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Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers

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Tinderbox tells the exclusive, explosive, uninhibited true story of HBO and how it burst onto the American scene and screen to detonate a revolution and transform our relationship with television forever. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Wire, Succession…HBO has long been the home of epic shows, as well as the source for brilliant new movies, news-m Tinderbox tells the exclusive, explosive, uninhibited true story of HBO and how it burst onto the American scene and screen to detonate a revolution and transform our relationship with television forever. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Wire, Succession…HBO has long been the home of epic shows, as well as the source for brilliant new movies, news-making documentaries, and controversial sports journalism. By thinking big, trashing tired formulas, and killing off cliches long past their primes, HBO shook off the shackles of convention and led the way to a bolder world of content, opening the door to all that was new, original, and worthy of our attention. In Tinderbox, award-winning journalist James Andrew Miller uncovers a bottomless trove of secrets and surprises, revealing new conflicts, insights, and analysis. As he did to great acclaim with SNL in Live from New York; with ESPN in Those Guys Have All the Fun; and with talent agency CAA in Powerhouse, Miller continues his record of extraordinary access to the most important voices, this time speaking with talents ranging from Abrams (J. J.) to Zendaya, as well as every single living president of HBO—and hundreds of other major players. Over the course of more than 750 interviews with key sources, Miller reveals how fraught HBO’s journey has been, capturing the drama and the comedy off-camera and inside boardrooms as HBO created and mobilized a daring new content universe, and, in doing so, reshaped storytelling and upended our entertainment lives forever.


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Tinderbox tells the exclusive, explosive, uninhibited true story of HBO and how it burst onto the American scene and screen to detonate a revolution and transform our relationship with television forever. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Wire, Succession…HBO has long been the home of epic shows, as well as the source for brilliant new movies, news-m Tinderbox tells the exclusive, explosive, uninhibited true story of HBO and how it burst onto the American scene and screen to detonate a revolution and transform our relationship with television forever. The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Wire, Succession…HBO has long been the home of epic shows, as well as the source for brilliant new movies, news-making documentaries, and controversial sports journalism. By thinking big, trashing tired formulas, and killing off cliches long past their primes, HBO shook off the shackles of convention and led the way to a bolder world of content, opening the door to all that was new, original, and worthy of our attention. In Tinderbox, award-winning journalist James Andrew Miller uncovers a bottomless trove of secrets and surprises, revealing new conflicts, insights, and analysis. As he did to great acclaim with SNL in Live from New York; with ESPN in Those Guys Have All the Fun; and with talent agency CAA in Powerhouse, Miller continues his record of extraordinary access to the most important voices, this time speaking with talents ranging from Abrams (J. J.) to Zendaya, as well as every single living president of HBO—and hundreds of other major players. Over the course of more than 750 interviews with key sources, Miller reveals how fraught HBO’s journey has been, capturing the drama and the comedy off-camera and inside boardrooms as HBO created and mobilized a daring new content universe, and, in doing so, reshaped storytelling and upended our entertainment lives forever.

30 review for Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Guion

    This is a long, long oral history of the cable channel HBO (and now a streaming service, HBO Max). It is an exhaustive look at all aspects, from a small beginning in the 1970s, trying to cable up a few apartment buildings, to being able to broadcast via satellite to cable operators all over the world. It may be tedious for some but I was interested, as I remember when our family first got HBO in the early 1980s. It was quite complicated, requiring a technician to come into the home and install a This is a long, long oral history of the cable channel HBO (and now a streaming service, HBO Max). It is an exhaustive look at all aspects, from a small beginning in the 1970s, trying to cable up a few apartment buildings, to being able to broadcast via satellite to cable operators all over the world. It may be tedious for some but I was interested, as I remember when our family first got HBO in the early 1980s. It was quite complicated, requiring a technician to come into the home and install a set top box to the TV. My parents were confused by it, my Mother was shocked the first time I watched a movie on HBO and an actor said the F—- word over and over. Throughout the book, you see the very smart people who worked at HBO, but also their political infighting inside Time Warner. Executives are scheming to either become the person in charge of HBO or the entire company, Time/Warner. The meaty part of the book is the behind the scenes details on the original HBO shows, comedy specials, and documentaries. This covers one of the first original regular series, Dream On, and later Arliss, right up to the present day with Succession. If you’re a longtime HBO watcher and someone who reads about the TV/Movie industry, this book is for you. However, since I don’t watch EVERYTHING on HBO, certain topics weren’t interesting to me. There were long sections on HBO Sports, a lot of boxing stuff, which I skipped over, and I also skipped over other TV shows and documentaries I had never seen.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    In the beginning there was darkness upon the land. On the first day appeared NBC, CBS and ABC and God said that it was good. On the second day appeared HBO and God said “Just how long do I have to wait for the next season of The Sopranos?” It’s easy to forget what a broadcasting landmark HBO was. As the very first pay-channel, HBO had people forking over money to watch it long before Netflix ever dropped its first DVD into the mailbox. Tinderbox makes a pretty airtight case for how much TV histo In the beginning there was darkness upon the land. On the first day appeared NBC, CBS and ABC and God said that it was good. On the second day appeared HBO and God said “Just how long do I have to wait for the next season of The Sopranos?” It’s easy to forget what a broadcasting landmark HBO was. As the very first pay-channel, HBO had people forking over money to watch it long before Netflix ever dropped its first DVD into the mailbox. Tinderbox makes a pretty airtight case for how much TV history HBO has made over the years from its very, very humble beginnings broadcasting polka dances in 1970s Pennsylvania. Tinderbox also takes a lot longer than it needs to in making that case. This book is an oral history, which means that, rather than telling the story through a regular narrative, it’s mainly told through interviews with the people that were there. Oral histories can be tricky things to pull off. Live from New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live was the first oral history I remember reading and it’s still pretty much the gold standard that others are judged by. Tinderbox, written by Live’s co-author, certainly isn’t lacking for subject material, which is one of its failings; when it comes to the legend of HBO, there may actually be too much information to cover. A lot of this book is spent on corporate intrigue that can become very dull to people who just want to read about their favorite shows. Author James Andrew Miller does a relatively good job of taking the "bored" out of "boardroom" with tales of love, hate, jealousy and backstabbing behind the scenes worthy of... well, worthy of an HBO show. Unfortunately, there's also sections of business blather about subjects like stock acquisitions that are enough to put me to sleep. Even if you are into some of the shows that have aired on HBO over the decades, there’s a chance you’re not a fan of every show that’s covered here (and this book covers a lot of shows). I found myself skipping through sections devoted to programs I just didn’t care about. The idea of an HBO oral history certainly seems like a good one in theory. Its execution means you’ll have to slog through some 43 hours to get through it and I can almost guarantee you’ll be bored somewhere along the way. I usually don’t review an audiobook performance unless it’s really good or really bad. The audiobook version of Tinderbox is really, really bad. It’s rarely a good sign when an author is listed as a narrator, and that’s certainly no different here. Miller’s voice is flat and dull and he’s constantly rushing and slurring his words, going so fast that he often gets his own writing wrong. At one point, he says that HBO ended a year with 300 subscribers when the number is actually 300,000. That’s kind of a big difference. The other two readers who voice the people that were interviewed do a very good job, but they’re failed by the producer. You can actually hear them flub a line, take a beat and then start the whole line over again. These mistakes aren’t just left in a couple of times but dozens of times! I listen to a lot of audiobooks and I’ve never heard one as slipshod as this one. That, alone, was responsible for knocking the rating down a star.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Davidson

