‘Tinderbox’: New book goes behind the scenes at HBO, where executives play their own ‘Game of Thrones’

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In his new book “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers,” James Andrew Miller takes readers behind the scenes of the famous premium cable network. Photo by Robert Bomgardner.

The distinctive sound of crackling static might mean you’re about to watch  “Succession” or “Insecure” — or maybe you’re going back to some of the greatest hits: “The Sopranos,” “The Wire” or “Six Feet Under.” 

HBO is the subject of James Andrew Miller’s latest book, “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers.”

Miller has written oral histories about “Saturday Night Live,” ESPN and CAA. For “Tinderbox,” he talked to 600 people, including HBO employees, top media executives, and stars past and present. 

The result is a door stopper of a book with so much HBO history, KCRW’s The Business is going to take two episodes to cover just some of the drama in the nearly 50 years since HBO entered the world. 

The network has seen a lot of corporate intrigue and infighting, especially because it’s always been part of a larger company. 

This week, KCRW mostly focuses on HBO’s past, including the pivotal leadership of Michael Fuchs, who was CEO from 1984-1995. Above Fuchs in the hierarchy was Jerry Levin, a former programming executive at HBO who climbed the ladder and eventually ran all of Time Warner. Fuchs was restless and ambitious and in 1995, Levin gave him a promotion — putting him in charge of Warner Music Group as well as HBO. But Fuchs had his eye on Levin's job and was none too subtle about it.  Just six months after giving Fuchs that promotion, Levin fired him. 

Levin went on to oversee the disastrous Time Warner merger with AOL, a deal pulled off by AOL’s Steve Case. That tarnished Levin's legacy and by 2007, another former HBO chief, Jeff Bewkes, had risen to the top at Time Warner. 

Bewkes sold off much of the company in pieces and finally made the now-infamous deal to sell what remained — Warner Brothers, CNN, Turner and of course HBO — to AT&T. 

Miller’s book covers all that history, and for Kim Masters, it brought back a lot of memories of her days covering that media landscape.

Credits

Guest:

Host:

Kim Masters

Producer:

Kaitlin Parker