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Cable’s biggest milestones

1972-1975: HBO takes off

The world’s first pay-cable station aired “Sometimes a Great Notion,” starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda, on Nov. 8, 1972. Time Inc.'s fledgling channel signified the cable industry’s first step toward changing the way Americans viewed TV. Informally known as “Home Box” at the time, the cable channel started to come into its own three years later, when the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” heavyweight bout was broadcast live via satellite.

By Patrick Day, Todd Martens and Stephanie Lysaght (AP)
1981-1983: MTV launches a ‘Thriller’

The launch of MTV in August 1981 redefined the music and television industries, stealing the cool from radio by placing an emphasis on fast-paced visuals. MTV quickly became the go-to station for youth culture, operating in parallel as a repository for teen marketing initiatives. If there is a singular event that heralded MTV’s cultural dominance, it was the premiere of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” A swell of excitement around the 14-minute video turned the canny marketing tool into a must-see event. The highly choreographed zombie dance-a-thon, directed by John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”) with cinematic production values, premiered in December 1983. Demand was so high that it was shown twice an hour in its early days. ()
1983: HBO turns to puppets

After a few attempts at producing original documentary series, HBO decided to make its first original fictional series one for the kids. Teaming with Jim Henson, the channel launched “Fraggle Rock,” about several races of Muppet characters who live in an underground world accessed through a crack in the wall of a man’s shed. The series lasted five years on HBO. The same year, the channel aired its first made-for-TV movie, “The Terry Fox Story.” (The Jim Henson Company)
1985: Wrestling for dollars

Pay-per-view had been in use since the early 1970s to broadcast sporting events of all kinds, but it wasn’t until Vince McMahon, the young owner of the World Wrestling Federation, held the first “WrestleMania” event in New York on pay-per-view that a cable sports love affair was born. McMahon’s enterprise, now called World Wrestling Entertainment, is currently one of pay-cable’s most prolific programmers, with multiple pay-per-view events per year. (Chris Carlson / AP)
1985: ‘Live Aid’ inspires a generation

The recent airing of “Live Earth” may have been a clarion call for the environment, but it was far from the ratings event that was 1985’s “Live Aid.” With its main stages in London and Philadelphia, Live Aid aired on multiple networks (ABC and MTV in the U.S.), and is said to have attracted more than 1.5 million viewers in 100 countries.

Performers included Led Zeppelin, the Who, U2, Madonna, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, but “Live Aid” became a television milestone for providing almost a full day’s worth of continuous satellite coverage around the globe. (Dave Hogan / Getty Images)
1988: Cable wins over jury of peers

After well over a decade in operation, the cable industry finally earned recognition from its peers when the network-centric Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided to bestow two Emmy awards on cable programming, specifically HBO’s documentary “Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam.” Earlier that same year, another cable station, ESPN, won the first Sports Emmy for its programming. (Anne Cusack / LAT)
1991: Here come the cruise missiles

CNN had been in existence since 1980, but Ted Turner’s cable news outfit didn’t break out until 1991, when the Persian Gulf War handed the channel its biggest advantage over the networks -- the ability to report live from within Iraq during the first bombing campaigns of the war. CNN correspondents Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett delivered arresting reports, often from underneath desks, that transformed the first 24-hour news network into must-see TV. (CNN)
1992: MTV gets real

Cementing MTV’s shift from a 24/7 music channel to a youth lifestyle juggernaut was the 1992 launch of “The Real World,” which has become the longest-running program in the station’s history. The show provided some of the first reality-TV stars of the ‘90s, and its success paved the way for 1995’s “Road Rules.”

Now in its 19th season, “The Real World” has plenty of unscripted company on TV. But while “The Real World’s” influence can been seen in competitors such as “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” among many others, MTV has continued to win audiences and headlines with its reality programming, including “The Osbournes,” “My Super Sweet 16” and the current hit “The Hills,” which just kicked off its third season with impressive ratings. (Jeff Lipsky / MTV)
1999: Made men

HBO’s mob drama “The Sopranos” debuted to critical praise so glowing, the Emmy-voting members of the TV academy, whose tastes tended toward network fare, couldn’t help but give it a nomination for best dramatic series. It was the first time a cable series had been nominated in the category. It took five more years for the celebrated mafia drama to finally win an Emmy. (Craig Blankenhorn / HBO)
2007: ‘The Closer’ opens wide

TNT hit the ball out of the park with its original dramatic series, “The Closer,” starring Kyra Sedgwick. The police drama’s season three premiere became basic cable’s most-viewed series telecast of all time, with 8.81 million viewers tuning in for the record-breaking episode. Turner Entertainment Network president Steve Koonin explained at the time, “We’re only getting better shows on cable, and I’m glad we’re kind of leading the way.” Sedgwick won a Golden Globe and has earned two Emmy nominations for her work on the series. (TNT)
2007: ‘High School Musical 2' takes sophomore honors

Forget three times. The second time must be a charm, because the premiere of “High School Musical 2" pulled in an estimated 17.2 million viewers. That number would make it the most-watched basic cable program in history and the summer’s biggest blockbuster not on the big screen. The old cable record belonged to a 2006 “Monday Night Football” game on ESPN that drew 16 million viewers. (Adam Larkey / AP)