HBOnlies and other opening thoughts

This one’s sort of a hybrid. I considered saving it for another “Throwback Thursday” or even calling this a “Flashback Friday.” But, in the end I decided it was too much fun to call it anything else.

Back in 1983, the person who would later call himself YouTube user “The Fun and Games Channel” recorded a day’s worth of HBO. If you think about it, it probably took multiple tapes — the quality’s actually pretty good so it probably wasn’t recorded in 6-hour mode — and then somehow those tapes didn’t get erased for 30 years.

Back in 2014, they digitized them and cut out just the advertisements so you can get an idea of what the service was like back then. It’s comical, but also a sweet tribute to an undeniably simpler time.

What was an “HBOnly?”

One of the long pieces in the middle of this video talks about “HBOnlies,” which was the company’s term for exclusive programming back then. HBO was one of the very few channels people paid extra for, unlike today. So having exclusive programming was important. Among the stuff on tap were comedy specials, sports, and documentaries. All of it was produced on a much smaller budget. It would be a decade and a half before HBO really started producing original weekly programming like The Sopranos. The documentary content was pretty good by the standards of the time, but I assure you, Game of Thrones it was not. Well, to be really honest the last season of GoT compares a lot more favorably to this stuff than the first seasons, amirite?

The opening theme

That video has a fairly compact version of the opener that was used for all movies. I was able to find the one-minute version that showed the leadup where the camera trucks in over an entire miniature landscape:

It’s hard to put ourselves in the state of mind where we would really want to watch an opening animation over a minute long before every movie, but back in ’83 that’s what HBO thought we wanted.

I remember seeing a “making of” film about the intro! Because YouTube has literally everything, I found it, and I’m pretty sure it was the same one I saw in the early ’80s. Judge for yourself:

The first question answered is obviously the giant chrome HBO. Today, this would be a simple effect that any number of cheap apps could achieve. Looking at how flawless it they executed it, you’d be tempted to think it was CGI. But, CGI wasn’t that fancy back in 1983. The filmmakers custom-fabricated chunk of chrome-plated brass. They then filmed it and then custom-matted it into a starfield. I have to say I’m in awe of this shot, so many years later. It must have taken long lenses and superb camera work to make sure it looked smooth and there were no reflections.

As late as 2017…

This early 1980s promo was obviously super-impactful. It’s so much so that its spiritual successor 35 years later references it in several places:

In fact, you can still find a quick reminder of the 1983 theme today. Just watch HBO’s current “Feature Presentation” opener. I only hope the person who wrote that music is getting some royalties.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.