‘It’s Not TV’ a revealing 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 common these days that one can take for granted how revolutionary HBO was when it 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 very well. The first is as a cultural history of some of the most iconic shows and programs that HBO has developed over the years.

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

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

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

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It also speaks to many of the issues HBO has struggled with, including its portrayal of women and especially violence against them.

Gillette and Koblin’s deep reporting and sourcing is what makes “It’s Not TV” come together so well. The result is a read so engrossing that it’s not hard to imagine watching it play out on Sunday nights.


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