That Time HBO Signed Off

This month, we’re talking pay television and subscription-based cable.  Today’s topic isn’t of a defunct service or network, but rather, a defunct practice by that network.

But First…

I kicked off April with a look at the short-lived subscription-based service Tele1st, which lived, breathed, and descrambled programming for a whole five months in 1984 on ABC’s Chicago owned-and-operated network after that network signed off.

The idea of sign offs in itself has become a defunct practice (but probably not as famously as scrambled UHF programming has), which lead me to today’s topic.  Now, I took that idea and worked it on a different level, rather than treading the ground of the local channel sign-off (it has been done before), and take it to the subscriber-based network level.

Yes, there was a time when “movie channels” signed off!

Goodnight, We’re Signing Off!

Home Box Office (a name that was later de-emphasized in identity as the network name was shortened to HBO) was launched on November 8, 1972 to 325 subscribers in Wilkes -Barre, Pennsylvania, and later went national in 1975.  However large their coverage, though, they were not a 24/7 network, and like basic cable before them, signed off at night.  I find it hard to believe that there was a world without a 24-hour movie channel, but signing off was common practice, and well, everyone did it.

There’s a joke about jumping off a bridge somewhere.

Anyway, HBO signing off…

From its beginning in 1972 until the end of 1981, HBO would sign off at the conclusion of its last scheduled program/movie for that evening at 12 am EST, and resume its programming at 3 pm the next day.

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On September 4, 1981, HBO first expanded to 24 hours on Friday beginning at 3 pm EST, and signing off on Sunday night/Monday morning at 12 am EST.

This is from that first weekend, on September 5, 1981.

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By December 28, 1981, the network went entirely with 24-hour programming.  By this time, Showtime and The Movie Channel had done the same just a few months earlier.  And since then, HBO has broadcast all day and night.

Because when you just can’t sleep, it is nice to know HBO is there for you.

The Sign Off Cartoon

Every night at network sign off, HBO had their own signature way of closing out their evening, featuring a short (50-second) cartoon of people preparing for bed.  The animation was very 1970s, as was the accompanying music, but it was a nice little transition to dead air and color bars.  If you had to go out, if only for thenight, may as well do it pleasantly, am I right?

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No images of patriotism, no scratchy recordings of music, just a nice little ease into the midnight hour from HBO.

I particularly love how the logo “shuts off the light” at the end…


Good night to you too!

Only The Beginning

Of course, this was only the beginning of what was to come for HBO, and movie-based channels as we knew it.  The move from nine hours a day to 24/7/365 was the next step.  The evolution of movie channels as we now know them is an incredible tale.

I was a longtime HBO subscriber and viewer – my parents had the channel in the 1980s, before switching to Showtime (I think we had both at one point), and back to HBO in the early 1990s.  I’m glad they did switch back to HBO, as it introduced me to Dennis Miller Live, many movies, and this glorious monument of beauty…

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You ran into the room everytime you heard it.  I did.

And to think, by the time we were watching this glorious moment, short days of HBO were a memory.

And Now, You!

Do you remember when HBO (or any other movie channel, for that matter) had limited broadcasting hours and did sign offs the way the “regular channels” did?

If you have a story for this, or anything else you’ve seen on these Do You Remember articles, I’d love to hear from you!  And bring your friends too!

Have a great day!


  1. Thank you so much for this information. I’m sitting with my wife’s grandparents who just casually mentioned they created the sign off cartoon for HBO late 70s. One quick search and I found your post with the cartoon! If anyone would like to know, that closing cartoon was created by the Ron Crawford ( who is still creating amazing art to this day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember sometime relatively recently, seeing the HBO listing in DirecTV’s guide have a long timeslot labeled “SIGN OFF”. It was just the DirecTV logo with some Music Choice station playing – the provider’s typical “there’s nothing here right now” behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HBO was a pretty decent channel for years, but whenever they started doing original programs regularly, like “Entourage,” “Oz” and “Sex and the City,” it probably got even better in some ways.


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