HBO, or Home Box Office, is the leading pay TV network in the US. It is also one of the most influential networks in the world, due to its focus on quality television programmes, produced without restrictions on content. It can do this because it operates solely on subscriptions (subscribers pay extra to recieve the channel), and thus doesn't have to answer to corporate interests or family sensitivity.
 
HBO was owned by Time, Inc. at its inception in 1972. When Time merged with Warner Communications to form Time Warner, it became an integral part of that conglomerate. It remains part of Time Warner today.
 
While HBO is known for its mature, cutting-edge programming, the main HBO channel does not show such programmes during the day. This continues a longstanding policy dating back to the 1970s; many early HBO ratings bumpers prominently note this fact, although it is not promoted today.


HBO was born in November, 1972 and initially used microwave to broadcast its signal. On December 13, 1975, HBO began broadcasting via satellite - just in time to show the famous "Thrilla in Manilla" boxing match between Joe Frazier and Mohammad Ali.
 
Early HBO presentation was simple, and downright primitive compared to the glossy, state-of-the-art presentation that HBO cultivates today. Its logo was different as well - while the basic design is the same as that used today, the "O" originally overlapped the "B". Beginning around 1980, the current design was gradually phased in, and was the sole logo by 1982.


HBO Ident
1978
Unusually for a cable channel, HBO has kept the same basic logo for most of its existence - but it has gone through at least one major change. HBO's 1970s-era logo had the "O" overlapping the "B", and is accompanied by a three-stripe rainbow. Both of these were phased out by 1982.
 
This ident is simple - a tumbling model "HBO" keyed over a rostrum shot of the earth.


HBO Feature Movie
1978
In contrast to today's policy of "use one intro for feature films", HBO was using a veritable army of intro sequences for movies. These "HBO Feature Movie" sequences share a similar musical signature and identical end animation, but other than that, they are as different as can be. At least six sequences are known to have been used, although it is not known what criteria - if any - was used as to what intro went with what movie. It is also not known whether all six were introduced together or if these intros were added to over time, as some contain more advanced animation than others(one of them using state of the art wireframe computer animation).
 
This intro is lighthearted, with dancing concessions and movie-related objects lining the streets - in this way it seems to echo classic movie intermission trailers.


HBO Feature Movie
1979
Feature Movie #2 is somewhat grander than the first, with a more majestic orchestral score and an elaborate HBO movie theatre. All of these contain nice cel animation, with this one taking a more abstract form-up, as if the movie theatre is being drawn in. Again, the same "Feature Movie" animation and fanfare is used at the end.

HBO Ident
1979
The holiday ident using the early "overlapping O" logo. The plicky-plicky music would be reused for later HBO holiday idents, using the more refined version.

The Last Laughs of the 70s...
1979
An early example of a cable television staple - the holiday marathons devoted to either a specific show or theme. This is a theme marathon - classic HBO comedy specials from the 1970s.

HBO Ident
1979
A short slide ID used for the mid-junction short films - another thing that isn't normally seen on HBO anymore (typically, the trend has been towards shorter junctions and longer promos for shows and movies).

HBO Ident
1980
A later HBO ident, used circa 1980-1981, where the logo is formed using rainbow-colored lasers. One of the more interesting HBO idents.

HBO Feature Movie
1980
Feature Movie #3 completely abandons all reality for a very abstract series of spires, bubbles, and television screens accompanied by a synthesized score. Again, we're not sure of the criteria judging what intro goes with what type of movie.

HBO Ratings Bumper
1980
A very verbose warning to parents about the next movie, rated R. Note the disclaimer that HBO "will show this feature only at night". This is actually still HBO policy - to this day, R-rated films and TV-MA programming will air only during primetime on the main channel. (The spinoff channels will air R-rated movies in daytime, save for HBO Family which does not air such content at all)

Standing Room Only
1979
The wonderful, live-action "Standing Room Only" opener for live events. Check out the early HBO cable converter!

HBO Sign Off
1979
HBO did not begin broadcasting 24 hours until 1981. Therefore, it signed off each night with this animation, a subtle message to the audience that it was time to go to bed. Abstract and crude 1970s-era animation abounds in this one.
 