    I love HBO. So I was fascinated to get a look behind the so-called curtain of entertainment history and get a better understanding of just how HBO came to be. It's an enthralling history of one of today's biggest entertainment brands that started with just 300 people hooked up to a cable in the ground. The politics, the celebrities, the entire kitchen sink is included here, with a compelling 900 pages of stories that will keep you glued to...the...er...book page. I love HBO. So I was fascinated to get a look behind the so-called curtain of entertainment history and get a better understanding of just how HBO came to be. It's an enthralling history of one of today's biggest entertainment brands that started with just 300 people hooked up to a cable in the ground. The politics, the celebrities, the entire kitchen sink is included here, with a compelling 900 pages of stories that will keep you glued to...the...er...book page.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Basically been mainlining HBO for 25 years, so it was quite interesting to read the behind-the-scenes bits about bringing everything to production, the pitches, and writing processes. Particularly enjoyed the short interviews with creators and actors, and the interplay with network executives who championed the work, sometimes for years. It was interesting to see the various projects that HBO passed on that went on to be huge on other networks, and streaming services too: Breaking Bad, House of C Basically been mainlining HBO for 25 years, so it was quite interesting to read the behind-the-scenes bits about bringing everything to production, the pitches, and writing processes. Particularly enjoyed the short interviews with creators and actors, and the interplay with network executives who championed the work, sometimes for years. It was interesting to see the various projects that HBO passed on that went on to be huge on other networks, and streaming services too: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, The Crown, and many others. It's a huge book (over 1000 pages with prologues, intros, notes, and indices) but very easy to read, as it is all interview format, with chapters arranged chronologically. Skimmed some sections - a lot of the business/merger/firings/hirings stuff, and the sports programming that didn't interest me personally, but was deeply engrossed in other sections, from dramas, documentaries, live late-night shows, and comedies that HBO has produced over the decades.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    I thoroughly enjoyed Miller's books on SNL and ESPN. This, however, was a long slog to get through. 70% of the book deals with corporate mergers and the power struggles of executives no one has ever heard of or care about. If Miller would have kept the business content to 30% of the book and devoted the other 70% to the programming, this would have been a much stronger book. I thoroughly enjoyed Miller's books on SNL and ESPN. This, however, was a long slog to get through. 70% of the book deals with corporate mergers and the power struggles of executives no one has ever heard of or care about. If Miller would have kept the business content to 30% of the book and devoted the other 70% to the programming, this would have been a much stronger book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    It took me nearly two months to read TINDERBOX, James Andrew Miller's exhaustively researched oral history of HBO. Not because the book was slow or tedious, but because I happened to pick it up during what was the busiest time in my life, a period of productivity that has since been surpassed. Taking my time to soak in all of the stories and history was appropriate. After all, HBO stands for… well, it stands for Home Box Office, but it also stands for premium television and cinema. They release t It took me nearly two months to read TINDERBOX, James Andrew Miller's exhaustively researched oral history of HBO. Not because the book was slow or tedious, but because I happened to pick it up during what was the busiest time in my life, a period of productivity that has since been surpassed. Taking my time to soak in all of the stories and history was appropriate. After all, HBO stands for… well, it stands for Home Box Office, but it also stands for premium television and cinema. They release their content in chunks, like in the old days, before Netflix popularized binging all episodes of a new show the moment they appeared in your feed. This gives viewers a reason to continue talking about a show, movie, or documentary for weeks or months, rather than exhausting all conversation around it within the first week or two of its availability. I appreciate what both models, binging and piecemeal, offer viewers, but as I read TINDERBOX, my appreciation and respect for why they made the choices they made grew. The funny thing is, I'm not much for television or movies. I have favorite shows and films, but I'm much more likely to read a book or play a game than I am to watch anything. However, I love creative processes and learning how things were made, and TINDERBOX is a beacon of comprehensive research and anecdotes. Miller talked to dozens, if not hundreds of people, from executives and writers to actors and showrunners. TINDERBOX digs into the genesis of classics like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Chernobyl, and Sex and the City, but it spends as much time charting the rise and fall of those shows and getting to know the actors who portrayed iconic characters and the executives who made them possible. What TINDERBOX does best is emphasize the importance of HBO's history, and the people who made its creative endeavors possible. Before original programming, the Home Box Office was known for premium sports events, namely boxing and the Wimbledon tennis championships. They hired the best commentators, and they went out of their way to highlight the stories around each match: the competitors' backgrounds, their wins and losses, their injuries, their strengths, their weaknesses. HBO stands for storytelling (and Home Box Office, and premium TV and cinema). I went into TINDERBOX with an appreciation for actors such as James Gandolfini and Julia-Louis Dreyfus, but what I took from Miller's work was the importance of executives who believed in the company. People like Michael Fuchs, Chris Albrecht, Carolyn Strauss, Sheila Nevins, Casey Bloys, and so many others were passionate about creating "HBO shows"—premium content you could not and would not find on broadcast TV; that was entertaining; and that said something about the world and our people. More than anything, these executives considered it their jobs to support creators. They created environments where creators could create free of inhibitions, and where big calls like casting decisions and story directions were in the creators' hands, not the network's. Writers and actors view HBO with profound respect, as do I. But Miller shows us that HBO is not always a creative wonderland. Besides documenting how shows rise, continue, and come to an end, the author chronicles the bureaucratic twists and turns of the network as it changes hands from owner to owner to owner. We go inside boardrooms to learn how deals were made, and often, how they were broken. This is the one area where Miller stumbles. He has a habit of only listing someone's title once, maybe twice, and we're supposed to remember it even if they don't come back into the picture until 300+ pages into the future. Sometimes he adds last names in brackets to add context to a discussion, and sometimes he doesn't. Rarely does he explain much of the legal and business jargon that informs the wheeling and dealing that leads to HBO changing hands. If you can make heads or tails of it, great. If you can't, you keep reading and hope someone will dispense with jargon and speak in plain language. Otherwise, TINDERBOX is a monument to HBO's colorful and prestigious history, and a triumph as a history book as entertaining as it is insightful. It appealed to me as someone who loves to ask, "How'd they do that?" and receive deep answer, and as someone who writes this type of history. Miller wrote similar tomes on the history of ESPN and Saturday Night Live. I look forward to reading those, too.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Lauterbach

