Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers

From this 2021 book:

* Gerald Levin: “There were cultural differences as well. I wasn’t a Time Inc. type. Time had few Jewish people. I didn’t dress the way they dressed. I didn’t talk about closing advertising deals on a golf course in Connecticut. I wasn’t getting shit-faced on martinis at lunch.”

* The 1960 rematch between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson was the first such [PPV] broadcast accessible from the comfort of a viewer’s own couch. Subscribers mailed $2 to access the match. HBO had shattered the PPV record with “Rumble in the Jungle,” but that record crumbled with “Thrilla in Manila.”
Jerry Levin secured “Thrilla” by once again making a selling point out of HBO’s modest subscriber base. It was a visionary move. HBO carried the Ali–Frazier fight live on October 1, 1975, scooping the competition by inaugurating its continual satellite feed. (Regular TV stations had to wait for videotapes of the fight to arrive from the Philippines, which took days.)

* But cultural challenges sometimes got in the way. In certain parts of the country, people weren’t happy about R-rated movies and other HBO content coming into their homes. Some cable operators worried that when they went to the local municipality to renew their franchise, they’d hear, “You’re the people bringing that filth into our town.”
When we would do weekend promotions, where we’d be showing up for free on everyone’s TV, we tried to be really careful. We didn’t want to be showing an R-rated movie when somebody didn’t invite us into their home. One cable operator in Mississippi said, “No worries, it won’t be a problem,” and insisted on taking the regular HBO satellite feed, which was playing The Exorcist and had a fairly graphic masturbation scene. He got a lot of complaints, but the real surprise was they weren’t about the explicit scenes. This was the Bible Belt. People weren’t happy about a movie that had the devil showing up unannounced.

* There were sensitivities even on non-free weekends. I was in the master control room in December 1975 when we were playing the movie Groove Tube , and after one particular sexy part, Jerry called and said, “Pull it off the air.” I said, “But we’re in the middle of the movie,” and he told me, “I don’t care. Put a slide up.” I took it off, and we put up a note that said the program was being interrupted.

* Michael Fuchs: “You get to William Morris and they lie to you. They tell you you’re coming in to eventually be the president. You should never take a job waiting for old Jews to die.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see
Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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