Note the logo at the end - it's the 1970s "overlapping O" variant, but with the message "HOME BOX OFFICE FROM TIME/LIFE" at the bottom, a reference to its parent company. The TIME/LIFE bit was an effective piece of marketing, since it tied in the newborn HBO with the trusted Time/Life magazine brands.


Gymnastics
1979
Gymnastics championships, one of the early types of sports carried on cable. (ESPN was filled with this type of stuff.) This uses the type of music - either custom or stock - that HBO seemed to use in all its promos, bumpers, idents, opens, you name it. Recorded just before signoff.

King of the Gypsies Promo
1979
A movie promo that appears to have been at least partially adapted from the movie trailer, with some comparatively early work from the US voiceover king, Don LaFontaine. Note the early - but primitive - computer generated text.

HBO Weekend Promo
1979
Simple text animation here takes us to and from the movies airing on HBO this weekend. Notice the comparative lack of branding here.

HBO Calendar Promo
1979
A very long promo that we don't have in full, this is a general "this month" on HBO promo with a nice end animation.

HBO Sports- Boxing
1980
Boxing has been an HBO staple for the network's entire existence, and so has Larry Merchant - he's been with the network for years. This is one of many, many fights broadcast from the fabled Madison Square Garden.

Coming Up Next...
1979-1980
Primitive graphics were used for the "Coming Up Next" promos in the late 1970s. Using a simple character generator, the same copy the announcer was reading was displayed on the screen.

Coming Up Next...
1979-1980
Two more examples of the text-heavy "next ons".
 


Next On...
1980
A far more attractive neon tube "Next On" ident was used starting around 1980 or so. This cut down on the generated text and looks a lot nicer in the process.

Movies on HBO (Long Promo)
1980
More of the neon tube look. This is one of the long promos spotlighting some of the movies available on HBO that given month. This type of look was used through the logo change and even for some time after the famous starship opens were introduced.

HBO Sports
1981
HBO sporting events. Again, an example of the newer, more refined HBO logo being phased in to promos and idents. Includes such iconic HBO programs as Wimbledon coverage and "Inside The NFL".

HBO Ident
1982
A revised logo was phased in over 1981 and 1982, first in some promos, then in idents. This "wireframe" ident is a landmark for HBO, and impressive for 1982.

From early 1980 on, HBO began to update its look and feel, beginning (as stated before) with their logo. But they were still looking for their "centerpiece" - an opening intro sequence to be used for its programming. HBO was beginning to think big as far as presentation was concerned, so no more cel animations - they wanted something that would capture the viewer's attention, and look like nothing else on cable. Tony Lover and Liberty Studios delivered a pitch that fit that criteria - and in the process created one of the most celebrated ident sequences in all of television.
 
The idea was simple - the ident would start with a couple tuning into HBO. The camera would then pan out onto the streets of the city, and then begin to fly through it at increasing speed before panning upwards towards the sky to reveal a giant, almost satellite-like HBO logo. The execution, was not. Liberty created a painstakingly detailed model city, then used a stop-motion camera to film it. Ferdinand Jay Smith and Tony Lover composed the memorable, exciting theme music. All of the elements were either hand-made, achieved with camera tricks, or used simple animations. There was no 3D computer animation used to film this. By all accounts, the project took one and a half years to complete.
 
From this single basic sequence, countless edits were created. Some of them were as simple as changing the end title and musical sting - others were a bit more drastic. Notably, there are three distinct "lengths" of the sequence. The original is the sequence described above, containing the live-action footage of the couple (or in some airings, the entire family). The second variation omits the live-action but retains the impressive city flyover. The third and most commonly aired version begins right at the starship.
 
By 1987, HBO's bumpers and presentation were using impressive computer graphics, and a corresponding movie open was introduced. The starship was retained, but it would now be used only for movies airing during primetime. This had the effect of making the nighttime movies much more of an "event" as the ones aired during the day.


Starship HBO #2
1982 / Recorded 1993
Here's the rarely seen second version of Starship HBO. By 1987, the full version of the Starship open was retired, so it was a pleasant surprise when HBO revived it in 1993. Every ounce of the hard work and enthusiasm that was devoted to this sequence can be seen here. Without the city, the ident is impressive - but with it included, it is a masterpiece.

Starship HBO #3
1982 / Recorded 1993
The third version of the sequence is the most familiar - this is the one that HBO played most often. It bypasses the city entirely and starts right at the starburst effect. This version of the open was also adapted for nearly everything that HBO ran - from movies to specials. These special opens would use special altered cuts of Ferdinand Smith's music. Initially, this was even true for the normal Feature Presentation open, which used a different ending. However, this lasted only a few months.

