New Orleans Saints Likely for HBO Series Hard Knocks

One of the highlights of the time leading up to the NFL season is Hard Knocks, the HBO documentary series covering a particular team from the beginning to the end of training camp. Normally, franchises volunteer to appear on the series, but if no franchise comes forward, certain teams that do not have a new coach, have not been in the postseason for the past two years, and have not been a Hard Knocks subject within 10 years cannot say no if the NFL comes calling. The Saints fit the bill.

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Sean Payton hasn’t always been the most forthcoming coach with the media, so the word “bracing” might be the best way to describe their attitude towards being selected for the series.  However, the Saints would really be the perfect choice for Hard Knocks.

This is a franchise that has won a Super Bowl in the past decade and is coming off a couple of underperforming seasons with a star coach and quarterback under pressure to get back to their glory days.  Payton was the subject of several trade rumors throughout the season until the Saints finally committed to him as their coach for the foreseeable future.  Brees is (hopefully) going to get a new contract extension this offseason and at 36 still led the NFL in passing yards despite missing a game.

While Brees is still in his prime, this is a very young team that did everything to rebuild the team around him without publicly using the “r” word.  Some of those moves didn’t work (cough… Brandon Browner… cough) but young players like Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Stephone Anthony can be building blocks moving forward.  That process is already continuing this offseason with the Saints expected to part ways with all-time leading wide receiver Marques Colston and all-pro guard Jahri Evans.

Seeing under the hood of the Drew Brees-Sean Payton offense will be interesting for league fans, especially the type of fans who watch all-22 tape and try to catch at least a bit of every game, every Sunday on NFL Sunday Ticket. This viewer is cautiously optimistic.

HBO Tests New Streaming Option Without Cable TV in Spain

HBO is making a bold move in Spain which could signal its intentions for the rest of the world in coming years. The premium cable TV network announced that it will cut ties with cable TV in Spain when its current licensing deals end this year, and its new internet service will be the only way to access HBO programming in the country.

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The initiative is an ambitious play, but it makes sense. Spain has lower cable subscriber rates than the US and a large amount of online piracy. So HBO is sacrificing its licensing revenue to appeal to homes that either gave up on cable or never bought it in the first place. “We follow the money,” HBO chief executive Richard Plepler told Bloomberg. “We’re making a determination of where we think the most profits lie.” The company has 138 million subscribers, two thirds of which are located outside the US, where broadband-only rates are far higher than the US, according to research firm Parks Associates.

The Time Warner-owned network has made similar moves in the past. The company’s US streaming service, HBO Now, launched in April of last year, although US customers have been able to access a subscriber-only web service, HBO Go, since 2010. It also launched a streaming service in Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in 2012 called HBO Nordic, which has about 650,000 subscribers and also offers shows from AMC, Starz, and Showtime. HBO now has a similar service in Colombia that it hopes to expand to other Latin American countries.

Outside of these services, HBO has only made its content accessible outside of cable TV subscriptions in the form of paid downloads on platforms like iTunes and streaming of select shows on Amazon Prime Video. The launch in Spain is different because of HBO’s plans to discontinue its cable option and force customers toward the online service. “Spain is not the first and Spain is not the last,” Simon Sutton, HBO’s president of international and content distribution, told Bloomberg. The company wouldn’t say where else it’s planning a streaming service.

If “following the money” works in Spain, it could lead to HBO becoming an online-only subscription service in other locations, and free it from the need to be tied to cable TV providers in areas where Time Warner does not monopolize control. It could also lead other popular pay cable networks to follow suit, as many of the people who binge watch shows like Game of Thrones are not interested in the large selection of channels you’re stuck with when subscribing to cable TV.

Bill Simmons Back on Cable TV with HBO

Sports media mogul Bill Simmons, only a couple of months since being let go by ESPN where he had written, produced documentaries, and appeared on cable television basketball broadcasts, has inked a deal with HBO to work with the pay cable family of networks. His current ESPN contract runs through September, so he has been unable to publish since being removed as the editor of Grantland, the website he helped to create for HBO earlier in the decade. His contract with HBO will begin when the ESPN contract expires in October.

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In a statement announcing his decision to join HBO, Mr. Simmons said, “It’s no secret that HBO is the single best place for creative people in the entire media landscape.” He added that after talking with the network, “it was hard to imagine being anywhere else.”

Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president for programming, said in a statement: “We have been fans of Bill Simmons and his work for a very long time. His intelligence, talent and insights are without precedent in the areas he covers. We could not be more thrilled for him to bring those talents to HBO and to become a signature voice at the network, spanning the sports and pop culture landscapes.”

It is unclear if Mr. Simmons’s new deal will leave him an outlet for the kind of written sports journalism that brought him to prominence, and led ESPN to build Grantland around him.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Simmons revitalized and helped to change the world of sportswriting with his “regular guy” take on sports columns online presaging the blog-heavy movement that lives on to this day. Many began to feel he lost touch with his original writing personality the more famous he got, but even those who did not enjoy his writing have to respect that he was the major creative force behind ESPN’s amazing documentary series 30 for 30. In addition to a talk show that will begin in 2016, one has to imagine he will bring similar programming to the table with HBO. We look forward to seeing how that turns out.

The Most Popular Cable TV Channel Might Surprise You

ESPN has long been assumed to be the most powerful cable television network, due to its family of channels and hours upon hours of live sports coverage, highlights and commentary. As well, recently, the prestige of HBO’s mix of movies and its own premium programming has gotten a lot of attention. But neither HBO nor ESPN is the most desired cable network among viewers, says the Digitalsmiths TV Report. Instead, it’s the Discovery Channel.