    This is the best book I've read in at least two years. Let's start with the obvious- the length. It's 975 pages. No, not 700 pages with 200 pages of notes, sourcing, and bibliographic material. Its 975 narrative pages. But it doesn't feel like anything close to that. Its as quick a read as a nearly 1, 000 pager can possibly be. I did it in less than a month and yes, I did have 4-5 days where I spent 3 hours or more with it (its just that good!), but I also had more than a few days where I just s This is the best book I've read in at least two years. Let's start with the obvious- the length. It's 975 pages. No, not 700 pages with 200 pages of notes, sourcing, and bibliographic material. Its 975 narrative pages. But it doesn't feel like anything close to that. Its as quick a read as a nearly 1, 000 pager can possibly be. I did it in less than a month and yes, I did have 4-5 days where I spent 3 hours or more with it (its just that good!), but I also had more than a few days where I just spent an hour with it and still did it in basically 3 weeks. I'm not even a huge TV or HBO guy and I adored this book. I read it because I really like James Andrew Millers oral histories and I was interested in reading about the shows I do watch. For background, I've never watched the Sopranos (want to) or Game of Thrones (don't want to .... though everyone says I'll enjoy it). To me, the best HBO shows are The Newsroom and Veep. Probably about 45 combined pages on the two BUT I WASNT DISAPPOINTED. I now find myself wanting to watch every show mentioned in this book, which will take me approximately 80 years. In terms of the book itself, there is a lot of business. I would say almost a 50-50 split on business vs on-set/writers room stuff. I'm not a business guy but STILL gave this book a 5. That tells you how good it is. 975 pages. Never bored once. Not once! But even if I was, the sections aren't long. He doesn't spend a whole lot on anything, which i think works well. Probably 75-100 pages on The Sopranos. 50 (maybe) on GOT. Much less on everything else. Its a high bar to set on Jan 19, but if this ISN'T the best book I read this year, I will have an amazing reading year. A slam dunk, resounding 5.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kris Roedig

    Exactly the type of book I love. Oral histories from multiple perspectives is simply fascinating to me. I have seen a LOT of reviews complaining about how boring the book is, especially in the beginning. Of course, the initial founding of the company and the #business jargon is not the most exciting set of stories, but this is what the book is. It is the COMPLETE history of the juggernaut that is HBO from the idea to their recent history. Most fascinating, in my opinion, was once the story got t Exactly the type of book I love. Oral histories from multiple perspectives is simply fascinating to me. I have seen a LOT of reviews complaining about how boring the book is, especially in the beginning. Of course, the initial founding of the company and the #business jargon is not the most exciting set of stories, but this is what the book is. It is the COMPLETE history of the juggernaut that is HBO from the idea to their recent history. Most fascinating, in my opinion, was once the story got to the creation of their original programs and movies. Larry Sanders, Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Veep, and so many more. To hear the inspiration from creators, the experience of the actors and writers are simply great stories. There are stories of all types in the book; the most tragic was hearing the late Michael K. Williams speak about how filming The Wire helped with his addiction to drugs. It’s truly sad. My biggest problem with this audiobook is the fact that, somehow, the worst version of the file somehow was uploaded. There are so many second takes and lines repeated and bloopers. However, the woman narrator (Amy McFadden) made zero mistakes. Whomever edited this really dropped the ball. Additionally, out of nowhere, when Ricky Gervais was being quoted, suddenly an over-the-top English accent invaded my ears. What? The boom has other English people speaking earlier in the book, but suddenly Gervais needs an accent? It was jarring and just weird. I love these types of books, Live From New York about the making of SNL is another great book in this genre.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    At nearly 1000 pages of interviews and commentary on the history of HBO, this gargantuan book does a splendid job chronicling the ups and downs of one of America's most iconic television companies. From its upstart beginnings in sports and comedies to the over 185 hours of annual television produced, HBO has come quite far. Because of it's massive history, you're not really going to get into detail about any one topic. While you may learn a little bit about behind the scenes happenings on Sex an At nearly 1000 pages of interviews and commentary on the history of HBO, this gargantuan book does a splendid job chronicling the ups and downs of one of America's most iconic television companies. From its upstart beginnings in sports and comedies to the over 185 hours of annual television produced, HBO has come quite far. Because of it's massive history, you're not really going to get into detail about any one topic. While you may learn a little bit about behind the scenes happenings on Sex and the City or Game of Thrones, those topics are quickly segued into the next roughly chronological topic. So if you're looking for all the juicy details on your favorite HBO show, then this might not be for you. Miller does a great job of handling the interviews and creating a rough narrative for each even in HBO's history. Each transition in topic or extra context for the reader is given in italics in Miller's voice to lend clarity to what's happening, and this did feel a little abrupt in the beginning of the book. But as the topics get lengthier and frankly as some of the content became more relevant to my recollection of HBO's history, it flowed much better. You can tell that amassing all of this information was no easy task, and it speaks volumes to the impact that HBO has had on recent American life. The book ends in mid-2021 with the release of Mare of Easttown as well as the revelation of the Warner-Discovery merger that only happened recently. After that, history is still to be written.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Krolik