Next On HBO...
1983
The "steel grate" animations for the "next" and "tonight" bumpers were introduced in 1983, replacing the old tubular look and integrating the refined HBO logo for the first time. This features HBO's traditional bombastic sound. This is the first variation - after "No Place Like HBO" was introduced, that theme music was dubbed in.

Specials
1983
Another monthly round-up promo, this time focusing on HBO's original specials. The tubular look was used after the starship and the revised promo styles were introduced, and elements of it - including the roundup promos - stuck around even after the "next" bumpers were replaced. This distinctive graphical style was a hallmark of HBO.

Inside HBO - Premiere Films
1983
"Inside HBO" was a unique feature seen during the junctions, answering common viewer questions such as "How many times do you repeat a program?" The uniqueness comes in the presentation, as the entire spots were typically produced using simple but visually pleasing animation techniques. This one is more promotion than some of the others, plugging HBO's first original movies initiative, "HBO Premiere Films".

HBO Behind The Scenes
1983
Junctions frequently featured short "sneak peeks" at upcoming movies or HBO productions - they came under the banner of "HBO Behind The Scenes". A similar idea is used today with "HBO First Look", though this is treated as its own programme.

No Place Like HBO Promo
1984
A local recording from WPIX New York, this is from the "No Place Like HBO" campaign. By all indications this is the first "big" overall slogan and branding campaign for HBO. It's also atypical of HBO's promotional efforts before or since - HBO rarely ran anything as sugar-coated and schmaltzy as this.

Next on HBO...
1984
A custom-made "next" bumper to coincide with the "No Place Like HBO" campaign. Again, it's atypical of HBO's promotion efforts before or since because of the fact that the slogan is front and center.
 
Perhaps this is why this bumper style seems to have been short-lived, as two additional bumper styles using the "No Place Like HBO" music were used; a more elaborate "home" style showing people watching HBO (the starship open is seen), and a "dubbed" variant of the previous steel grates.


No Place Like HBO Ident
1984
The end-of-junction idents were also changed to fit the new campaign. Doesn't the old man kicking his slippers off and sitting down scream "HBO"? Didn't think so...

Specials
1984
Another monthly round-up promo, this time focusing on HBO's original specials. Same music, but better graphics when compared to the neon tube look used in 1980.

Crystal Gayle in Concert Promo
1984
"Her roots are country. She's got a way with a ballad." A concert event featuring Crystal Gayle airing at the palatable time of 5:05AM Eastern. HBO promos were - as you can see here - a little more branded by now.

Eddie Macon's Run Promo
1984
Kirk Douglas chasing John Schneider through the desert - apparently, as this promo indicates, to settle an old score. The music appears to be a production cue as it's been present in some other movie trailers.

Short Take
1984
By 1984, this animated sequence was being used for the short films, now renamed "HBO Short Take".

By the mid-1980s, computer graphics had become the norm, and some eye-popping examples had begun to appear on the networks and local stations. HBO, always thinking of ways to improve its look, decided to join the fray, but there was an interesting wrinkle - the 1982 Liberty Studios effort had become synonymous with the channel. HBO's solution to this problem was inspired.
 
A fantastic new state-of-the-art intro by Pacific Data Images, then the unquestioned king of CG idents, began to air in 1987. While this open would introduce most feature films, it would not appear before the big-ticket primetime films. Those films would continue to be opened with Liberty's starship HBO. This had the effect of not only making the channel appear more up to date, but also made the primetime films an event by bestowing them with the thrilling music and animation.


HBO Movie
1987 / Recorded 1989
And here is that state-of-the-art open. It's simple compared to the primetime open, but the animation is splendid and the guitar-driven score is classic.

Babar: The Series Promo
1989
HBO's image is that of a network that produces high-end programming for adults. This image is accurate, but doesn't do the network justice. Family-oriented programming has been a staple of HBO since the beginning, and it was the network that brought the US the acclaimed Jim Henson series "Fraggle Rock". This is an example of the HBO-produced "Babar" animated series.

