One day in 1997, a package arrived at the Santa Monica office of a former comedian and talent agent named Chris Albrecht. Inside the package was a script for a pilot episode of a new TV show which told the story of a relatively successful family man named Tommy who was quietly struggling to make sense of some personal and professional issues.
Albrecht, who was now the senior vice president in charge of the premium cable network HBO's original programming division, and his second in command, Carolyn Strauss, were on the lookout for new shows.
But the Home Box Office team wasn't looking for just any new show. Albrecht's team had devised a plan that hinged on finding a new kind of television show with compelling characters. The kind of compelling character Albrecht and Strauss were thinking of transcended the likes of a crafty, but lovable teenager such as Mike Seaver of Growing Pains; the adorably neurotic singles on Friends; or even a gruff yet funny blue-collar housewife like Roseanne from her eponymous show. A “compelling character,” the way the original programming division defined the term, meant a character that was truly original—someone unlike anyone you'd find on any television network circa 1997. They believed that a lineup of shows like that would transform their division, and maybe even their company.
During the first few years of Chris Albrecht's tenure at HBO in the late 1980s, the fledgling original programming division—which ...