At cable’s inception, there was CNN for news, ESPN for sports, HBO for Movies and Cinemax for movies with boobs in it. That was pretty much the deal. Time and channel expansion have changed that.
For a time it seemed like the expansion to 400 channels would make the world of cable even less appealing and the quality would be thinly spread. It sure was throughout most of the 90’s. For a show to have realistic dialogue and action, like the Soprano’s, it was necessary to put it on a pay channel. The direct result of that trend was to open up a breeding ground where the best writers and show-runners could tell great stories over a longer arc than maybe they could in a film.
Also, the tendency of networks such as HBO and more recently Showtime, is to have a more hands-off approach with producers than a network gernerally would. When you don’t have advertisers to answer to, the network executive’s first thought becomes “Is this show going to entertain and absorb an audience?,” rather than “Is this show going to sell Brawny’s absorbant paper towels?”
For quality examples of this freedom, try these programs.
-The Larry Sanders Show