The HBO Original four-part docuseries BRANSON, directed by Chris Smith (HBO’s “100 Foot Wave”), debuts THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. New episodes will debut at the same time on subsequent Thursdays.
Synopsis: Sixteen days before Richard Branson is scheduled to make a potentially historic flight as the first passenger to reach space in his own spacecraft in July 2021, the billionaire entrepreneur sits down for a conversation with acclaimed filmmaker Chris Smith, in light of the risk that lies ahead. Smith ultimately takes us on an expansive and intimate 70-year journey, from Branson’s upbringing as the son of a spirited, tough-love mother in Britain, to his pursuits of extreme, personal daredevilry that serve both to grow his businesses’ brands and feed his insatiable, lifelong thirst for high-stakes adventure. With added insight from family members, business associates, and journalists, and illustrated by decades of archival and home video footage, BRANSON reveals the ups and downs of a man driven by risk taking in both his business and personal life, reflecting on the costs and rewards of his lifelong, relentless optimism and boundary-pushing.
After dropping out of school where he struggled with dyslexia, Branson began his entrepreneurial career as a 15-year-old publisher of a student magazine and went on to become a millionaire by the age of 22 with the booming success of Virgin Records. His launch of the airline Virgin Atlantic soon followed, along with a myriad of other Virgin branded businesses with varying levels of success, culminating in the launch of Virgin Galactic, his commercial spaceflight company in 2004. His record-breaking, transoceanic boat and balloon challenges, and now his crusade to bring customers to space, have all been positioned by Branson with the Virgin brand front and center. Branson remains a complex figure, committed to both philanthropic initiatives and his own bottom line.
Participants: Alongside exclusive interviews with Branson himself, the series features his colleagues and employees, as well as insights from both business journalists and industry experts. Also included are intimate interviews with his family, including revealing excerpts from conversations with Joan, his wife of 33 years, his sisters, his daughter Holly and son Sam, and an extensive personal archive of his late mother Eve, whose lively presence in Branson’s life continues to loom large.
Episode 1:“Words and Music”
Debut date: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
The series premiere explores Branson’s early years and the influence of his iconoclastic mother. As a dyslexic teenager, he leaves school at age 15 to create a magazine called Student, leading to a mail-order record business and eventually Virgin Records and Virgin megastores.
Episode 2: ”Atlantic“
Debut date: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
The episode tracks the launch of Virgin Atlantic and Branson’s efforts to attract media attention to his brand, including an attempt to break the trans-Atlantic speed record in a boat, and his death-defying balloon adventure across the Atlantic in 1986.
Episode 3: “Fight or Flight”
Debut date: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15 (10:00-11:15 p.m. ET/PT)
The episode chronicles Virgin Atlantic’s battle with British Airways, ending in a libel suit win for Branson. From outsider to wealthy capitalist, Branson continues to push for world records and promotional attention for his company, setting off on a nail-biting Pacific Ocean balloon voyage. He announces plans to develop a spaceflight company to take commercial passengers into space, beginning a decade long pursuit.
Episode 4: “Space”
Debut date: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22 (10:00-11:30 p.m. ET/PT)
The series finale tracks the arduous history of Virgin Galactic, from conception to test flights, and the controversial bid from Virgin Atlantic to obtain government support for the airline during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the first passenger flight of Virgin Galactic approaches, Branson defends the benefits of privately funded space exploration and the paradoxes around Virgin’s eco-messaging. Set for July 11, 2021, the launch day follows 17 years of research, testing, accidents, and setbacks, culminating in a successful flight in which Branson realizes his ultimate dream.
Credits: HBO Documentary Films presents BRANSON. Directed by Chris Smith; executive produced by Kate Noble. For HBO: executive producers Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, senior producer Tina Nguyen.
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