    An amazingly exhaustive oral history of one of our great cultural signifiers. A lot of talk about business mergers and (ugh) sports, but also some amazing accounts of the production and programming processes, the fractured relationships between creatives (the Mike White/Laura Dern schism is super sad), and Miller does a great job of tracking HBO's increasingly larger role in the landscape. An amazingly exhaustive oral history of one of our great cultural signifiers. A lot of talk about business mergers and (ugh) sports, but also some amazing accounts of the production and programming processes, the fractured relationships between creatives (the Mike White/Laura Dern schism is super sad), and Miller does a great job of tracking HBO's increasingly larger role in the landscape.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Pretty good interviews with most HBO stars, executives and crew. It covers most shows but left out much information on three of my favorites, Carnivale, Deadwood and Rome. A lot of the book seems like a cheerleading section with very few negatives coming out which is why I think these shows were left out. Great shows which were cancelled by HBO.

  12. 4 out of 5

    sam

    got about 50 pgs in and decided to just skip to the parts about hbo shows and skimmed through the rest. its wayyy too dense and it feels like you have to dig through so much just to find a few notable points

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

    Gossip and intrigue by the pound in this physically heavy, thousand-page oral history. Miller's introduction and commentary are equally heavy with cliche but light on wit or critical insight. Among the impressions one comes away with: The best entertainment often is produced by people (and here I mean mostly the executives rather than the talent) whose self-regard and self-awareness are hysterically out of proportion. Gossip and intrigue by the pound in this physically heavy, thousand-page oral history. Miller's introduction and commentary are equally heavy with cliche but light on wit or critical insight. Among the impressions one comes away with: The best entertainment often is produced by people (and here I mean mostly the executives rather than the talent) whose self-regard and self-awareness are hysterically out of proportion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    A good quarter of this 1000-page book could’ve been jettisoned if Miller had trimmed the more unctuous complimenting and general fawning by interviewees. I enjoyed reading about the start-up era and, of course, the numerous conflicts (more often than not, leaving HBO is not by choice, it seems), but I can’t help but label Tinderbox a kind of corporate hagiography.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carol Wiilliams

    Ugh! I got this book as a gift from a friend and I had actually ordered it myself the day before. I never opened the book I got and returned it to UPS the next day. This book was TORTURE! 1000+ pages of pure boredom! I am a very, very fast speed reader and finished it in less than two days…. Minus the last two hundred pages that I refused to donate my life to. Endless HBO logistical nightmares!! Who cares what deals were made?? Who cares whose butts were kissed? I wanted the good stories! I wanted Be Ugh! I got this book as a gift from a friend and I had actually ordered it myself the day before. I never opened the book I got and returned it to UPS the next day. This book was TORTURE! 1000+ pages of pure boredom! I am a very, very fast speed reader and finished it in less than two days…. Minus the last two hundred pages that I refused to donate my life to. Endless HBO logistical nightmares!! Who cares what deals were made?? Who cares whose butts were kissed? I wanted the good stories! I wanted Behind the Scenes looks at The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Oz, The Wire, Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones. Nope…. Except for the trailers we have all seen on Social Media…. AND the fact they repeated the SAME stories more than once…. There were NO surprises here. It was like settling in for a good time with cheese and crackers…. Waiting to spend a few hours lost in a great read… and realizing the crackers would be spit out of a seagull’s mouth. Stale and BORING! Please…. I am doing you a HUGE favor! Wait for this to come to your public library! It won’t be long! Save the $30!! Don’t give it as a Christmas gift unless you want to be ghosted. The book is a waste! I’m going back and taking one Star away. Even the pictures were bad! You have been warned!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonas Schwartz-Owen

