1. 1st & Ten (1984-1991)
When HBO launched the streaming video platform HBO Go in 2010, it was a boon to discerning viewers and TV nerds alike: nearly four decades of original programming (plus a sampling of the movies rotating through the site’s cable companion) available anywhere, anytime. But the service is not attuned to Home Box Office completists. In some ways, it often seems like an attempt to rewrite the network’s history, with offerings rarely reaching farther back than Oz, which marked HBO’s first foray into scripted drama series in 1997. Case in point: Oz’s equivalent in the comedy realm, 1st & Ten, the chronicle of fictional football franchise the California Bulls created by sitcom lifer Carl Kleinschmitt in 1984. Like its spiritual successor and fellow HBO Go absentee Arli$$ (a series whose greatest contributions to comedy are jokes at its expense from Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock), 1st & Ten is the type of HBO series differentiated from contemporary network fare only by its not-ready-for-primetime raunch—novel by mid-’80s standards, but an HBO series must earn its fucks and its “fuck”s in this day and age. (Or, you know, feature sexy vampires.) The show has its defenders—namely dean of TV criticism, Alan Sepinwall—but 1st & Ten’s exclusion from HBO Go may be motivated more by curatorial factors than anything else, as all seven of its seasons have been relegated to the Amazon cut-out bin for not resembling the TV touchdowns of the future. The participation of O.J. Simpson might have something to do with it, as well.
2. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
One of the most acclaimed comedy series of the past 20 years, a two-time Peabody Award winner, a three-time Emmy Award winner (and nominee many times over), an incubator for some of the most talented performers and writers in comedy (including Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, and Bob Odenkirk), and by all accounts, a feather in HBO’s distinguished cap, The Larry Sanders Show isn’t available on HBO Go. Fans shouldn’t be all that surprised; the complete series only came to DVD in late 2010, a full decade into the digital-video era. The show’s acclaim has only grown as time has passed, making its exclusion from HBO Go more conspicuous, especially considering it lasted six full seasons and was a bedrock of the network’s original programming when HBO didn’t feature a whole lot of the stuff. Although shut out of its home network’s streaming service, The Larry Sanders Show streams for free on Amazon (via Amazon Prime), a site that’s clearly aiming to compete with HBO.
3. Mr. Show With Bob And David (1995-1998)
The closest American approximation to the stream-of-consciousness rhythms and absurdist sensibilities of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mr. Show’s HBO bow filled a sketch-comedy void left by the departure of Kids In The Hall, Canada’s answer to Flying Circus. Neither series is available on HBO Go, though it’s easier to explain Kids In The Hall’s absence, as it was a Canadian co-production. (For the time being, it can be found streaming on Netflix.) Chalk up HBO Go’s lack of “The Story Of Everest” and “Coupon: The Movie” to Mr. Show making the mid-to-late-’00s jump to IFC, which no longer airs repeats of the series, but does host select sketches on its website. Even so, it’s a better fit there, where Mr. Show alums David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, and Scott Aukerman have been allowed to extend their previous series’ freewheeling, side-eyeing comedic voice in a way that no longer suits their former cable home—or its streaming-video site, apparently.
4. Tenacious D (1997-2000)
Before Jack Black and Kyle Gass recorded their first album as Tenacious D—and while Black’s film career was still in the deep-in-the-supporting-cast stages—the duo made a series of short films for HBO. The network then grouped the shorts together into six half-hour episodes, airing them sporadically over the course of three years. Produced by David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, the first shorts were broadcast almost as bonus cuts attached to the third season of Mr. Show. HBO reportedly lost interest in the show after Black and Gass refused to give up their executive producer titles and cede creative control to the network; if that’s true, it may help to explain why HBO cut back on its original order for 10 half-hour installments and then burned off what it had over such a long stretch of time, as if someone kept finding unaired episodes under the couch cushions. (They had better luck a decade later with another show starring a comedy rock duo, Flight Of The Conchords.) The entire series is available, along with music videos, TV performances, and a concert film, on the two-DVD Tenacious D: The Complete Masterworks, but remains effectively persona non grata on HBO itself.
5. Dream On (1990-1996)
One of the HBO’s early forays into original programming, Dream On debuted on the network in 1990 and ran for six seasons. The half-hour comedy followed the exploits of Martin Tupper (Brian Benben), a divorced writer and father who filtered his life through his memories of vintage TV shows, clips of which punctuated every episode (along with healthy amounts of sex and nudity). Only the first two seasons are available on DVD; the sole streaming service that offers Dream On, Hulu, only provides edited episodes of the first three seasons. That’s surprising, considering the series’ pedigree: It was created and written by David Crane and Marta Kauffman (who later created Friends) and executive-produced by John Landis. (Big Bang Theory writer-producer Stephen Engel wrote for the show, too.) Considering all the clips of old TV shows and movies Dream On used, maybe expensive licensing fees are keeping it unavailable.