Berenstain Bears Christmas Special Promo
1989
More family programming, this time a Christmas special featuring the Berenstain Bears. As you can see in this example, HBO's promotion style was fairly rigid until the 1990s, with standard end graphics. The time is electronically keyed over the promotion - notice the announcer only refers to the date.

HBO Ident
1989
Chunky graphics that scream 1980s. "The Best Time on TV" is one of the many, many HBO slogans used until they settled on "It's Not TV. It's HBO" in 1997.

Next on HBO
1989
Next on, circa 1989. HBO tended to use "character" voiceovers for certain programming during this period - in this example, the announcer here does the Daffy Duck lisp. (Or is it Sylvester's?)

Tonight on HBO
1989
The "Tonight on HBO" bumper, recorded in 1991 but using the 1988 style. It's a nice graphical look, not heavy on the fancy graphics but solidly designed.

Simply The Best
1989
"Simply the Best" was an HBO slogan used often starting around 1989. Obviously, it was intended to refer to the percieved quality of HBO's programmes, and yes, they used the Tina Turner song of the same name. This family version of the annual "end of year" promo uses that song.

Tonight on HBO
1993
The nightly lineup promo style from 1993, introduced 1992. The themes for the bumpers now use world-style music with a very early-90s style pink, blue, and yellow color scheme.

HBO2 Presentation
1993
HBO unveiled its first "multiplex" channel in 1991 - HBO2. It was not the first spinoff network from HBO (Cinemax was the first), but it was the first to use the vaunted HBO brand. HBO2 offered a similar programming mix to HBO, but different programming than the mother channel, and was free to all subscribers. HBO would expand upon this idea as the years went on.
 
In the channel's early years, it used a full presentation style similar to that used on HBO. But by 1993, all junctions utilized this barebones "program grid" structure seen here. No voiceovers or even special graphics were used - any program info would be displayed below the HBO2 logo.


HBO's history has been marked by subtle evolutions and a willing to push the envelope - both in content and presentation. But perhaps the channel's biggest evolution - one that it has followed to this day - occurred in 1997.
 
HBO had been shifting its programming to feature more self-produced content for years up to this point, and by this time the channel was already featuring a healthy variety of original feature films, comedy shows, and specials. But after 1997, this shift became more pronounced as HBO began to introduce more scripted comedies and dramas such as "Arli$$" and "Sex and the City". Because of this, the channel's perception began to change from a movie channel to a network subsisting on quality programmes - especially after the 1999 premiere of "The Sopranos", the network's most popular and critically acclaimed series.
 
As a result, the channel's marketing grew much more sophisticated. "It's Not TV. It's HBO" became the network's main marketing slogan, bumpers and graphics were updated and streamlined, and the long-running ident sequences were finally retired. Yet, the network has not turned its back on its past. HBO's new theme was clearly inspired by Ferdinand Jay Smith's famous score, streamlining the bombastic fanfare into an 11-note signature. This signature is still used today.


HBO Feature Presentation
1998
The two iconic openers were replaced with this set - the HBO would be integrated into everyday scenes. Here, it's a celebrity, in limo, being pursued by eager photographers. The idea is similar to the ITV Hearts idents introduced around he same time.
 
This rare early example integrates the "Next on" into the feature open itself. This format did not last that long - in most usage, only the short "Feature Presentation" sting was seen. Listen closely to hear a good example of HBO's new theme music - clearly based on the 1982 starship theme.


HBO Feature Presentation
1999
The feature presentation sequences introduced in the revamp lasted barely a year. Pittard Sullivan created a new sequence for HBO - and for the first time since 1987, there was to be just one open used for theatrical movies. The most common - and very short - sequence featured a camera zooming up to look at an HBO-shaped bay, with a grand fanfare.
 
However, viewers turning into HBO's weekend premieres were given a treat. What appears to be a short, run-of-the mill CGI open is in fact a very truncated version of a much longer sequence. Here, Pittard Sullivan revisits Liberty's HBO City, but kicks the pace into overdrive and increases the scope. Instead of just traversing the city, suburbs, and country, we travel into the mountains and desert as well.


Click for larger image HBO Next
2002
Click for larger image In 2001, HBO introduced a unique new style based on typography and "streaks" that lasts to this day. This is an example of continuity for what's coming up next.

Click for larger image HBO Original Series Ident
2002
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Click for larger image Home Box Office Presentation Idents
2003
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Official Website
www.hbo.com