    There are two conversations here. a) the book itself which is such an amazing expose on my childhood babysitter (and beyond). So comprehensive and fun to read. The AUDIO book though is badly edited. People will start sentences and then re-do them with a better emphasis on a word, but the editor left both takes in. Plus the male reader of quotes does a HIDEOUS British accent making John Oliver and Ricky Gervais laugh riots in ways they didn't intend. There are two conversations here. a) the book itself which is such an amazing expose on my childhood babysitter (and beyond). So comprehensive and fun to read. The AUDIO book though is badly edited. People will start sentences and then re-do them with a better emphasis on a word, but the editor left both takes in. Plus the male reader of quotes does a HIDEOUS British accent making John Oliver and Ricky Gervais laugh riots in ways they didn't intend.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    3.5 stars. But I'll round down because the book's flaws stay with me more than its advantages. Miller is back with another oral history of TV. He'd previously done books on SNL and ESPN - both of which I quite liked (much more than this one). The basic format here is the same as the others: He has impressive access, interviewing several hundred leading movers and shakers behind the camera and in front of it from HBO's history. He tells a very complete story - with many familiar parts, and many no 3.5 stars. But I'll round down because the book's flaws stay with me more than its advantages. Miller is back with another oral history of TV. He'd previously done books on SNL and ESPN - both of which I quite liked (much more than this one). The basic format here is the same as the others: He has impressive access, interviewing several hundred leading movers and shakers behind the camera and in front of it from HBO's history. He tells a very complete story - with many familiar parts, and many not-so-familiar parts. It surely does not lack detail or depth. But my God, it's one thing not to lack depth, it's another thing to not be able to prioritize anything. This book feels the need to include everything. EVERYTHING. Every show runner and every executive and every parent company executive and every show and every suit and every department chair and every developmental deal and every sports broadcast and .... EVERYTHING. You better be a real HBO affecionado, because the hardcover edition taps out just shy of a thousand pages. Ultimately, there's a lack of focus. There are no clear themes or trends, just piles and piles and mountains of stuff. The book tries to set you up at the outset with the story of a failed intervention for Sopranos star James Gandolfini. But it falls flat because it doesn't really relate to anything in the first several hundred pages of material, and by the time the book gets to the Sopranos, that opening teaser is a distant memory. Actually, that opening story does a good job setting up the book - it creates a sense that you're just getting a ton of stories with no clear point. And the book's format doesn't do it any favors either. It's broken up into a series of long chapters, up to 80 pages or so. Each chapter has a few dozen topics, few lasting more than 2-5 pages. So each chapter is a series of largely unrelated bits, making not only each chapter more formless, but also making each chapter break appear pointless. Some oral histories (like those I've read about the Seattle grunge scene, or 1980s MTV) got around this by making tons of small chaptes. Miller's approach just makes the entire book feel utterly formless. Miller's analysis is also frequently weak. It's obvious he's a big fan of HBO. That's why he wrote this book and why he got so many to agree to sit down with him. And yeah - HBO has done tons of great work over the decades. Give them props there. But everything is pitched in the best positive light. The Newsroom? That's an artistic triumph, not the ultimate sign of how winning Emmys doesn't mean a show is really that goood. Bill Maher? What a brillian political comedian, and not some super-smug, self-satisfied gasbag. Even more damningly, after plowing through story after story after story about how great everything HBO did, he'll then say that the station was on a comeback after a downspell. Excuse me? (Yeah, he notes some friction and issues, but by and large this is overwhelmingly a triumphalist oral history where damn near everything is portrayed in the best possible light). By the end, I was largely just skimming. And by "the end" I mean the last 200-300 pages. My God, this goes on forever.

  18. 4 out of 5

    derek chelf

    3.5/5 Free copy in exchange for review, so here it is: This is an interesting one to review, largely because the scope is so grand. First things first though - if you come to this book expecting detailed passages on your favorite HBO shows, you're likely to be disappointed. While there's certainly some of that (and there ought to be in a book roughly 1,000 pages long), the main thrust of this book is the business of building and running a unique television platform. For me, the initial story of cr 3.5/5 Free copy in exchange for review, so here it is: This is an interesting one to review, largely because the scope is so grand. First things first though - if you come to this book expecting detailed passages on your favorite HBO shows, you're likely to be disappointed. While there's certainly some of that (and there ought to be in a book roughly 1,000 pages long), the main thrust of this book is the business of building and running a unique television platform. For me, the initial story of creation and growth into an entertainment behemoth was incredibly interesting. However, as we get deeper into known territory (2000 and beyond basically), the surprises are fewer and the gamesmanship inherent in this story of palace intrigue gets a bit tedious. I became less and less interested in the various corporate entities jockeying for control and claiming credit, and simply wanted more of the brief teases given to us by the creators and stars of some of the memorable (and not so memorable) shows/films/docs that made HBO what it is. And because of the constant infighting described, one comes away somewhat doubtful about whether the network will be able to weather the increasing storms of competition from what they'd have us believe to be imitators (Netflix, Amazon, FX, etc.). All that said, there were indeed large portions of this book that were page-turners, specifically those dealing with the passionate creators and their impetus for working on some of the projects many of us have grown to love, or the peek behind the scenes at some of the volatility and/or decency of some of the big names involved. Because of these strengths, I had no problem ripping through this book despite some of its shortcomings. Finally, a note on format. I'm not generally a huge fan of oral histories, as it can seem a lazy way to tell the tale. While there are some narrative interstitials here to provide some context, they often come after a lengthy quote (as so many documentaries seem to - hot quote, and then some narration to get us up to speed). The flaw in this approach here is that there is rarely any separation between threads; we'll be on page 9 or so of a discussion about Game of Thrones only to get a chunk of Larry David tossed at us out of the blue, with the transition (or what might masquerade as one) to follow. Sometimes it's a hard break with no apparent concern for transition at all. These challenged my patience often. Another issue with the oral history approach here is that some of these folks probably don't deserve the benefit of the doubt that their version of events is accurate. In other words, these are often very powerful operators, some of whom are still attached to other people/entities discussed here. As such, their agendas are probably worthy of some consideration by an objective third-party instead of those they may have jilted to rise to the level of power they've attained. This is generally lacking in this book. All told, a pretty interesting tour through the growth of HBO. But this is definitely a book more about business than one about entertainment or television/cinema. Few true surprises, but it is nice in places to hear from the folks involved, in their own words, about how the sausage is made.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mediaman

