An average TV viewer has hundreds of options to watch on any given time slot, so if he or she chooses to pay extra money for a special channel, it better deliver on what it promises. HBO and Showtime are two channels that offer movies - both new and old - and quality television programming. Usually the shows are inappropriate for regular cable, and they are given more freedom to be daring, innovative, and crude.

HBO has been showing new movies and producing popular television since 1977, while Showtime focused more on boxing championships and premiering impressive short independent films. These two channels have been competing for decades, and for a long time HBO seemed to have the edge due to its hit series and regular mainstream movies. Is Showtime destined to become second place, or is a coup on the rise? Read further and see for yourself:


This charming show is bizarre, laugh-out-loud funny, and has some really fantastic music in it. The "Flight of the Conchords" is about a folk duo from New Zealand who have come to New York City to find fame. It's based off the real lives of stars Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie who play fictional versions of themselves in the show. The other characters are their band manager, their biggest fan/stalker, and a handful of other eccentric people who come in and out of the show. The two start singing in the show as if it was a real-life musical, and they usually represent either the inner mind of the musicians or something in the plot. Strange but compelling, this show is certainly new and different, and HBO enjoys nurturing shows that usually would drop off the radar. The second season will be aired in 2009.

"Big Love" is about a polygamous Mormon family in Utah, starring Bill Paxton, Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and a huge cast of talented actors. It started off as a popular series mostly because people were interested in the secret life of Mormons, and it was a way to understand a culture that may be alien to them. The show managed to draw the viewer in due to its compelling characters, moral dilemmas, and dramatic storylines. There is a constant element of danger for the family since polygamy is illegal. Then there is the struggle between the wives, a struggle with the children for their feelings regarding polygamy, and the political battles at Juniper Creek. This show is packed with things both common and uncommon, and it is very well put together. Last season saw Barb leaving the family and trying to come to terms with her life. The third season will air at the beginning of 2009.

Love him or hate him, Larry David has a way of making his viewers feel something. Usually that feeling is awkward, but in that humorous way that made "Seinfeld" such a hit show. "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is based on David's life after his sitcom ended as a semi-retired writer, and it is shot with hand-held cameras. A great deal of the scenes are improvised, and it boasts a huge amount of celebrity guest stars with most people playing themselves or versions of themselves on the screen. Each season has a loose plot or barely connected plot, giving it the freedom to go where it likes. This show had somewhat of a cult following at first, but it has now grown to enjoy a larger audience and has been nominated for Emmy and a Golden Globe awards. This show can be difficult to like and yet difficult to turn off at the same time. It will have a seventh season.

Technically this show should not be on the list since it has already been cancelled. This just goes to show how disappointing it was for HBO. The show revolved around three couples with problems and struggles in their relationships, and they all go to a therapist for help, who has issues with her own husband. Since "In Treatment" managed to use the therapist with various clients to its advantage, this show sort of piddled off into nothing. It never felt very focused, like the writers were uncertain where it was going to go, and the characters felt less like people and more like constructs used by the writers to explore what they wanted. It felt forced and wooden, and clearly the viewers agreed as it held very low ratings. The show was rumored to have a second season, but instead it was cancelled. HBO needs a hit new show, and this was not going to be it.


Based off a series of novels, "Dexter" shocked everyone with its arrival to mainstream and how quickly it was embraced by the viewers. One would think that a show about a serial killer who works for the police as a blood spatter analyst would not really be so beloved, but this show gained great attention and Emmy nominations. Dexter Morgan is a a man who was traumatized at a young age, and when he showed signs of sociopath behavior his adopted father policeman taught Dexter how to use his violent urges to take out villains. Dexter kills only other murderers and rapists. He also struggles to keep a normal life with his gentle girlfriend Rita, his tumultuous sister Deb, and his regular job at the police department. Michael C. Hall stars as the main character and is both haunting and dryly amusing in this ambiguous role. "Dexter" will be beginning its third season this September.

Welcome to modern day suburbia where soccer moms become drug dealers and slowly unravel their perfectly put together lives. This is the story of Nancy Botwin who is widowed unexpectedly and becomes a marijuana dealer to support her two sons and their expensive lifestyle. Starring the ever impressive Mary Louise Parker and an excellent supportive cast, this show has been both acclaimed and lauded for its controversial central plot. A strange mix of dark comedy and serious drama, "Weeds" can be depressing, hilarious, and alarming. Currently the show is in its fourth season, and is still going strong.

Hey, remember that King who got married six times, killed some of his wives, and started a religious battle between the Roman church and Church of England? He was the father of Queen Elizabeth. Yes, that one. Showtime decided to put a giant spotlight on 16th century England to explore the kingdom of Henry VIII. There has always been a wide fascination with the Tudor family - just take a look at the historical fiction sections of movies and books, and this show brings it to life in a vivid visual feast. The costumes, designs and settings are simply beautiful, and the sexy, dangerous court of Henry - played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers - is enticing to watch. The second season found Anne Boleyn's fall from favor and beheading, and season three will be broadcasting next year.

This show is based on the blogs of Belle de Jour, a London call girl. It stars Billie Piper as Belle and is already approved for a second and third season. The second season was filmed while Piper was heavily pregnant. Usually a show about sex, drugs, money, and love games would go well on this network, but there doesn't seem to be anything really new in this show. On a channel where the shock value is no longer everything, there needs to be something more to a show than just 'omg, it's about a high class hooker, how shocking!' Does anyone really care about Belle, or are they more interested in her strangely more intriguing and three dimensional clients? This show may be continuing, but it needs to be more than mediocre in terms of plot and character development if it wants to gain more interest than a passing glance.

Interestingly enough, while HBO may have the quantity of quality programming ("Sopranos," "Sex and the City," "Oz", "Carnivale"), its power has been abruptly stuck with the loss of the highest rated shows. Showtime's strongest shows are in production right now, and HBO is in a serious fight for the crown.

These two channels are constantly trying to show they can create new and fresh ideas, so new programs are very important to them. For HBO, vampire drama "True Blood" starts this fall, and "A Song of Ice and Fire" and "Preacher" have been announced. "Ice and Fire" is based off an incredibly popular fantasy series by George R. R. Martin, and "Preacher" is from a wild and beloved comic book series. Showtime has "I Can't Believe I'm Still Single" which started this year, and the network picked up HBO's cancelled "Inside the NFL." Showtime might want to grab a few new projects to keep up, because even if they are a little stronger at the moment, that can change in a single season. This competition is far from over, in fact, it's probably just getting started.

Story by Chelsea 'Dee' Doyle
Starpulse contributing writer