HBO’s Groundbreaking Original

After Home Box Office burst onto the scene in 1975, the concept of stocking it with original fare brought a hearty laugh from entertainment-industry traditionalists, cable operators, and, well, just about the entire media world. One of the notable exceptions was Michael Fuchs.

None of them are laughing today. HBO routinely dominates industry awards for original programming and has placed itself firmly in the great-success category of cable programming.

Its edgy, risky and innovative original content mirrors the at-times contentious, creative nature of Fuchs, who was named chairman and CEO of HBO in 1984 and served in that capacity for 11 years.

While subsequent HBO leaders have burnished the network’s legendary status, Fuchs’s contribution was clearly instrumental in making it the largest, most successful premium-network group in the world, with interests in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

“His achievements as a programmer are numerous. He saw the potential of HBO as a dynamic programming vehicle — with comedy, sports, documentaries and original movies and content. And it was all in an atmosphere that attracted the best talent,” says Comcast Corp. vice chairman Julian Brodsky.

“He believed in a true partnership between content and distribution, and that both should get decent margins, with a simple business model that allowed cable to grow,” Brodsky adds. “He was in the forefront [of getting] movies at a decent price.”

Added Time Warner Cable executive vice president Fred Dressler: “Michael is a true cable pioneer. He helped put cable, not just HBO, on the media map.”

Fuchs admits there were tense moments between HBO and cable operators. “I was always quite contentious, but not combative, and at one point believed operators couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Our relationship wasn’t exactly good.”

It got better, however. “We knew we were doing good things and were getting attention. We took on the attitude that we were pushing out boundaries, and we wanted to invest in original programming on cable to make it easier on everyone. Our objective was to have a regular schedule of original programming,” Fuchs says.

Fuchs’ passions extend well beyond programming. His work aimed at furthering social causes has made affected a number of organizations.

He has received the Milton Petrie Award from the National Victim Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Distinguished Service and Humanitarian Awards, the National Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Award, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Vanguard Award and People for the American Way’s Spirit of Service Award.

Says Brodsky: “His whole life has been concerned with social issues, civil rights and the underprivileged. Michael has so many different aspects to him.”

Fuchs left Time Warner Inc., HBO’s parent, in 1995 and has since been an active investor and consultant, primarily in the media area.

Speaking of his induction into the Hall of Fame, he says: “I always enjoy these nostalgic feelings. Cable is a business which has many real pioneers, so any contact with them is fun. It’s great to be recognized by them.”