    A massive mess that's mostly unsatisfying. This 1000-page (yes, you read that right) attempt at telling the HBO story suffers from all sorts of problems. The biggest is that it's mostly an oral history, something that rarely serves any story well. It would have been better to have the writer do real work and compile it into a flowing narrative. The second biggest problem is that the small sections of narrative included by the author are grossly over-hyped and misleading, failing to put into persp A massive mess that's mostly unsatisfying. This 1000-page (yes, you read that right) attempt at telling the HBO story suffers from all sorts of problems. The biggest is that it's mostly an oral history, something that rarely serves any story well. It would have been better to have the writer do real work and compile it into a flowing narrative. The second biggest problem is that the small sections of narrative included by the author are grossly over-hyped and misleading, failing to put into perspective the value of certain shows and the failure of others. And the third biggest problem is that (obviously) James Andrew Miller doesn't know how to discern what's important enough to include in, or leave out of, a book. The overall scale is disproportionate and his attempt to give just as much space to flops as he does hits misses the mark to the point that it all blurs together. Yes, there are some interesting background stories about certain shows and people. But the way it's written makes it difficult to find those stories hidden among a lot of unnecessary minor details. Most of the big shows gets short changed (the exception being the Sopranos, which gets too much space and adoration). There are some people thrown under the bus along the way, including James Gandolfini, and it's hard to understand why HBO put up with people like Gandolfini, Larry David, and Gary Shandling because they were horrible people in some respects. But those things get glossed over quickly and this is mainly the cheerleader-style yearbook highlights of the life of the cable network. Ultimately this would have worked better as two 300-page volumes, one about the business side of the network (including sports) and the other about the scripted programming. Instead we get all sorts of things tossed in that have nothing to do with each other and few transitions between the differing aspects. You'll be reading comments from actors on a highly-rated show, then out of nowhere that abruptly ends and the book, without warning, goes on to sports or executives being shuffled or even outside things that have absolutely nothing to do with what was just being discussed. It makes little sense. A tinderbox typically is a container of materials used to help spark a flame, but in this case Miller's Tinderbox book is filled with a highly stacked pile of wet firewood that never catches fire.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bettys Book Club

    Pandora’s box... Tinderbox is detailed, well-written and exceptionally long, just like an HBO series! It’s 1,000 pages, but well worth the cost of admission as Miller interviews over 700 employees and creatives that built the HBO brand. The book covers corporate politics, sports, documentaries, films and TV series. Fun facts: The FCC approved Pay TV in the U.S. in 1968, HBO started in 1972 by Sterling Communications (a NYC cable company) Time Inc. purchased HBO in the 70s. Its initial offering was m Pandora’s box... Tinderbox is detailed, well-written and exceptionally long, just like an HBO series! It’s 1,000 pages, but well worth the cost of admission as Miller interviews over 700 employees and creatives that built the HBO brand. The book covers corporate politics, sports, documentaries, films and TV series. Fun facts: The FCC approved Pay TV in the U.S. in 1968, HBO started in 1972 by Sterling Communications (a NYC cable company) Time Inc. purchased HBO in the 70s. Its initial offering was mainly old movies and live events, like a Polka dance tournament! Time Inc. acquired Warner Communications in 1989 making them the biggest content producer at the time. Time now owned HBO and Warner Bros. studios. This is why you have Warner Bros. movies today. In the 80s, HBO launched many comics' careers with its stand-up specials, but failed to create sitcoms for them because the then CEO thought they couldn’t compete with the networks. A huge miss at the time, they could’ve had Roseanne, Home Improvement and In Living Color. They even passed on Friends due to financing! If Fox paid David Chase $10K more per episode they would’ve had the Sopranos. In 2001, Time Warner merged with AOL after being pressured to develop a digital strategy. This was during the fall of dial-up and the rise of broadband. The Time Warner investors rejected a bid for Netflix in 2006 when it was only valued at $1 billion. They had the same investors as Netflix and they wanted them separate which fucked HBO. Shows HBO could’ve had: Madmen - they thought they had too many NYC shows Breaking Bad - could they have Walter White after Tony Soprano? Too much unlikeability. The Crown - The head of programming had an issue with the creator Time Warner tried to sell to Apple and Disney in 2015, but both passed. Imagine the HBO/Warner library on Disney+ now! They ended up selling to AT&T for $109 billion. If you love HBO series you will learn how each one came into existence by the people that made them. It’s a fascinating read for any television fan. Thanks Henry Holt for this copy!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Martin

    What an infuriating book! James Andrew Miller, the author of "Live From New York" (an excellent oral history of Saturday Night Live) spent three years conducting over 700 interviews to write this book about HBO. It felt like it took me three years to plod through nearly 1000 pages of the most schizophrenic book ever about the history, programming, corporate maneuverings, mergers, personnel conflicts, shifts, backstabbings, loyalties, and monetary wheelings and dealings at HBO. It is saved somewh What an infuriating book! James Andrew Miller, the author of "Live From New York" (an excellent oral history of Saturday Night Live) spent three years conducting over 700 interviews to write this book about HBO. It felt like it took me three years to plod through nearly 1000 pages of the most schizophrenic book ever about the history, programming, corporate maneuverings, mergers, personnel conflicts, shifts, backstabbings, loyalties, and monetary wheelings and dealings at HBO. It is saved somewhat for me when the book gets into the programming parts. (That's the ONLY thing preventing me from giving this book a one-star rating.) I enjoyed reading about The Sopranos, Deadwood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Wire, Vinyl, Treme, Rome, Succession, Veep, etc.... but even the great behind the scenes stories involving these great shows are sandwiched into long chapters involving corporate politics that are mind-numbingly boring. It also needs to be noted that the author seems to cover documentary and sports programming and go very light on HBO's comedy offerings (great series such as Mr. Show are not even mentioned). So much description is given the documentary offerings that it left me thinking "Enough already... we don't need to dwell on every 40-minute short doc that was created." I think the book should have been two books. One that dealt with the programming, which actually would have been a good read. One that was all the other parts dealing with the corporate structures and wheelings, dealings, finances and hiring and firings...which could be used in lieu of waterboarding.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Peterson

