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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

    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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    the writing style isn’t for me but it was very interesting

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 5 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!

  9. 5 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    Everyone’s going to say this book is too long, but just skim past the shows you didn’t watch. It’s long because it’s trying to be at least three different books at once. 1) The history of every HBO show ever. 2) The history of the changing media landscape over the past 50 years. 3) The story of corporate executives, who seem more driven by ego than anything else, just constantly firing each other and thinking they’ll do everything better. I thought it had some amazing stories. I’m fascinated by J Everyone’s going to say this book is too long, but just skim past the shows you didn’t watch. It’s long because it’s trying to be at least three different books at once. 1) The history of every HBO show ever. 2) The history of the changing media landscape over the past 50 years. 3) The story of corporate executives, who seem more driven by ego than anything else, just constantly firing each other and thinking they’ll do everything better. I thought it had some amazing stories. I’m fascinated by Jerry Levin. I had also read about him in the book Fools Rush In and still don’t know what to make of him. Was he terrible or lucky or awesome or what?

  12. 5 out of 5

    Phil Simon

    I agree with many reviewers that Miller would have done well to trim about 150 pages. I don't mind a good, long text. Still, I sometimes thought that this was two books: 1. The business history of HBO 2. The backstory of some of its iconic shows Of course, the two are inextricably entwined, but Miller bites off more than he can chew. What's more, if the book is supposed to be a comprehensive history of the network and its most famous shows, then why does he exclude some? Mr. Show, The Life and Tim I agree with many reviewers that Miller would have done well to trim about 150 pages. I don't mind a good, long text. Still, I sometimes thought that this was two books: 1. The business history of HBO 2. The backstory of some of its iconic shows Of course, the two are inextricably entwined, but Miller bites off more than he can chew. What's more, if the book is supposed to be a comprehensive history of the network and its most famous shows, then why does he exclude some? Mr. Show, The Life and Times of Tim, and others don't make the cut—some of which ran for longer than one-season wonders. Good read. Less, however, would have been more.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Diego Leal

    Masterpiece. What an amazing book. JAM is such a great author. I love his style of interviewing people and putting together this phenomenal recount of the history of HBO, all the drama, the politics, the back stabbing, the funky stories behind all these movies, tv shows, and documentaries. If you like Media and Entertainment this book is for you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gus Casals

    I believe it's a fair warning to mention that there are two books in here: one about corporate maneuvers and related stuff and another about HBO, it's history, programming and legacy. Personally I'm far more interested in the second, which doesn't mean the former is not an engrossing read, but still I would have preferred a 500-pager with a tighter focus. I believe it's a fair warning to mention that there are two books in here: one about corporate maneuvers and related stuff and another about HBO, it's history, programming and legacy. Personally I'm far more interested in the second, which doesn't mean the former is not an engrossing read, but still I would have preferred a 500-pager with a tighter focus.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Davehbo

    Simply an incredible feat, creating a history of an entire network. Miller is a fantastic researcher who leaves no stone unturned.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kellen

    Really long oral history. It’s often interesting, but just way too long.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Jesse

    Thick and detailed oral history with lots of interesting stories. Still wish he would write instead of straight oral history

  18. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    jgjg

  19. 4 out of 5

    Owen

    An outstanding walk through the birth and many winding roads of one of the most creative entities in entertainment that has ever existed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pola Changnon

    Yes, it’s long and I totally skimmed the sports sections, but this oral history captures the uneven and often inexplicably difficult world of this creative industry. It’s not widgets, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more product or better quality. And good leadership is rare at the top of the pyramid so beneath that layer, folks often feel they have to fight for supremacy. The more recent section of the book was particularly interesting, given my own career adjacent to it. I def recommend if Yes, it’s long and I totally skimmed the sports sections, but this oral history captures the uneven and often inexplicably difficult world of this creative industry. It’s not widgets, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more product or better quality. And good leadership is rare at the top of the pyramid so beneath that layer, folks often feel they have to fight for supremacy. The more recent section of the book was particularly interesting, given my own career adjacent to it. I def recommend if you are in the business…you’ll see these names on all the shows you admire, even when they are no longer delivering for HBO.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nikhil Kumar

  22. 5 out of 5

    Todd Winther

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike Thompson

  24. 5 out of 5

    David C

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dhrubo Panika

  26. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  27. 5 out of 5

    Otjepietje

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia Pronin

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jack

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ken

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