Gotta love HBO. They make the finest series on television these days. To name a few of my favorites- Band of Brothers, Big Love, Cathouse, The Wire, Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, Sex and the City, and Tenacious D!
Why? I'm not quite sure. It's hard to put my finger on the elements that make HBO series stand out from most other cable television. Certainly HBO produces shows with bigger budgets and higher production quality, but so does Michael Bay. Money doesn't make quality.
One thing that certainly helps... no effin commercials! Shows are a full 30/60 minutes long without any interruptions. A lot of cable TV shows are filmed and edited with commercials in mind. How can you make a solid product when you plan your final product to include flow disruption? Let's keep exploring this subject.
How truly engaged can you be if your brain gets sidetracked every ten minutes? I've noticed just recently while watching BattleStar Galactica a second time that I'm enjoying it more than I ever did. I genuinely feel that a big reason is watching it commercial-free. Without consistent interruptions, I'm getting more mentally and emotionally into the show from start to finish as the director intended.
What if a show doesn't require a certain level of engagement to be fully enjoyed? For this argument, please note the subject of this post is the television series as a long-term story telling medium, not other types of television such as sports or sitcoms. If your story can be constantly interrupted and still achieve it's intended effect... maybe your story isn't that great? This brings me to my next point. I can't find a way to write this without sounding like an elitist jerk, but HBO shows seem to target those of higher standards.
I don't mean that dullards watch cable and smarty-pants watch HBO. Not even close. But when I watch something on HBO, I have a certain expectation. I expect quality writing to tell a worthwhile story and acting to bring it to life. I get that every time on HBO. Obviously, I haven't seen everything the network has to offer, but for my time, it doesn't get any better.
For example, take a look at two "cop dramas," NYPD Blue and The Wire. A show like NYPD Blue, to me, just felt like a team of producers constantly searching for edginess to bring in more ratings. Ratings dip, the writers kill off a character or introduce a popular actor for a few episodes. In greener pastures, a season of The Wire is written out ahead of time to tell a complete story. The notion of "ratings" is important to HBO HQ as a measurement of overall success and to green-light an additional season. Surely it's a matter of perception, but I feel like cable TV wants me to watch because they want money and HBO just wants to show me a good story.
TL;DR = HBO is awesome. I'm always excited to start a new series. They have a network that understands what it means to make a good show.