Why did HBO Crush It! & Should You Catch Omicron?

Sunday, January 23rd, 2022

Subscribe and listen to our show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or in Podbean. Share your thoughts and ask questions: Twitter

Download Full Transcript

What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are Anti-Virals for Omicron and Writing a Blockbuster First Novel.

Our speakers are James Andrew Miller and Ari Ciment.


Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer session for deeper engagement. Today’s discussion is on why HBO has been so successful in revolutionizing television and has Omicron peaked?

Our first speaker today is Jim Miller who is the author of the recently released book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers. Jim is an investigative journalist who has been on the Hollywood beat for years. His books have covered the history of Creative Artists Agency, Saturday Night Live, ESPN and now HBO. I hope to learn from Jim about how HBO was so successful for so long with different executive teams. What is HBO’s secret sauce? I want to hear about HBO Sport’s historical success by focusing on boxing and tennis. I also want to find out why HBO crushed it with the Sopranos and was cutting edge with its decision to run TV series like Sex and the City, the Wire, and Game of Thrones. HBO has done a lot of things right, what are the lessons to learn?

Our second speaker today is Dr. Ari Ciment who is a pulmonologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach. Ari has treated thousands of COVID patients since the March 2020 outbreak.
Ari has been my guest on the last five shows and he is officially a regular.

Here are my topics for Ari this week:
Should I proactively try to get Omicron?
What causes Covid Brain Fog and will it go away?
How did the medical community work together to create a treatment plan for Covid?

Alright, let’s get started with our first speaker Jim Miller.


James Andrew Miller

Topic: Why was HBO so successful?
Bio: Hollywood writer with books on ESPN, CAA and Saturday Night Live
Reading: Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers is here

I’ve got five headlines.

Headline number one is, “Entrepreneurs and the people who actually dream up these big ideas aren’t necessarily guaranteed a seat at the table This happened with ESPN, Bill Rasmussen, who had the idea to do ESPN was pushed out by the money men.

And in HBO’s case, Chuck Dolan, from Cablevision. Chuck wrote the original memo. He sent it because he wasn’t able to finance everything on his own. He sent it to his partners at Sterling Cable. And Sterling Cable had a majority shareholder named Time Inc. And Time Inc gave him the seed money to start HBO, but he didn’t last as long as Rasmussen did.

Sometimes the great entrepreneurs, the people who actually invent something, they’re not entitled to stay around and be part of the ongoing operation.

The second headline is, “Like many great stories, the precariousness of HBO’s infancy cannot be overstated.” There were some difficult years early on in HBO’s history. And there were several times when they almost hit the delete key on it. The power of an individual, the right person, with the right power, can save something, even though there may be a lotta people who are advocating for its dismissal.

HBO always had a parent company. And early on, that was Time Inc. And there were a lot of people who, particularly after HBO was losing money, 1976 was its most difficult year, it lost millions of dollars, which was a big deal back then.

Jim Shepley, who was the president of Time Inc., basically said to everybody, ” We’re going to stay the course.” You can’t, undervalue the importance of the power of somebody who really believes in an idea.

The third headline: disruption works. It is a vital ingredient to success. Early on in HBO’s history, they decided that they weren’t going to mimic what the networks were doing. They were going to do something different. And a prime example of that is the comedy world.

If you were a comedian in the late ’70s and the ’80s, your dream was to be on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. And if you were so lucky to get on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, you probably had about four and a half minutes’ standup. The network censors would basically do a colonoscopy on your standup, because there were these subjects that you couldn’t talk about, words that you couldn’t say.

Along comes HBO and Michael Fuchs, “We’re going to give you an hour. And not only that, you can say whatever you want.” George Carlin HBO comedy special doing the seven words that you can’t say on television. I mean, what could be more mind-blowing than that?
Steve Martin, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy: The list is incredible. And many comedians look to HBO as one of the major engines of their career.

The fourth thing is HBO decided that, unlike the networks, they weren’t going to micromanage the creative process. One of the ways that they could bring creative talent over to HBO was to give them the freedom and the agency to do what they want. Oz was one of the most important early dramas on HBO, and Chris Albrecht, who was running programming at the time, said to Tom Fontana, the creator of Oz, “What’s one of the things that you were never able to do at a network?” And Fontana looked at him, and he said, “Well, we could never kill off the main lead in the first episode.” And Albrecht said to him, “Do it.”

When you talk to David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, David Simon, the brilliant mind behind The Wire: the things that they bring up is their ability to have a vision for their show and not be interfered with.

Then finally, the fifth, “When the Lord wants to punish, he answers your prayers.” HBO wreaked havoc on both the movie studios and the networks early on in its history by coming up with new paradigms. And lo and behold, the same thing was done to them by Netflix. And once you get into 2012 and onward, HBO is on the defensive. They’re no longer the only game in town that’s offering and playing by this playbook.

You can ride this wave of success for quite some time, but then it’s only a question of time ’til someone comes along and does the same thing to you that you did to the people you were conquering decades ago.

James Andrew Miller Q&A:

Please wait while flipbook is loading. For more related info, FAQs and issues please refer to DearFlip WordPress Flipbook Plugin Help documentation.


Ari Ciment

Topic: Catching Omicron, Brain Fog, and Figuring Out Covid Treatments in Real Time
Bio: Pulmonologist and Critical Care at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach
Ari Ciment Q&A:

Please wait while flipbook is loading. For more related info, FAQs and issues please refer to DearFlip WordPress Flipbook Plugin Help documentation.