HBO Growing Quickly in U.S. with Live Performances

Home Box Office Reaches 750,000 Subscribers Thanks to Specials

The rash of network tv spex beginning this month and continuing through the fall are not the only shows in town. Time Inc.’s Home Box Office feevee operation, via a satellite web of some 360 cable tv affiliates, is just completing Jerry Lewis and Neil Sedaka spex in the L.A. area, and also is planning to do other spex with Frank Gorshin (in San Francisco), Casino de Paris (in Paris), and Gladys Knight & The Pips, Ray Charles and Soupy Sales (all in L.A.).

To a large degree these are live, in-concert performances, edited for length only, and transferred to an uninterrupted format for pay-cable. The threat that always has loomed large with feevee seemingly is being realized with HBO’s competitive grab of major talents. The spex are going into some 750,000 subscriber homes around the country.

“We’re real pleased with what’s been happening,” says Michael Fuchs, HBO’s veepee for spex and sports.

“We’re getting bigger and bigger talents. We’re doing stuff all over the world. We’re going to Paris in October, for instance. Nobody has seen Sedaka on television the way he was at the Universal Amphitheater. His network special will not hold a candle to our show.”

Sedaka was taped in live performance on Aug. 27, with HBO using four standard and two hand-held cameras. He was taped in one go (although HBO sometimes, because of technical problems, tapes two or three shows of a performer and edits together the best of each), but only after weeks of preparation.

“We call our technique video verite,” said Fuchs, “but people are mistaken when they think I mean you just go in and shoot without preparation.”

HBO will be taping Gladys Knight & The Pips and Ray Charles at LA’s Greek Theater on Sept. 22-23; Frank Gorshin at the Fairmont Hotel, also later this month; Soupy Sales at L.A.’s Comedy Store, Sept. 9.

The spex, divided into two categories of “Standing Room Only” (a sort of portrait of the artist behind as well as in front of the footlights) and “On Location” (a showcase for nitery talent), are scheduled on the basis of one segment of each aeries every month.

Typically, the spex run between an hour and two hours in length with 90-minutes being the norm. Reports an HBO spokesperson: “What we’ve done in the past is usually show the premiere or original performance of the special three or four times on separate nights.

“We want to show them enough for subscribers’ convenience without making them think that we’re repeating all of the time. Then we let them rest, usually for three months, before bringing them back as a special repeat performance.”

The “On Location” series of spex, started on a regular basis in March, 1976, has included performances by David Steinberg, Robert Klein. Mort Sahl, Freddie Prinze, David Brenner, George Carlin and Phyllis Diller.

“Standing Room Only,” on as a regular presentation since February, 1977, has profiled Bette Midler. Raquel Welch, Totie Fields and Paul Anka, among other performers.

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