6. The Mind Of The Married Man (2001-2002)
An HBO Go blackout is also an effective way for the network to bury some of its higher-profile failures; for example, David Milch’s weird, wonderful post-Deadwood flameout, John From Cincinnati, can be accessed by the customers of certain cable providers. No one can stream The Mind Of The Married Man, however, and given the tepid reception to Mike Binder’s Sex And The City for guys, that’s a blessing to HBO’s reputation. At a time when the network could do no wrong—the early-’00s heyday of SATC, Oz, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and a little show called The Wire—The Mind Of The Married Man came off like an odd misfire. The kind of sexually frank, narcissistic talk that made Carrie Bradshaw and friends TV icons sounded creepily juvenile coming from three Chicago newspapermen. Or maybe it was just a decade too early: Micky Barnes’ inner monologue and unlikeable behavior might fare better when compared and contrasted with that of Hannah Horvath. However, anyone clamoring to hear how Girls’ voice of a generation stacks up against whatever’s rattling around inside The Mind Of The Married Man will need a DVD player.
7. The Corner (2000)
After breaking into TV as a writer and producer on Homicide: Life On The Street, David Simon cut a deal with HBO to turn his other nonfiction book, The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighborhood, into a six-hour miniseries. The Corner was written by Simon and David Mills and co-produced by Simon, Mills, Robert F. Colesberry, and Nina Kostroff Noble—all of whom later contributed to Simon’s best-known TV project, The Wire. A moving, sometimes harrowing look at a Baltimore family whose lives are blighted by drug use and economic hardship, The Corner won three Emmys, including a deserving award for Outstanding Miniseries. It stands as the kind of dramatic depiction of the lives of those at the bottom of society that seldom pops up on TV outside of HBO. But it’s since been overshadowed by The Wire, which took its basic themes—as well as its locations and many of its actors—and found a way to expand them into a portrait of an entire city.
8. The High Life (1996)
Adam Resnick, the comedy writer best known for his collaborations with Chris Elliott (Get A Life, Cabin Boy), originally developed The High Life for CBS. But in a development that mirrors David Chase’s later experiences with The Sopranos, Resnick took his show to HBO in 1996 after it became clear that he and CBS would never be able to compromise on a version of The High Life with which both parties could be happy. Set in the 1950s, shot in black and white, and starring Mark Wilson as the heavyset, would-be big shot Earl Holloway, The High Life suggests a Bizarro World Honeymooners—a fantasy of a Golden Age TV comedy with more absurdist humor and a pronounced dark side. (In the pilot, Earl, desperate to make a quick buck, unwittingly rents out his office space to the Ku Klux Klan.) Some of Resnick’s other projects were among the most divisive comedies of the 1990s; The High Life, which ran for eight episodes over the course of a single season, didn’t even attract enough attention to start any arguments. As Resnick later told Splitsider, “There weren’t enough people [watching it] to make a cult.” Lacking both an audience and in-house support, the show was unceremoniously buried and has never been revived or released on home video. But it’s a reminder of just how weird HBO was willing to get to help differentiate itself from the commercial networks.
9. Tanner ’88 (1988)
When it was announced that Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, would be joining forces with director Robert Altman for an HBO production about a fictional presidential campaign, fans of sharp-edged political comedy rejoiced, with their excitement continuing to grow throughout the run of the 11-episode miniseries Tanner ’88. The series revolved around the efforts of Rep. Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) to secure the presidency with the assistance of his campaign manager, T.J. Cavanaugh (Pamela Reed), and was ultimately described by Time as “the year’s definitive satire of media politics.” Although Trudeau and Altman were prepared to continue Tanner’s story, HBO was less inclined, resulting in a 16-year wait for a follow-up. Although the 2004 Sundance Channel sequel, Tanner On Tanner, was received somewhat less rapturously than its predecessor, the renewed attention to the original miniseries led to Tanner ’88’s inclusion in the Criterion Collection; so while it may remain unavailable on HBO Go, it’s readily available for screening on Hulu Plus.
