1985 HBO Christmas Present

A secret Ghostbusters surprise!

Opinion page by Duane Alan Hahn.

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Page last updated on: 2023y_01m_16d_0627t [Page created on 2014y_12m_25d]

Once in a while, my family would talk about the HBO Christmas Present that we saw in a motel in 1985. Until my mother looked it up online in December of 2014, we didn't know that anyone thought it was a myth. Below is a link to a related page stored at since it no longer exists:

TV/Movies: Urban Myth or Fact – Ghostbusters on HBO Christmas of 1985

If you don't feel like reading that page, the important thing is that he found a Los Angeles Times article by Dennis Hunt from January 10, 1986 that mentions the HBO Ghostbusters Christmas present. Here's a snippet from that L.A. Times article:


“In home-video business circles, they’re still talking about the surprise Christmas Eve showing of ‘Ghostbusters’ on HBO. Currently the film is available only on home video and isn’t scheduled for an official cable debut for quite a few months. Distributors and retailers, of course, are miffed about the sneak preview, thinking it may cause sales and rentals to drop significantly. Other home-video insiders, however, insist that little damage was done, contending that the preview was so sudden that few had a chance to tape the movie.”

Image courtesy of had all of the official HBO guides online, but that web site is gone now. The good news is that I have a cropped image of the section I needed courtesy of that web site and it shows “HBO Christmas Present” listed at 11:30 p.m. Any skeptical nonbelievers can look at the image and see that something special was shown on Christmas Eve. Mentioning Ghostbusters in the guide would have spoiled the surprise, don't you think?


There are also a bunch of newspapers at that have “HBO Christmas Present” listed at 11:30 p.m. on that day. The cropped image displayed below is from the Burlington Daily Times News, Burlington, North Carolina (December 22, 1985). It shows the important part of the listing for Tuesday, December 24, 1985.

Image courtesy of





Motel Christmas

My family was in the middle of a move to a new city and we had to stay in a motel for a couple of weeks during the 1985 Christmas season. I was looking through the generic cable guide that was in the motel room and it had tba (to be announced) in the listing at 11:30 p.m. for HBO. I thought it was odd, so I told everyone that I was going to turn on HBO a little before 11:30 in case it was something good. Holy crap! It was Ghostbusters! We hadn't seen the movie, so it was a great Christmas present from HBO.


I hoped surprises like that would be repeated by HBO and copied by other cable channels, but I must have missed them if they happened. Seemed like there were no more cool TV surprises after that. I could be forgetting something. Maybe someone will refresh my memory.






E-mail Section

Z Phelps

Friday, January 24, 2020

. . . I can’t remember why . . . I guess it was a combination of “why not” and my reverence for all things HBO, but I set my VCR to record whatever HBO had planned for that night. Between movies, HBO used to take 10 seconds to have a “coming up . . . on HBO” thing, and it would give the next three movies (or specials, etc.) and their times. And I was increasingly excited about what started as TBA but that day became some promise of a special present from HBO to its subscribers. The party ended and I had a moment to check in to see what was recording. No one in my family understood how incredible it was that Ghostbusters, one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer, was being aired way before anyone was even talking about it being available to view or rent. I just about wore out the VCR tape rewatching that recording over the next few weeks.


You pondered whether there have been other similar unexpected surprises, but I doubt it. Everything is strictly on schedule according to contractual agreements. I think HBO was able to do what they did that night because of a huge financial gamble they took in securing the rights to air the movie; I have no idea how and why they were able to give a single, unannounced airing of the movie in advance of when it was scheduled to be regularly on their schedule. It was such a wonderful surprise and yet none of my friends knew about it, and I can’t find any other references to the event aside from your entry (even the link you provided is dead). [Note from DAH: I changed the link to a copy of the page at Hopefully that link will keep working.]





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