Review: ‘It’s Not TV’ account of HBO’s rise and challenges

“It’s Not TV: The Rise, Revolution and Future of HBO” by Felix Gillette and John Koblin (Viking)

Streaming and on-demand services are so commonplace nowadays, one can take for granted how revolutionary HBO was when it was first launched.

In “It’s Not TV,” business reporters Felix Gillette and John Koblin paint a revealing picture of a cultural and business institution from its beginnings to the challenges it now faces.

The book serves two purposes, and...

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“It’s Not TV: The Rise, Revolution and Future of HBO” by Felix Gillette and John Koblin (Viking)

Streaming and on-demand services are so commonplace nowadays, one can take for granted how revolutionary HBO was when it was first launched.

In “It’s Not TV,” business reporters Felix Gillette and John Koblin paint a revealing picture of a cultural and business institution from its beginnings to the challenges it now faces.

The book serves two purposes, and does both quite well. The first is as a cultural history of some of the most iconic shows and programs that HBO has developed over the years.

In their telling, HBO is a cultural empire that’s been built on some of the most memorable antiheroes and flawed characters ever created. From Tony Soprano to Selina Meyer, HBO had a knack for investing in shows with characters that for many years broadcast television wouldn’t touch.

But the book’s other purpose as a fascinating account of HBO’s business practices show how the cable network and eventual streaming service struggled to keep up with the world it helped create.

Gillette and Koblin offer plenty of behind-the-scenes tales that whet the appetites of TV and business news junkies alike. They include some of the missteps along the way, such as HBO’s miscalculation on how to respond to and compete with Netflix and other services.

It also recounts many of the issues HBO struggled with, including its depiction of women and especially violence against them.

Gillette and Koblin’s deep reporting and sourcing are what make “It’s Not TV” come together so well. The result is a read so riveting, it’s not hard to imagine watching it unfold on Sunday nights.

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