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HBO Dramatic Series

Television | By The Top 13 on April 28, 2010

With the recent premieres of Treme, the latest show from virtuoso creator David Simon, and The Pacific, an epic follow-up to Band of Brothers, HBO has again debuted both an original drama series and a miniseries that have people talking. While time will tell if Treme will stand among the network's best shows, we decided to take a look at the Top 13 HBO Dramatic Series. The quality of the entrants on this list speaks to HBO's role as the leading producer of compelling television, and many quality series and miniseries did not make the cut, including Simon's own Generation Kill, Empire Falls, and the short-lived but intriguing John from Cincinnati. Please note that the video clips below, being from premium cable shows, may contain (quite a lot of) profanity.

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The Wire


The Wire

2002-2008 (Series)

One of the greatest television shows of all time, David Simon's The Wire transcends the medium with its blend of gripping character drama and vital social commentary. The show's authenticity, complexity, and depth have led to universities offering courses on it, but unfortunately those attributes did not bring in big ratings. Despite the fact that the show featured few established actors, dozens of cast members (many of whom were amateurs) shine throughout the show's five seasons.

The Sopranos


The Sopranos

1999-2007 (Series)

The most successful of any of HBO's original series, The Sopranos established the network as a major player in original programming. Despite HBO's limited viewer base, this show regularly drew bigger audiences than competing network programming and was a cultural sensation. It is rightfully viewed as one of the most groundbreaking television shows of all time and was the first cable series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.

Six Feet Under


Six Feet Under

2001-2005 (Series)

Unlike the top two entries on this list, Six Feet Under is a more personal and introspective drama and perhaps the television show to deal most heavily with the topic of death. Creator Alan Ball's excellent scripts are brought to life by an excellent ensemble cast that earned multiple Emmy nominations nearly every year of the show's five-season run.

Band of Brothers


Band of Brothers

2001 (Miniseries)

This ten-part miniseries based on Stephen Ambrose's novel was executive produced by Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks following their successful collaboration on Saving Private Ryan. The show - which had a record-breaking budget of $125 million - chronicles the trials of Easy Company, a parachute infantry regiment of the U.S. Army. The series was nominated for 19 Emmy awards, winning six, and also won a Golden Globe for best miniseries.




1997-2003 (Series)

Created by Tom Fontana, who like David Simon previously worked on the excellent Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz is a gritty drama about life at the Oswald State Correctional Facility. The first one-hour drama produced by HBO, this show fully embraced the freedoms of premium cable and is chock full of male nudity, profanity, and shocking violence. While the show did not haul in the number of awards that other HBO dramas have captured, it maintains a dedicated following to this day.

Angels in America


Angels in America

2003 (Miniseries)

Adapted from Tony Kushner's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America broke records at the time for most Emmys awarded to a program in a single year, with 11 wins on 21 nominations. The story, a political and personal tale about AIDS in the mid-1980s, is delivered by a star-studded cast featuring Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, and Mary-Louise Parker.

The Corner


The Corner

2000 (Miniseries)

David Simon's six-part miniseries The Corner was the predecessor to The Wire. Both shows - which feature many of the same actors - focus on the impact of the drug trade in inner-city Baltimore and are riveting, yet bleak, tales of urban life and the drug trade. The show offers an intimate and bleak view of one family's struggle to avoid the cycle of addiction and violence. Directed by Charles S. Dutton, The Corner won three Emmys, including for best miniseries. It also proves that the former Roc star deserves more directorial opportunities.




2004-2006 (Series)

Deadwood must have packed in more profanities per hour of programming than any show in the history of television. According to creator David Milch, who is also responsible for NYPD Blue, the anachronistic profanity was used because accurate period slang sounded ridiculous, and the lawlessness of the town - 1870s Deadwood, South Dakota - and the characters had to be conveyed. Despite a loyal following and critical praise, the show was canceled after three seasons.




2005-2007 (Series)

With a strong ensemble cast, this epic series chronicles the lives of two common men, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, as they play a part in various historical events surrounding the rise of the Roman Empire. The series, developed under contract with the BBC, only lasted two seasons due to its massive budget and grand scope, though a film continuation has been rumored.

John Adams


John Adams

2008 (Miniseries)

Examining the life of the chronically overlooked founding father and his role in the formation of the United States, John Adams is one of the finest productions of any kind dealing with revolutionary America. The seven-part miniseries is driven by the gripping performances of Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams; the pair swept the Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards for best actor and actress in a miniseries or TV movie. All told, the miniseries was nominated for 23 Emmys and beat Angels in America's record with 13 wins.

Big Love


Big Love

2006-present (Series)

Although Big Love has taken a bit of a sideways turn after its excellent first two seasons, we still think it is one of HBO's better original series. Created by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, two relative newcomers to the world of television, this show examines the lives of the polygamous Henrickson family, led by its patriarch Bill, a home improvement store owner and political aspirant. But the more interesting portions of the plot involve the relationships between the Henrickson sister wives and the often sordid affairs of the characters' extended families.




2003-2005 (Series)

Few shows have as fascinating a setup as Carnivàle. It follows a traveling carnival in the 1930s Dustbowl that includes a young man named Ben Hawkins, a psychic who can bring the dead back to life. His powers are mirrored in the sinister Brother Justin, a California preacher with a mysterious connection to Hawkins. The cinematography and art direction in this series are especially superb. Dwindling ratings caused the show's unfortunate cancelation after two seasons, leaving many of its mysteries unresolved.

