Over the years HBO has changed along with the developments of the world to dare new and provocative material, appealing to the wider gender base and produce complex narratives that in turn create an audience-TV relationship that didn’t exist before. People always talk about HBO breaking the mould when it comes to TV dramas (and its content) but do they ever talk about how it’s changed within its own institution. Compare The Soprano’s, the hit series that started the HBO genre with the more recent Girls. Not only do you have a completely different audience target but the levels of authenticity have increased leaving behind the fantastical world HBO created. But The Soprano’s and Girls are way to stark a contrast; let’s compare Sex & The City with Girls instead. Many articles are written on the similarities and differences but I want to focus more on how they are a reflection of the evolution of the HBO genre.
HBO started in 1972 and has developed into one of the most successful and long running payed television facilities in the United States. According to Funding Universe HBO’s programming offers a variety of high quality television viewing including movies, comedy specials, documentaries, quality TV series, music concerts and sports specials. Sex & The City started on HBO in 1998 with varied success based on its narrow target audience and controversial content. As a woman who really struggles to figure out the male species I really quite enjoy it. Its controversy lies in its explicit language, frequent sex scenes, nudity and oft times its shallow outlook on men, women and relationships.
The show has notoriously broken various taboos; during the first season the 4 main characters openly discussed anal sex in the back of a cab. Judy Cox from the Socialist Review explains that its just part of the evolution of television content “in the same conventional terms as women used to discuss losing their virginity in the 1950s.” It only seems a natural evolution that women could openly discuss their graphic sex lives as they would off the silver screen. However, in the same note it took an entire season to break such a conventional mould.
In comparison in the first episode of Girls Hannah (the protagonist) is having awkward spontaneous sex with Adam (her boyfriend) and whilst in the “doggy style” position he nearly puts it in the wrong hole. Hannah then goes off on a tangent explaining “The wrong hole thing, I don’t want to do it now, like if we did I just want to talk about it and just figure out – it’s just not comfortable for me…” This compared to Sex & The City is used as a comedic tool for characters development. This just goes to demonstrate how the conventions of television viewing have changed.
Girls was aired by HBO in 2012 and is now in production for its 4th season. The creator Lena Dunham is also the writer, director, producer and female protagonist of the series. It’s similar to Sex & The City as it follows 4 different women through their struggles and triumphs of living in New York City. In fact I believe you can draw some character parallels. Hannah and Carrie act as both of the shows protagonists, selfish and struggling writers, Jessa and Samantha are sexuality confident and sometimes cocky women, Marnie and Miranda are the logical friends and Shoshanna and Charlotte are the conservative traditional types who see their lives as a fantasy.
The main difference which distinguishes these two shows is that Sex & The City is aspirational whereas Girls is authentic. This reflection demonstrates more than just a social acceptance of once taboo conversation topics, it also reflects the growth of the HBO programming to more relatable shows that appeal to the once ignored demographic of mid 20’s women. The quality of HBO will always remain, however what makes it quality goes beyond how it’s made to what its content is. The complex narratives in HBO shows has focused its attention on real character development so it’s more appealing to audiences.
Girls definitely stands out as one of a kind on the HBO programming reel with it’s certain level of realism but it’s similarities in programming characteristics lies in it’s narrative, characters and development. Girls demonstrates a shift in HBO programming attention as the institution is attempting to strengthen it’s relationship with national culture to appeal to all demographics. It’s strengthening the HBO brand.