GL - Over a five-year period beginning in 1998, HBO premiered Sex and the City (1998), The Sopranos (1999), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000), Six Feet Under (2001), and The Wire (2002). That’s a DiMaggio-esque streak of hits, unparalleled in the unpredictable, ego- and money-fueled world of television. Which makes sense considering that at the time the network didn’t consider itself in the television business at all: It was in the HBO business. Unlike ossified, regular old TV, HBO was an exciting new world where breasts could be bared, F-bombs could be dropped, and Brian Benben was considered a leading man. The premium channel was blessed with an executive team committed to empowering cranky creators — can you imagine giving notes to David Chase, David Simon, or Larry David? — and an operating ethos that wasn’t tied to antiquated notions like “advertising” or “ratings.” Part of what HBO was selling was prestige: These were shows unavailable anywhere else, serialized conversation starters that dominated water coolers and Internet message boards. If you didn’t want to be left behind, you’d pay for the privilege of watching them. Sure, the shows were brilliant, but it isn’t hard to game the system when you’re playing by different rules.