By 1983, premium cable television was still a relatively new concept, and industry leader HBO wanted to distinguish itself from plain old ordinary network TV. This wasn’t just another channel; it was an “entertainment center.” It was special. One way HBO communicated that message was through its logo and on-air bumpers. In 1983, HBO began its feature presentations with an incredibly elaborate, minute-long introductory sequence still fondly remembered by a generation of cable TV subscribers. In a cozy apartment, a man and his wife settle in for a night of HBO. The camera then pans away from their window and soars over the city in which they live, swooping through the streets like a bird. It continues through the suburbs and the country toward the mountains, at which point it tilts upward toward the night sky. A giant, metallic HBO-shaped spaceship comes into view then comes into view. Inside the ship, the “O” is filled with dazzling, swirling colors. At last, a title appears: HBO Theatre. Home Box Office was so proud of this introduction that its creation was documented in a fascinating, 10-minute documentary by Scott Morris that has recently resurfaced on YouTube.
The introduction was the work of New York’s Liberty Studios. It was decided that Liberty president Anthony Lover’s original concept would not work with a real city, so a miniature one was built. It took a team of six craftsmen a total of three months to construct the dozens of highly detailed little buildings, each one individually lit, in HBO’s ersatz city, not to mention the vehicles and model people, including some bums and hookers. And that was just one aspect of the process. A 65-piece orchestra played the score. Live actors were hired for the apartment scene. A giant cyclotronic backdrop simulated dusk. The HBO logo itself was forged out of brass and then chrome plated. The star field was the result of frame-by-frame animation. And those swirling colors inside the O? That involved fiber optics, plus various “motors and gears and pulleys.” Hopefully, the HBO subscribers of 1983 took the time to appreciate this intro and didn’t use that last minute as a chance to use the bathroom or grab a snack before the movie.