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Gone But Not Forgotten: HBO’s Original Programming of the 1980s

Many, many years ago, back when cable was a luxury and not a necessity, HBO was just starting to find its voice among the few additional channels the wood-paneled cable box could provide.

Back in the day, HBO had a limited amount of content provided by the studios which were cycled through at maximum rotation each month. Missed a viewing of The Chosen? Don’t worry. It will be on again. And again. And again. And again.

This constant cycle of features is why HBO was once known as “Hey, Beastmaster’s On!” during a particular trying couple of months.

To break up the monotony, the cable net struck out to create its own content. Creating content this was nothing new to the channel. It had been providing docs and sports coverage since its inception in the ‘70s. However, the ‘80s marked the first time HBO attempted to branch out into comedy, children’s programming, genre shows and sitcoms for the first time.

Here is a look at a few of the forgotten forays into creative content by HBO that has since made them the original content juggernaut they are today.

 

Beautiful, Baby, Beautiful (1980)

HBO’s deep dive into the world of modeling. Featuring supermodels Christie Brinkley, Janice Dickinson, Jerry Hall and Rene Russo, the docu examined the lives of the models and their lives away from the cameras.

 

Video Jukebox (1981)

Taking aim at MTV, this half-hour series played an assortment of music videos from the biggest stars of the day. The show would flip out once a month to spotlight a new assortment of artists and would offer “special episodes” for holidays.

Sometimes you got Bowie and Madonna, other times things got weird. Check out Mike Nesmith’s Crusin’:

 

Not Necessarily the News (1982)

Half-hour sketch comedy show that poked fun at ‘80s politics. I perfect time capsule of the era as the laffer took aim at massive figures of the time, including Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar Al Gathafi and big bad at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels cut their writing chops on this show, which led the way for other politically-driven comedy shows such as The Daily Show.

 

The Hitchhiker (1983)

Sometimes known for horror and sometimes known for the softcore erotica, this half-hour thriller offered small vignettes featuring tales of revenge, sex, betrayal, sex, murder and sometimes sex.

Hosted by Page Fletcher as the Hitchhiker/Narrator, the story mixed eroticism with noir elements making for a late-night success. The show ran for six seasons and starred the likes of Rae Dawn Chong, Louise Fletcher, Elliot Gould, Scott Valentine, C. Thomas Howell, and Lorenzo Lamas.

 

Fraggle Rock (1983)

The Jim Henson-created Muppet series was an instant hit for the cable giant, who at the time were just started to get their feet wet with kiddie shows. Featured the cave-dwelling creatures known as Fraggles, the series followed their antics as they ate Doozer buildings, stole radishes from the Gorgs, get into the occasional scraps and sing and dance.

The now-iconic show still runs in reruns today and his considered one of Henson’s best creations.

 

Braingame (1983)

Another attempt at conquering the world of kids’ shows,  Braingames was a play-at-home half-hour show that quizzed kids on their puzzle-solving abilities. As it lacked the storytelling magic of Fraggle Rock, the show quickly fizzled, leaving only a handful of episodes for the annals of history.

But do not despair! The last few years, National Geographic revamped the concept and is now airing their own version of the show.

 

America Undercover (1983)

Docu-series best known for its special one-off series including “Autopsy,” “Real Sex,” and “Taxicab Confessions.”

These late-night offerings took a deep dive into the fringe of society, examining all the out-of-bound areas brought out by those who live outside the norm to create must-see TV.

Oscar-winning pic “The Fighter” makes reference to the series as its “High On Crack Street – Lost Lives In Lowell” episode featured Christian Bale’s character, Dicky Eklund.

 

Philip Marlowe, Private Eye (1983)

Based on the stories of Raymond Chandler and starring Powers Boothe, this mystery series was set in 1930s Los Angeles and followed the noir adventures of a shady PI and his much shadier clients.

Boothe would go on to star in other HBO series, including the highly-acclaimed “Deadwood.”

 

1st & Ten (1984)

This comedy show followed the exploits of the “California Bulls” football team and starring Delta Burke, Reid Shelton, O.J. Simpson, Donald “Ogre” Gibb, John “The Crypt Keeper” Kassir, just to name a few. This show ran for seven seasons, during which most of the main cast was replaced every couple of years. In the end, the show fizzled out as it ran out of controversies, fans and actors willing to stay for the long haul.

 

Maximum Security (1984)

The precursor to HBO’s Oz, this drama examined life in a supermax prison. Featuring Jean Smart, Robert Desiderio, and Geoffrey Lewis, the show only lasted a single season.

In 1984, it was part of a promo package that was created to sell the network:

 

The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985)

Anthology series based on the tales of sci-fi icon Ray Bradbury. Each of the 65 episodes featuring a small intro hosted by the prolific writer, in which he talked about his story writing process.

While not as iconic as The Twilight Zone, the series was still an enthralling endeavor on part of HBO, featuring early ‘80s Hollywood in bite-sized tales of terror.

 

Encyclopedia (1988)

After the success of Fraggle Rock, HBO teamed with the Children’s Television Workshop (best known for their show Sesame Street) to develop a kids’ anthology series that would center on a different letter of the alphabet.

 

Tales from the Crypt (1989)

Based on E.C. comic book series, this wonderfully gruesome horror comedy series was a massive hit for HBO. As the show offered a chance for both actors and directors the freedom to go balls to the wall, the show appealed to many Hollywood folks as a nice break to do something fun. As a result, H’wood heavy hitters such as Robert Zemeckis, Tobe Hooper, Richard Donner, William Friedkin, Joel Silver and even Arnold Schwarzenegger all got a chance to sit in the director’s chair.

A reboot of the beloved show with M. Night Shyamalan in the driver’s seat were in the works, but are now on hold, much to the dismay of bloodhounds everywhere.

 

One Night Stand (1989)

HBO’s stand-up series that aimed the spotlight at up-and-coming comedians of the time. During its four-year run, the show made household names of Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Lawrence, Bill Maher, Damon Wayans, D.L. Hughley and Bill Hicks, to name a few.

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Josh Hadley

    February 2, 2019 at 2:06 am

    Only the first 6 episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater were on HBO. After that the USA Network took it (same with The Hitchhiker, that moved to USA for it’s last few seasons).

  2. Crystal

    May 19, 2020 at 3:02 am

    I am looking for a cartoon short about an elephant who wished she was any color other than grey. At the end she decided to stay grey but painted her toenails red. Her name was Morselazunt (sp?)

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