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[…] the top channels are the major broadcasters and Discovery Channel, the testosterone-fueled docu-series machine that has given the world “Deadliest Catch” and “Gold Rush,” according to a report this week by Digitalsmiths, a research firm owned by Tivo. In fact, HBO, Comedy Central and ESPN rank behind even the History Channel and the National Geographic Channel, according to the company’s quarterly survey of 3,177 adults on cable viewing habits.

Viewers said that 17 channels at $38 a month would make up the ideal package. HBO ranked ninth and ESPN ranked 20th in most-popular channels to include in a bundle. The survey measured what kind of smaller channel package would be ideal for consumers and what channels they couldn’t live without. That’s different from audience measurements from companies such as Nielsen.

Why is this important? The cost of ESPN is often what drives up cable TV prices, as they can basically name their rate from different providers. Learning that people are willing to leave ESPN behind when creating a bundle might leave them in a position of less power, and give us more choice in what we’d like to watch. We’ll see.

HBO Premieres ‘Gasland II’ Documentary on Fracking

Filmmaker Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland II premiered July 8, and will continue airing throughout the summer as part of HBO’s lineup of summer documentaries. The film is a follow-up to the filmmaker’s 2010 documentary Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

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Filmmaker Josh Fox explores the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil, now occurring on a global level (in 32 countries worldwide). The controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth is one of the most important environmental issues facing the nation. Experts believe that the vast pool of natural gas beneath the surface of the earth could supply energy needs for millions, but extracting the gas from the earth could be fraught with dangers.

The sequel to “Gasland” focuses on the government response to the environmental concerns raised by fracking and shows how the stakes have been raised on all sides of the debate about the controversial environmental issue.


“Gasland Part II” begins with the 2012 State of the Union Address, in which President Barack Obama declares his support for the safe development of natural gas production, something Fox and the anti-fracking community believe is impossible.

In “Gasland Part II,” Fox revisits families seen in “Gasland,” by returning to Dimock, Pa., Pavilion, Wyo., and Dish, Tex. to see how the residents are faring in their fight to secure clean water from local governments and the E.P.A.. He also travels to Australia to see what is happening outside the U.S. as fracking becomes a global practice.

He also introduces new characters to talk about their concerns about the dangers of fracking. Fox interviews politicians who have been trying to stop fracking and help the people affected by it. He also films experts who support the theory that fracking is dangerous and that the need to shift to truly clean renewable energy is urgent.

HBO’s lineup of channels begins on DIRECTV at 501. The film is also available via HBO On Demand.

Cable TV Makes a Home for Smart, Emotional Movies

During the summer blockbuster season, Hollywood is concerned even less than usual with smaller, more intimate, emotional films about real people. While it may seem hopeless for fans of those smaller films like Hollywood used to make in the 1970s and 1980s and the independent film scene covered in the 1990s, there is a home for those films, according to actor Richard Gere and many other advocates. That place? Cable television.

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Gere suggested: “Cable television is probably the future of smart, emotional movies. Showtime, HBO… That’s the way things are shifting now.

“Our best directors, best writers, best actors… that’s where they’re going.”

Gere admitted that he took some convincing from first-time director Nick Jarecki to sign up for his latest thriller Arbitrage.

The Pretty Woman actor said: “I didn’t want to do it, but I liked the script enough that I went, ‘Well you know he has an artist inside of him, because his script is that good, so let’s meet’.”

The actor also said that he is happy to be selective in his roles.

“I guess if I was hungrier to act – if I just had to act – there’d be other things I would have done,” he said.

“My life is extremely full. I think at this point it has to really ring the bell for me to do it.”

DIRECTV carries HBO and Showtime in its upper programming tiers. The HBO channels begin at 501 and the Showtime channels begin at 545.

HBO On Demand Honors James Gandolfini with ‘Sopranos’ Airings

HBO has announced that they will air their original hit drama, The Sopranos, with the entire series to be available on HBO On Demand beginning today with the first season available to view throughout July, the second season available in August, and subsequent seasons in subsequent months until the show’s six-season run is completed. HBO is airing the series to honor James Gandolfini, the show’s iconic star, who recently passed away at 51.

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“The Sopranos” first season begins with a family barbecue where Tony Soprano (Gandolfini) passes out and subsequently seeks therapy from Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), who become a key person in his life. Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) keeps the home fires burning for her adulterous husband and their children Meadow (Jamie Lynn Sigler) and A.J. (Robert Iler). Tony’s mob associates include Uncle Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese), Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Tony Siroco as Paulie and Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante.

In honor of actor James Gandolfini, HBO will also air the Emmy®-nominated 2007 HBO documentary “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq,”which was executive produced by James Gandolfini, will receive an encore play this Thursday, July 4 (7-8 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO.

Actor James Gandolfini, 51, made headlines when he died suddenly in Italy on June 19, after suffering a heart attack. His funeral was a star studded event that drew many of his co-stars from the series, as well as celebrity friends from other projects.

HBO released statements from several of Gandolfini’s co-stars, including series creator David Chase, who said, “He was a genius. Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes. I remember telling him many times, ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone. For Deborah and Michael and Liliana, this is crushing. And it’s bad for the rest of the world. He wasn’t easy sometimes. But he was my partner, he was my brother in ways I can’t explain and never will be able to explain.”

HBO On Demand is available with DIRECTV and Charter Communications.