16 Things You Probably Didn't Know About HBO

Stephen Lam, Getty Images
Stephen Lam, Getty Images

With rough 130 million subscribers worldwide and a presence in a third of American homes, Home Box Office (HBO) has come a long way from the 365 Pennsylvania-area households it originally signed up during its debut in 1972. The channel’s reputation for innovative programming (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Oz, etc.) has helped raise expectations for quality content. As the Game of Thrones era ends and the channel prepares for a 2020 slate including His Dark Materials and more Barry, get dialed in for some facts about one of the small screen’s biggest players.

1. HBO was originally named the Green Channel. 

Charles Dolan, a cable television advocate at a time when cable television was poorly understood, thought there could be a market for a premium station offering movies and sporting events. After getting an investment from Time, Inc., Dolan and his staff renamed their project Home Box Office to better highlight their Hollywood and event programming.

2. The first HBO film broadcast is largely forgotten. 

Before HBO beamed their first live sporting event in 1972—a New York Rangers/Vancouver Canucks hockey game—the channel screened their first film: Sometimes a Great Notion, a little-seen 1971 drama about lumber unions starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda. (Newman directed the film after firing Richard Colla just weeks into shooting.)

3. HBO used microwaves to get their signal out. 

With satellite technology largely unreliable in the early 1970s, HBO initially distributed its signal via microwaves. But satellite offered a far greater reach at less of an expense, and as the channel hit a ceiling of subscribers, they began using the technology out of necessity. By 1977, the service had over 600,000 households signed up.

4. HBO was initially on the air for just nine hours at a time. 

For the first near-decade of its existence, HBO provided programming for roughly nine hours out of the day. It wasn’t until competitor Showtime offered a 24-hour schedule in 1981 that the channel decided to match it.

5. HBO's first spinoff channel bombed. 

Trying to complement their schedule, HBO launched a more family-oriented channel dubbed Take 2 in 1979. Audiences were less than impressed, and it disappeared within the year. In 1980, HBO decided to offer a stronger brand sibling and debuted Cinemax, which blended both new and classic movies and promised cinephiles uninterrupted features. (HBO’s original schedule also included comedy and sports.)

6. The first HBO original movie was actually the second to air.

Eager to separate themselves from other premium channels, HBO delved into original movies early—with mixed results. 1983’s Right of Way, starring Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis as a married couple planning a dual suicide, was the first film produced but the second to air. Executives felt they were on stronger footing with The Terry Fox Story, a biopic about a runner who lost a leg to cancer.

7. HBO cheated a little to get Star Wars

When Fox sold off the premium television rights to Star Wars in 1983, they were non-exclusive: all the channels were expected to premiere it no earlier than 6 a.m. on February 1. But some lucky viewers noticed that HBO had managed to air the movie at midnight that same day. They had paid Fox for permission to broadcast six hours ahead of the competition. Without advertising their coup to attract an audience other than night owls, it was essentially for bragging rights.

8. HBO's first event programming was polka. 

Not counting sports, HBO’s first live event was coverage of the 1973 Pennsylvania Polka Festival, a self-explanatory three-hour endurance test of one’s admiration for the genre. Coincidence or not, subscribership fell from 14,000 that year down to 8,000.

9. HBO scared movie studios. 

With 12 million subscribers by 1983, the pay service was increasingly becoming a destination for filmgoers. Frightened that HBO could be wielding too much power, three major studios—Paramount, Warner, and MCA—teamed with Viacom to launch two competing pay-television services, Showtime and The Movie Channel. Their strategy was to force HBO to pay more for the rights to their films, or make them exclusive to their own channels. As it turns out, neither rival really lost. In 1987, HBO got a library of Paramount titles for their viewers and paid the studio a half-billion dollars for the privilege.

10. HBO may have paid $40 million for Ghostbusters

Having major hit films was a priority in the 1980s, a time when VHS was slowly gaining market share for home movie viewing. At the time, pay services obtained movie rights based on their first-run performance—the bigger the hit, the more it would cost them. When 1984’s Ghostbusters became a smash, HBO had an existing and exclusive deal with Columbia Pictures. Without a cap in place, former HBO employee Bill Mesce allege they paid the studio a staggering $40 million for broadcast rights.

11. HBO made Emmy history with The Sopranos.

Prior to 1999’s debut of HBO’s most notable series, no cable drama had ever been nominated for a Best Drama Series Emmy. That changed with the mob show’s first season: it racked up 16 nominations in all. Throughout the show's entire run through 2007, it was nominated 112 times and won 21 times.

12. HBO got hacked.

When HBO began scrambling its satellite signal in 1986, disgruntled dish owners—who felt buying the expensive, over-sized equipment entitled them to free programming—were irate. A dish dealer named John MacDougall was agitated enough to interrupt HBO’s presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman and put up a message: “$12.95/month? No way!” The FBI investigated and MacDougall received probation and a $5,000 fine.

13. Oz was not HBO's first prison drama.

While 1997’s Oz is regarded as both the channel’s first scripted hour-long narrative drama and their first series about a prison, it’s more a matter of semantics. Maximum Security, filmed in a downtown Los Angeles jail, first aired in 1984. Though the six-episode run had some people assuming it was a miniseries, producer Ron Howard told The New York Times in 1985 that he was frustrated HBO was non-committal about the possibility of extending it.

14. HBO dumped the original Game of Thrones pilot. 

After viewing footage of a 2009 pilot adapted from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga, executives were unhappy with the result. Before nearly scrapping the series altogether, they decided to re-shoot the episode, including a partial re-cast. (Emilia Clarke, who portrays Daenerys, was among those who came in for the revised pilot.)

