The network that gave us The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire and Girls is turning 40. And as The Guardian points out here, it all began with a sporting event: The so-called Thriller in Manila boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Although according to the Canadian TV Guide it all began a lot earlier than that.

"Actually, HBO's birth came in 1965, when Charles Dolan laid underground cable in Manhattan and launched his Sterling Manhattan Cable, the first urban underground cable system in the United States. Dolan dropped cable underground because all those tall buildings blocked antenna signals. By 1972, 20 per cent Dolan's then-renamed The Green Channel was purchased by Time-Life Inc. In 1973, The Green Channel became Home Box Office, which began being broadcast via microwave relay towers."

Sadly we still don't have HBO in NZ but we've had plenty of their shows via the two main networks and latterly through SOHO on Sky. We haven't seen it all by any means but we have had a pretty good selection of the best.


For me the top 10 HBO shows would be the following:

1. The Sopranos. (essential even as a re-run.)
2. The Wire
3. Entourage (by the way a movie is apparently looking very likely.)
4. The Larry Sanders Show (here's a clip from an episode featuring a young John Stewart and a gay David Duchovny)
5. Six Feet Under (which had the second best finale after The Sopranos.)
6. Game of Thrones
7. Girls
8. True Blood (the first three series at least.)
9. Boardwalk Empire
10. Flight of The Conchords (racist fruit salad anyone?)

Naughty BBC

"The BBC is in trouble they need a good shake-up. People need to be fired," said some know-nothing New Zealand radio idiot.

"It's their culture, it needs to change," blathered another.

The opinions of other people really are arseholes and all too often they seem to have the squits.

Sadly rather than beat them, I shall briefly join in with a few of my own droppings about something I clearly know very little about (The New York Times does a good job at explaining the mess here.)

Seems to me, that after botching the Jimmy Savile exposé that was due to air and then running a package of Christmas tributes to the man instead, the subsequent revelations brought to the BBC by a man who claimed to have been abused by a Tory Lord was too much like well timed wish fulfillment.

They really, really, wanted it to be true, and they lost their way.

That it happened on their flagship show, Newsnight is even more disappointing.

Unlike the New Zealand show called Newsnight, which launched Marcus Lush and Simon Dallow back in the 1990s, the BBC version is something of an institution and a bastion of credibility - though I doubt it's ever generated as many laughs as we got from watching Lush rummaging through inorganic rubbish or crawling his way through the dirtiest flats in New Zealand.

There aren't so many laughs on Newsnight but it does have gravitas and Jeremy Paxton, who is possibly the most entertaining current affairs host on the planet. (Watch a choice collection of his best moments here.)

The show also has some of that trademark BBC theme music that somehow conveys importance and a grimness in equal measure.

If the world was to end, then it should end on the BBC because they have the right music.

Usually the show is a class act, but someone made a bad call.

Sadly it was in a season of madness that had been sparked by the revelations of child sexual abuse.

As anyone who has read Lynley Hood's excellent A City Possessed, about the Christchurch Civic Crèche Case will know, any mention of sexual abuse and children has the ability to knock even the sanest person or organization into a state of temporary madness.

God this media commentary bullshit just flows once you open the taps.

What about our own media? Let me pick my own brain and see what drips out.

Ghastly, shocking, gone to the dogs, but even the dogs won't touch it. Or if they do, they will soon sick it back up again. Or so I'm told.

Recent news is that TV1's Sunday has been saved, although some episodes will be half an hour rather than an hour - a bit of a shame but not quite the end of the world.

60 Minutes is going completely from TV3 which is a bigger problem, (though it will re-emerge on Prime) and of course Close Up is set for a re-jig.

It was rumoured to be turning into The Paul Henry Variety Half Hour or Racially Insensitive Emporium. Someone even told me (might have been a dream) that they were planning to call it Hey Mum Look at the Fat Lady.

But Henry has told the country's second biggest selling hag-rag, The Woman's Weekly, that he turned TVNZ down and will stick with TV3 on the day of his return.

That date, incidentally, matches up with the very last entry in the Mayan calendar.

One thing I can confirm is that I'll miss Mark Sainsbury.

As much as this has been Campbell Live's year, Close Up under Sainsbury has been a pretty friendly addition to the nation's living room.

It reflected back to us the laid back attitude that we claim to cherish so much.

Mark may not be Jeremy Paxton but you'd have to say that Hosking and Henry haven't looked too threatening when they've filled in for him, despite expectations.

There's something that Sainso does that no-one else does and we'll probably only realise what it really is when he's gone.

This weeks picks:
The Jaquie Brown Diaries (Comedy Central, Tuesday 8.30pm). A re-run of the local comedy series that has still to be bettered.

The Banker, The Escorts and the $18 Million (TV3, Tuesday 9.40pm). Another re-run, but if you missed it first time then you'll enjoy this classy docu-drama about kiwi fraudster Stephen Versalko who spent $18 million living like a hip hop star, although he was probably listening to Mark Knopfler at the time.

Tabloid (Rialto, Thursday 8.30pm). Rialto has had a pretty consistent selection of feature documentaries in this slot and this is one of the best you will ever see. It's from the master of the genre, Errol Morris.

This is the crazy story of a former beauty queen who kidnaps a Mormon and ties him to a bed and has her wicked way while he is 'spread eagled'.

Naturally it became a tabloid sensation when the story broke and this is as much about the nature of the tabloid beast as it is about the woman at the centre of it all.

If you're really brave have a listen to the Kim Hill interview with the amazing woman behind it all.

The best bit is right at the end and has to be one of the strangest encounters you'll ever hear. Just try and count the number of times Kim says "Joyce. Joyce. JOYCE!"

Hotel Hell (TV2, Thursday 9.30pm) Gordon Ramsay is at his best when going ballistic at truculent idiots and this show is the perfect platform for his volcanic eruptions.

Best of all it comes on right after Embarrassing Bodies. So if squirming and schadenfreude is your bag, this is a flippin' Louis Vuiton.

The Thick of It (UKTV Friday 9.05pm) The best and the baddest political satire is back. If you liked Veep, then check out the original.