True Blood


True Blood

2008-present (Series)

While we are not the biggest fans of True Blood, the latest from Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball, it is undeniably stylish, sexy, and popular. The show loosely follows the adventures of a psychic girl named Sookie Stackhouse in a world where vampires have integrated into society. With this premise and other supernatural creatures such as shapeshifters, the show packs in plenty of violence, blood, and sex into every episode. What's most interesting about True Blood is its word-of-mouth success; it premiered with very low ratings which have gradually increased to the point that it has become HBO's second-most watched series, trailing only The Sopranos.

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Comments Leave a comment

tloveisready ★★

Carnivale should be MUCH MUCH MUCH higher on this list. That series was shockingly original, and nothing has come close since then.

6:08 AM   Apr 28, 2010


Curb at the top of the comedic list.

6:38 AM   Apr 28, 2010


I could see that Carnival was good, but it was too weird for me. I need to sit down and watch the Wire, and because I haven't, I would rate 6 Feet Under #1. It truly is my favorite show of all time, and it ended perfectly.

8:15 AM   Apr 28, 2010


I agree with tlove that Carnivale should be higher. It's easily one of the creepiest series in television history. And as stated in the blurb, the cinematography on that show was beyond amazing.

10:05 AM   Apr 28, 2010

stillathreat ★★

While I see the shout out to John From Cincinnati in the introduction, I think it definitely should have made this list over True Blood. I know True Blood is popular, but John From Cinci was so underrated and definitely should have been given a second season.

10:34 AM   Apr 28, 2010


deadwood higherer

12:21 PM   Apr 28, 2010


The Wire is pretty much the greatest television series of all time.

I think Generation Kill should have made the cut. Rome and True Blood should be off the list - and I like both. Rome was great in its first season, but the second season was so obviously rushed and poorly acted it ruined the whole thing for me. True Blood is great as mindless entertainment but nowhere near the dramatic caliber. I think that John From Cincinnati and Carnivale are possibly the two most prematurely cancelled TV series of all time. I'm still pissed as hell about not knowing who John was. I cant imagine the budget was huge for that one - they could have just moved it to a less desirable time slot and waited for the cult following to propel post-airing viewership, dvd and internet revenue.

1:32 PM   Apr 28, 2010


I always thought John was Jesus. And I agree that show should not have been canceled.

1:48 PM   Apr 28, 2010


BIG LOVE is just about the best written, best cast, and best directed series in three decades. Carnivale is an unfinished masterpiece, a heartbreaker that it was not continued.

8:08 PM   Apr 28, 2010


BAND OF BROTHERS & TRUE BLOOD should be on top of the list.

9:07 PM   Apr 28, 2010


I totally disagree. I admit I have not had a chance to watch many of them but True Blood deserves better than 13 and Carnivale, better than a 12.

9:39 PM   Apr 28, 2010

jason ★★

The disagreement over rankings of these shows just proves how excellent HBO's programming has been. Very good series were left off this list entirely, and if any of the top 5 had been lower, people would be saying to move those up. All of these shows have big fans.

11:05 AM   Apr 30, 2010


it's true HBO have some of the best shows around, and it all comes down to a matter of opinion in the end.

12:07 AM   Mar 19, 2012


The Pacific has been great, and easily ranks above the John Adams and Angels in America mini-series. Rome was a great guilty pleasure, although as far as quality it does not deserve to be among the best.

12:26 PM   Apr 30, 2010


We didn't have HBO when most of these series were on, but own 5 of the 13, and have watched 2 more. My favorites are The Wire, Oz, and Band of Brothers. I have watched them over and over and over. Even though the actors might have been "little known" at the time, I see them in lots of shows and movies now. Wonderful acting, scripts, directing - just the best!

2:11 PM   Apr 30, 2010


No Entourage?

7:53 AM   May 07, 2010

jason ★★

More of a comedy, no?

2:02 PM   May 07, 2010


just watching OZ and it's so amazing,definitely deserved number one on this list

8:27 AM   Feb 11, 2011


Definitley Agree Oz Should be number one with out a doubt

8:22 PM   Apr 13, 2011


no 1: Carnivale
no 2: Deadwood
no 3: The Wire

8:57 AM   Mar 04, 2011


Time to update this list - bring 'True Blood' up a bit (a lot), and I'd put Carnivale MUCH higher too. Also, definitely add 'Boardwalk Empire.' JMO, but a good jumping off point here: [url][/url]

9:24 AM   Oct 01, 2011


Carnivale definately deserves a place on this list, though I feel it should be higher. Nothing in that show is an accident, it's all woven together so intricately that it is perhaps the most complex and enthralling show I've ever watched! Considering it was originally planned as a 6 season show it's crushing to think of what we'll never see especially given that incredible ending... I was literally screaming at the TV watching it!

aside from that glad to see Oz made it on, thats another heart wrencher, while i love True Blood, I feels it's a bit of a fad at the moment and doesn't really belong on the list, I think Band of Brothers is exactly where it needs to be and I would probably move Sopranos a little lower, it was good but not THAT good.

12:05 AM   Mar 19, 2012


of course the wire is tha best ever. no doubt
i wonder why entourage is not in the list...

4:10 AM   Apr 11, 2012

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