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As you read this, someone out there is writing an essay about HBO. We hear them every year at SCMS and NCA, and our inboxes continually receive the CFPs for edited collections on the series of the moment. Though this work is often important and insightful, it is true that as HBO approaches its forty-year anniversary much of this work has focused on the last ten years of programming – all but ignoring the first thirty. As we continually try to keep up with new content, we must not ignore the crucial history of HBO’s early years and all that the archive has to offer. My goal here is not to simply argue that we need to expand our corpus of programming (though we should). It is also not just to say we need to spend equal time examining HBO’s earlier history (though we certainly must). My goal is to argue that we need to reexamine what it means to say, “I study HBO.” For all of the wonderful scholarship that is sure to come from studies of Treme, Bored to Death, or The Pacific in relation to HBO’s discourse of innovative “quality television,” it is absolutely essential that we have a clearer understanding of how that discourse was established in the first place. We can’t simply build from those claims of quality a prori and not take into account the historicity of that discourse. We so easily talk about studying “early cinema” and “early television,” but have you ever met a scholar who proudly claims to study “early HBO?” It seems that somehow the historical turn never quite fully turned in HBO scholarship.


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