of boardwalk empire might be strong, but there sure are plenty of misses as well…. ‘hung’, ‘john from cincinnati’…. even ‘curb’ is looking mighty long in the tooth these days. let us hope that network television starts to get into the game as well… i mean, we can basically forget about cbs, as it’s the network for old people and simpletons who need plot to be spoon-fed to the them by one-dimentional characters on CSI (and all of its needless offshoots)…. but ABC kinda got the idea with ‘lost’ and nbc is trying to replicate something similar with ‘the event’ … but they also managed to fuck up ‘heroes’ after a strong opening season, so you never know.

  10. Agree with Vidiot. AMC not only has the best stable of shows in the non-pay TV universe, but their movie selection is inspired. Who else today would run a Mad Max trilogy marathon (just last week, in fact)?

    Everyone else is spewing out light-on-story, imbecile-pandering commercial drivel. For instance, I would rather spend an hour under water torture than watch “No Ordinary Family’…

  11. ha ha. glad to see people who aren’t “real big on television” writing blogs on the subject…. kind of makes your opinion like mine when it comes to football. i don’t care for football or really ever watch it, but come read my blog on which team is the best…

    i don’t pay for premium channels, simply because we live in the age of hulu and the sort. however, i would pay for showtime over any other channel.

    dexter, weeds and californication are the only 3 shows i watch from showtime, but the caliber of them make that channel number one in my book.

    the only show i have gotten into from hbo is east bound and down… absolutely despised the sopranos and 2 episodes of true blood was enough to make me want to gouge my eyes out. but, to each their own.

    now BRAVO…. that is pure, mindless entertainment. i watch everything on that channel except for that real housewives garbage.

  12. Haha they are…the coaches are ridiculous. Please tell me you saw when they asked one of the coaches how many feet are in a yard (they were asking questions from are you smarter than a fifth grader)

    He said 12.

  13. I don’t really have an opinion on this since I’m doing that starving college kid thing and can’t get HBO, don’t watch much tv to begin with, and despite everyone else saying ‘ohmygod it’s soooooo good’ I’ve yet to begin watching stuff like Dexter (it’s on my list, I just haven’t gotten to it yet). But I just needed to say this: Whywhywhy the picture of the Cryptkeeper? >.< That stupid thing scarred me as a child (I swear my dad would watch that damn show ONLY because it scared me so much) and I still can't look at it without wanting to cry.

    Feel free to ignore my comment since it really has nothing to do with the article, but I just needed to get it out there.

  14. Haha oh my god I thought he was joking. I looked him up on google as he was rattling off all his kids’ names to see if he missed any. Apparently if he sneezes on you, you get knocked up

  15. Most of the Tv I watch on Cable is on FX
    it’s always sunny
    Sons of anarchy
    rescue me
    terriers (which I’m pleasantly surprised with)

    most other networks I only watch one show on

    for premium channels I would definitely say HBO has the most quality, but I also need Showtime for Dexter and to a lesser extent Weeds

  16. Madison – you forgot one key aspect of why HBO and Showtime shows are so much better than the major networks – NO COMMERCIALS! Not only do you gain an extra fifteen minute per hour with which to extend the story, you keep the viewer engrossed for the entire hour rather than ten-minute chunks. I typically prefer watching the shows on DVD or online so I can watch a bunch of episodes at once, but even fot the new shows that extra attention really allows you to appreciate the shows more.

    As you can tell, I certainly agree with you here.

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