    Journalist James Andrew Miller’s 1,000 page Tinderbox is an exhaustive oral history about the transformation of HBO from humble beginnings to the popular streaming service, HBO Max, that it is today. This examination is chock-full of juicy tidbits from over 750 interviews and covering everything from mergers, conflicts, analysis, politics, celebrity and shocking surprises. While the daunting size certainly makes it a labor of love, it is both highly entertaining and insightful. I picked away at Journalist James Andrew Miller’s 1,000 page Tinderbox is an exhaustive oral history about the transformation of HBO from humble beginnings to the popular streaming service, HBO Max, that it is today. This examination is chock-full of juicy tidbits from over 750 interviews and covering everything from mergers, conflicts, analysis, politics, celebrity and shocking surprises. While the daunting size certainly makes it a labor of love, it is both highly entertaining and insightful. I picked away at this one over the span of a few months. I appreciated I was able to bounce in and out of it without feeling lost. For the most part, this was quite entertaining but I did find it a bit daunting at times when it got into analytics and business deals (which admittedly is a good chunk of the book). I loved the writing as an oral history with lots of accompanying photos. The style made it an intimate, behind closed doors type read. I have a thing for celebrity gossip and entertainment and HBO has always fascinated me—where did they come up with the shows? How do they choose the actors? Who had the guts to continually push the boundaries so brazenly? How did they start out? And so on. Tinderbox answers those intriguing questions and more. After reading this, it’s also easy to see just how pivotal HBO was in shaping our experience with television and one could certainly argue programming wouldn’t be what it is today if not for the network. 3.5 stars. Thank you to Henry Holt and Company for the copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    A 1000 page oral history about HBO. 1000 pages! There's just not enough there to justify the length. The oral history format is very readable, but it became a slog to read through. Several things about the book didn't work for me. - It decided it wanted to be an encyclopedic commentary on everything HBO has ever produced, leaving nothing out. That made it simultaneously too long and too superficial in parts. I think it would have benefitted from just picking the ones that really mattered and goin A 1000 page oral history about HBO. 1000 pages! There's just not enough there to justify the length. The oral history format is very readable, but it became a slog to read through. Several things about the book didn't work for me. - It decided it wanted to be an encyclopedic commentary on everything HBO has ever produced, leaving nothing out. That made it simultaneously too long and too superficial in parts. I think it would have benefitted from just picking the ones that really mattered and going more into depth. - It could use a stronger editorial voice. You get all these different perspectives for balance, but because of that frequently come away with no good sense of who these people are, if they're good or bad, or even what the point is of talking about them at all. - That's the biggest issue - the lesson (to me) of HBO is that the process that leads to great content is what makes the difference. This book could have heeded that lesson. It's not like SNL or ESPN (his other oral histories that I enjoyed) where the people are the story. Here it's the content that's the story, and it often got lost in favor of people I really didn't care about or could even keep track of. Worst is that a huge chunk of the book is about business and political dealings that are tedious, difficult to follow, and (to me) irrelevant. In the end I finished the last page and I'd consumed a bunch of facts but I can't tell you what the story is. What's it all about? It doesn't hold together.

  24. 4 out of 5

    R.

    Sorry to say: 0.5 star, rounded up. * Open to the possibility that, "it's not you, it's me." * But, speaking as a lover of pop culture, "behind-the-scenes" journalism, and oral histories... * And, having read and generally enjoyed this author's books on ESPN and SNL... * This tome felt like the result of a great deal of research, but little to no investment in actual writing. * Oral histories can be powerful in providing first-hand accounts of pivotal events, but the best oral histories do more than Sorry to say: 0.5 star, rounded up. * Open to the possibility that, "it's not you, it's me." * But, speaking as a lover of pop culture, "behind-the-scenes" journalism, and oral histories... * And, having read and generally enjoyed this author's books on ESPN and SNL... * This tome felt like the result of a great deal of research, but little to no investment in actual writing. * Oral histories can be powerful in providing first-hand accounts of pivotal events, but the best oral histories do more than reproduce words and intersperse quotes. * Respect for the author conducting hundreds of interviews among hundreds of HBO stakeholders, both behind and in front of the cameras, but there was far too much information and far too little editing. * Many stretches of this book were long, unfiltered, and frankly uninteresting monologues from boardroom executives. Yes, their commitment to content undeniably pushed HBO to the forefront of "peak TV" and its effects (for better or for worse) on our society. But, frequently their contributions to this book appear most concerned with claiming credit, burnishing egos and reputations, and settling scores. * Readers looking for insights into specific HBO series/shows will be better served by reading any number of articles, profiles, or books on their specific interest.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Muffin

    This was fairly interesting. It was, as expected, reverential to the current group of execs at HBO (who would trash talk their current boss in print?) but had people getting pretty honest about problems with previous administrations. I was delighted to learn more about Sheila Nevins, a major figure in documentary about whom I knew nothing. I was very frustrated that a small number of my favorite shows got no mention here (like Bored to Death and Getting On) and I was very surprised by how little This was fairly interesting. It was, as expected, reverential to the current group of execs at HBO (who would trash talk their current boss in print?) but had people getting pretty honest about problems with previous administrations. I was delighted to learn more about Sheila Nevins, a major figure in documentary about whom I knew nothing. I was very frustrated that a small number of my favorite shows got no mention here (like Bored to Death and Getting On) and I was very surprised by how little Insecure there was - mostly about the development of the Issa/Molly relationship at the show’s center. It’s an oral history so the interstitial bits by the author were almost punishingly noncommittal. Very interesting stuff early on about the development of various cable business models in the 70s and some very funny stuff later on about how HBO couldn’t figure out streaming. This book strongly suggests that AT&T’s merger with Warner was the death of whatever HBO’s Brand ever was. I suppose time will tell, but every interview with an AT&T executive is like the stupidest paragraph of business-speak you’ll ever read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Natalie (readswithnatalieb)