15. HBO turned down Mad Men

Kind of. While considering Matthew Weiner’s pilot, the network wanted Sopranos creator David Chase to produce the series (Weiner had been a writer on that show). When Chase indicated he wanted to move away from television, HBO passed on the show altogether.

16. The average HBO subscriber hangs in there for about 18 months.

Signing up for HBO and then canceling after you've inhaled Game of Thrones or any of their other shows is a common occurrence, but not everyone drops out after a week or two of binge-watching. According to NBC and research firm Parks Associates, subscribers to their HBO Now streaming service usually keep the subscription for about 18 months. 

7 Historic European Castles Virtually Rebuilt Before Your Very Eyes

A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
Budget Direct

While some centuries-old castles are still standing tall, others haven’t withstood the ravages of time, war, or natural disaster quite as well. To give you an idea of what once was, Australia-based insurance company Budget Direct has digitally reconstructed seven of them for its blog, Simply Savvy.

Watch below as ruins across Europe transform back into the formidable forts and turreted castles they used to be, courtesy of a little modern-day magic we call GIF technology.

1. Samobor Castle // Samobor, Croatia

samobor castle
Samobor Castle in Samobor, Croatia
Budget Direct

The only remaining piece of the 13th-century castle built by Bohemia’s King Ottokar II is the base of the guard tower—the rest of the ruins are from an expansion that happened about 300 years later. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Croatian city of Samobor, which bought the property in 1902.

2. Château Gaillard // Les Andelys, France

Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Budget Direct

King Richard I of England built Château Gaillard in just two years during the late 12th century as a fortress to protect the Duchy of Normandy, which belonged to England at the time, from French invasion. It didn’t last very long—France’s King Philip II captured it six years later.

3. Dunnottar Castle // Stonehaven, Scotland

Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Budget Direct

Dunnottar Castle overlooks the North Sea and is perhaps best known as the fortress that William Wallace (portrayed by Mel Gibson in 1995’s Braveheart) and Scottish forces won back from English occupation in 1297. Later, it became the place where the Scottish monarchy stored their crown jewels, which were smuggled to safety when Oliver Cromwell invaded during the 17th century.

4. Menlo Castle // Galway City, Ireland

Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Budget Direct

This ivy-covered Irish castle was built during the 16th century and all but destroyed in a fire in 1910. For those few centuries, it was home to the Blake family, English nobles who owned property all over the region.

5. Olsztyn Castle // Olsztyn, Poland

Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Budget Direct

The earliest known mention of Olsztyn Castle was in 1306, so we know it was constructed some time before then and expanded later that century by King Casimir III of Poland. It was severely damaged during wars with Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries, but its highest tower—once a prison—still stands.

6. Spiš Castle // Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia

Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Budget Direct

Slovakia’s massive Spiš Castle was built in the 12th century to mark the boundary of the Hungarian kingdom and fell to ruin after a fire in 1780. However, 20th-century restoration efforts helped fortify the remaining rooms, and it was even used as a filming location for parts of 1996’s DragonHeart.

7. Poenari Castle // Valachia, Romania

Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Budget Direct

This 13th-century Romanian castle boasts one previous resident of some celebrity: Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula, who may have been an early influence for Bram Stoker’s vampire, Dracula. It also boasts a staggering 1480 stone steps, which you can still climb today.

[h/t Simply Savvy]

America’s 10 Most Hated Easter Candies

Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
Peeps are all out of cluck when it comes to confectionery popularity contests.
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Whether you celebrate Easter as a religious holiday or not, it’s an opportune time to welcome the sunny, flora-filled season of spring with a basket or two of your favorite candy. And when it comes to deciding which Easter-themed confections belong in that basket, people have pretty strong opinions.

This year, CandyStore.com surveyed more than 19,000 customers to find out which sugary treats are widely considered the worst. If you’re a traditionalist, this may come as a shock: Cadbury Creme Eggs, Peeps, and solid chocolate bunnies are the top three on the list, and generic jelly beans landed in the ninth spot. While Peeps have long been polarizing, it’s a little surprising that the other three classics have so few supporters. Based on some comments left by participants, it seems like people are just really particular about the distinctions between certain types of candy.

Generic jelly beans, for example, were deemed old and bland, but people adore gourmet jelly beans, which were the fifth most popular Easter candy. Similarly, people thought Cadbury Creme Eggs were messy and low-quality, while Cadbury Mini Eggs—which topped the list of best candies—were considered inexplicably delicious and even “addictive.” And many candy lovers prefer hollow chocolate bunnies to solid ones, which people explained were simply “too much.” One participant even likened solid bunnies to bricks.

candystore.com's worst easter candies
The pretty pastel shades of bunny corn don't seem to be fooling the large contingent of candy corn haters.

If there’s one undeniable takeaway from the list of worst candies, it’s that a large portion of the population isn’t keen on chewy marshmallow treats in general. The eighth spot went to Hot Tamales Peeps, and Brach’s Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits—which one person christened “the zombie bunny catacomb statue candy”—sits at number six.

Take a look at the full list below, and read more enlightening (and entertaining) survey comments here.

  1. Cadbury Creme Eggs
  1. Peeps
  1. Solid chocolate bunnies
  1. Bunny Corn
  1. Marshmallow Chicks & Rabbits
  1. Chocolate crosses
  1. Twix Eggs
  1. Hot Tamales Peeps
  1. Generic jelly beans
  1. Fluffy Stuff Cotton Tails

[h/t CandyStore.com]