10. Tales From The Crypt (1989-1996)
Although anthology series were virtually absent on the TV landscape during the late ’70s and early ’80s, they staged a comeback in 1985, one kick-started by Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. While viewers’ fondness for the format waned quickly on the broadcast networks, cable networks found far more success with it, particularly in the realm of horror. HBO’s Tales From The Crypt, inspired by EC Comics’ gory line of ’50s horror books, doled out seven seasons’ worth of chilling tales, featuring a blend of big names and character actors and often helmed by high-profile directors, including Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, and William Friedkin. One of the network’s signature series for several years, Tales From The Crypt is also one of the most notable absences from HBO Go—likely because of the myriad of licensing issues which haunt so many series from the ’80s and ’90s—but all 93 episodes remain available on DVD, and many have made taken extralegal routes to YouTube.
11. K Street (2003)
When Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney come knocking, networks listen, which partially explains why HBO gave the green light to a mostly improvised series about the goings-on in a bipartisan political consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With a cast led by two noted non-actors—James Carville and Mary Matalin—and featuring guest appearance by numerous politicians, including Howard Dean, Orrin Hatch, and Charles Schumer, K Street received a certain amount of critical acclaim, but even the big names backing the production couldn’t change the reality that its unabashed insider’s look at politics made it all but impenetrable to casual viewers. Although worth watching for the performances from a pre-Mad Men John Slattery and Mary McCormack (whose next stop was another D.C.-set series: The West Wing), the limited fan base for K Street may be why HBO hasn’t bothered to secure the rights to stream the series.
12. Tell Me You Love Me (2007)
HBO badly fumbled the promotion of its remarkable, 10-episode dramatic series Tell Me You Love Me, whose ensemble cast included Adam Scott, Ally Walker, Jane Alexander, and, in recurring roles, Ian Somerhalder and Sherry Stringfield. Dealing with the interlocking relationships of three different couples, the series is notable for the frankness of the scenes depicting the characters’ sex lives; in emphasizing this aspect in its pre-release hype, HBO created a widespread impression that Tell Me You Love Me featured authentic on-camera sex acts. The distraction probably turned off many viewers who might have appreciated the show; while those tuning in expecting something mindlessly steamy and Skinemax-like were quickly disappointed. The series was collected on DVD, but an announced second season never materialized. The show deserves another life online, but HBO may see it as a can of worms best left unopened.
13. Boy Interrupted (2009)
During Sheila Nevins’ tenure as president of HBO’s documentary wing, the network has established itself as a major force in the medium; it’s a rare year that at least one HBO doc doesn’t end up an Oscar nominee, or in the case of the short-form category, three or four of them. With such a backlog, perhaps it’s not surprising that some fall out of the rotation, hopefully to make their way back later on. Hart and Dana Perry’s emotionally shattering Boy Interrupted would never have had a chance in theaters, being as it is a history of their bipolar son Evan that leads up to his suicide at the age of 15. But in spite of its dark subject matter, the movie is strangely hopeful: Given that Evan was obsessed with his own death for nearly a decade, the sense is not that his parents let him down but that they attained a complicated sort of victory by keeping him alive as long as they did. Amazon will burn copies on demand, but it’s a movie that should be seen by more than the few who seek it out.
14-26. George Carlin specials (1997-2008)
Considering that HBO’s status as stand-up comedy’s (slightly dinged) brass ring developed through its longstanding relationship with the great George Carlin, it’s surprising that not one of his 13 specials is available on demand. No doubt, that’s because 12 of them are available via Netflix streaming, 1997’s quasi-retrospective 40 Years Of Comedy being the odd special out. But considering that, as a body of work, they represent the most comprehensive document of a major American artist (not merely a comedian), it’s a shame the specials can’t be seen via the network that made them possible.
27-plus. Stand-up specials
HBO has a long, distinguished history with the world of stand-up comedy: its One Night Stand half-hours showcasing up-and-comers, the Russell Simmons-produced Def Comedy Jam, and hourlong specials starring a who’s who of the medium. One Night Stand ran for five years and featured comedians like Bill Hicks, Louis C.K., Gilbert Gottfried, Larry Miller, and nearly 50 others, yet the comedy specials available on HBO Go are oddly scattershot, a mixture of recent-ish stuff (Bill Maher, Dane Cook, George Lopez), vintage performances by currently popular comedians (Marc Maron in 1995, Louis C.K. in 1996), and other, seemingly random old performances from smaller names (Allan Havey’s One Night Stand from 1992, Jimmy Tingle on the same show in 1991). HBO has a formidable comedy vault—why not open it all the way up?