    Having worked in TV for about seven years, this book was fascinating. Not only that, but I worked for Warner Media and knew a lot of the insights that happened towards the end of the book with the AT&T and Discovery merger. It was kind of surreal reading about everything I lived through, but from an HBO perspective. From a fan perspective, I love HBO shows. I loved the history in learning how HBO shows were vetted (or lack there of), and truly how each show came about. Each show has its own avenu Having worked in TV for about seven years, this book was fascinating. Not only that, but I worked for Warner Media and knew a lot of the insights that happened towards the end of the book with the AT&T and Discovery merger. It was kind of surreal reading about everything I lived through, but from an HBO perspective. From a fan perspective, I love HBO shows. I loved the history in learning how HBO shows were vetted (or lack there of), and truly how each show came about. Each show has its own avenue, truly explaining how just because you did it one way for a hit show, doesn’t mean you can use that formula again. There were a lot of components to this book, probably would’ve been better to break it up in multiple stories. One for the history of its programming, the inner workings of HBO and the executives, as well as the shows themselves. I know each reader will gravitate towards one topic more than others which is why I feel it should’ve been divided up (spoiler: it’s almost 1000 pages). While I feel like I learned a lot about HBO, I think only the surface was truly scratched. Big thank you to Henry Holt and Co. for the gifted copy!!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick Stubbs

    Just want to start by saying I love James Andrew Miller. I’ve read all his books (some are definitely better than others).I just absolutely love his writing style. It’s so unique and it reads like a documentary talking head piece. I had been following the arrival of this book for some time and I even pre-ordered it on Amazon so I could begin reading it the day it came out. I began reading it thinking this would delve deeper into the back of office drama in making some of my favorite shows like th Just want to start by saying I love James Andrew Miller. I’ve read all his books (some are definitely better than others).I just absolutely love his writing style. It’s so unique and it reads like a documentary talking head piece. I had been following the arrival of this book for some time and I even pre-ordered it on Amazon so I could begin reading it the day it came out. I began reading it thinking this would delve deeper into the back of office drama in making some of my favorite shows like the sopranos the wire game of thrones and entourage. While they did touch on this a little bit, the better part of the book was centered on corporate takeovers, successors to the HBO throne, and competition. The book was also almost 1000 pages which is FAR too long. He repeated stories a few times in different ways. Kind of felt like the editor said “ok this things a beast and it’s Christmas so publish!” All in all, it’s my least favorite James Andrew Miller book though I still love his writing and I’ll read anything he does.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This started as a 3 and then went down all the way to a 1 as I finished it. 1,000 pages of history of HBO is far too much. The oral history format for almost 1,000 pages is far too much. While covering in detail seminal shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Game of Thrones, Miller somehow neglects to mention at all Mr. Show but does manage to talk about a show no one remembers called The Mind of a Married Man. Length and formatting issues aside, Miller also manages to barely cover in any meani This started as a 3 and then went down all the way to a 1 as I finished it. 1,000 pages of history of HBO is far too much. The oral history format for almost 1,000 pages is far too much. While covering in detail seminal shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Game of Thrones, Miller somehow neglects to mention at all Mr. Show but does manage to talk about a show no one remembers called The Mind of a Married Man. Length and formatting issues aside, Miller also manages to barely cover in any meaningful way multiple physical assaults by executives from within the company and go to bat for Bill Maher, for whatever reason. Executives get most of the "screen time," and most sound bites from non-executives are writers and actors tripping over themselves to say how great HBO is and how important their characters were. The only actors who seemed to have some self-awareness were Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke talking Game of Thrones and Keira Knightley talking Mare of Easttown.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter Knox

    I’ve read all their oral histories…. SNL, ESPN, and CAA - now they add another storied sprawling salacious acronym to the list, HBO. This really long book is long for a reason - there’s hundreds of interviews with quotes from key players in HBO’s history going back from the 60s to today. Now I didn’t get cable until I went to college - but everyone wanted a sleepover at the parents who had HBO. Yes, practically every show ever is covered in chronological order with how it came to be and how it e I’ve read all their oral histories…. SNL, ESPN, and CAA - now they add another storied sprawling salacious acronym to the list, HBO. This really long book is long for a reason - there’s hundreds of interviews with quotes from key players in HBO’s history going back from the 60s to today. Now I didn’t get cable until I went to college - but everyone wanted a sleepover at the parents who had HBO. Yes, practically every show ever is covered in chronological order with how it came to be and how it ended, with lots of trivia and gossip and behind the scenes drama. I expected and it delivered - interesting even for shows I haven’t seen. The unexpected part had to do with covering their business model; how it took off with piggybacking on satellites, to cable provider affiliates, to mergers and acquisitions (Time Warner, AOL, etc). This was fascinating in a way a straightforward business book would never deliver. But it’s not for everyone and I doubt everyone would enjoy all of this book. Fun if you have the interest or time but not life changing. Just made me want to watch tv.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    The principal weakness with this book is the dichotomy of the subjects. SNL, ESPN, and CAA all had the benefit of being by singular individuals as main characters. HBO is as much as the creatives as the various corporate overlords, and it divides the history a little too heavily. Miller has learned to include more interstitials than this other books where he provides some clue as to what the interviewees are talking about, which would have greatly benefited Powerhouse. The other weakness that hol The principal weakness with this book is the dichotomy of the subjects. SNL, ESPN, and CAA all had the benefit of being by singular individuals as main characters. HBO is as much as the creatives as the various corporate overlords, and it divides the history a little too heavily. Miller has learned to include more interstitials than this other books where he provides some clue as to what the interviewees are talking about, which would have greatly benefited Powerhouse. The other weakness that holds this back is the organization is certainly not chronological and is scattershot. Execs leave or get fired in one chapter, and then the next chapter is back to discussing what they did that came out after they left. Focus on shows was likewise choppy: Entourage got introduced and then a few chapters later got a few paragraphs about cancellation 8 years later.

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