When I was kid, the only shows you ever saw on HBO were either on in the early morning, or late late at night. In the morning, it was not uncommon to wake up and watch Babar or Fraggle Rock or even Pippy Longstocking. And over the years, I can remember my parents forbidding us from watching things like Tales from the Crypt, and The Larry Sanders Show. And as HBO evolved, and became more and more mainstream, the shows got better. As the shows got better, other channels like Showtime, hopped on the bandwagon, and before you knew it, we had all these great shows, winning all the Emmy's year after year.
When The Sopranos took off, we didn't have HBO, and even if we did I probably wouldn't have been allowed to watch it. Fortunately, the show took so long to play out, that I had time to tack on a couple more years, and get caught up via DVD and OnDemand. But year after year, these shows would sweep the emmys, and you'd see all the hard working network stars getting snubbed left and right. It was a simple solution for HBO and Showtime studios. They were offering hour long, commercial free, shows - with all the grit, language, and sexiness that the network shows couldn't and wouldn't allow. No way were you going to see girls like the ones on Sex and the City on CBS. There was no precedence for talk of fellatio and promiscuity. You just couldn't get away with it on network television, where corporate sponsorship reigns supreme. You just couldn't.
So HBO and Showtime hit the jackpot. Here they are, offering the shows EVERYONE wants to see, and for people to watch them, they have to PAY. Who needs corporate sponsorship, when you can have paying customers? Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching.
As the notoriety grew, and the numbers rose, the shows got better and better. Instantly, HBO had the highest watched shows in the country with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Sex and the City.
Over the years, those groundbreaking shows came to massively climactic ends, each one setting a new record for numbers of people watching. And in their wake, the new era of premium channels was born. Following in the footsteps of the Sopranos, but not necessarily in the same forumla, is the show Brotherhood. Centering around the relationship between two brothers in Providence, one an up and coming politician, the other, an up and coming mobster, Brotherhood gives a gritty and dark look at life in the Northeast, where most people assume everything is bright and beautiful.
The show stars Jason Issac, who has been a favorite actor of mine since his role in The Patriot, portrays Michael Caffee, the hard-edged older brother, who returns to his Providence neighborhood to reconcile with his estranged family and reclaim his title as underworld kingpin of Providence. Playing the role of his brother is, Jason Clarke, who plays Tommy Caffee, an ambitious local politician navigating the treacherous worlds of Rhode Island politics and organized crime. His determined plans to provide the best for his family, as well as for his decaying blue-collar neighborhood, become more complicated when Michael returns home after a seven-year exile.
On the flipside of Brotherhood, comes the show Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall, who you may remember from Six Feet Under. This time, rather than playing a mortician, Michael plays Dexter, a serial murderer with a bit of a vigilante twist. The show has an amazing supporting cast, including the multi faceted James Remar, and the beautiful Julie Benz.
Hall, who played a meek gay funeral home manager in Six Feet Under, is amazingly evil and charming at the same time as Dexter. Dexter, who lives by a series of rules and principles, only kills those who "need" to die. The first season saw him going back and forth with a second serial killer, and I'm sure the upcoming second season will only be better.
Alongside Dexter, the hit show Weeds returns to Showtime, coupling alongside the newcomer Californication, starring David Duchovny. Both of these shows follow in the footsteps of shows like Sex and the City, and even Entourage, with their hip and witty comedic performances, coupled with the usual sex, drugs, and again sex of these types of shows. Going in to this new season, it seems, to me anyways, that Showtime has the leg up on HBO. Big Love is going great right now, but John From Cincinnati, Flight of the Concords, and even this season of Entourage just aren't cutting it. Whereas Showtimes has Dexter and Weeds returning, Brotherhood coming back soon, Meadowlands (which I really love), Californication(which looks like it's gonna be great) and The Tudors.
I'm really surprised to not see this kind of programming popping up on Starz or Cinemax. Cinemax especially, seeing as how it's now owned by HBO. It would be a great chance for them to air shows they might not necessarily have space for on the main channel.
Either way, paying for them or not, premium channel shows are only getting better and better, and they're certainly worth the extra 15 bucks a month on my cable bill.