At HBO, the mob rules. The pay-cable channel’s newest gangland drama, ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ scored the highest ratings Sunday of any HBO premiere since the debut of ‘Deadwood’ in March 2004, and earned an ultra-fast second-season pickup in the process.
HBO was so ecstatic about the debut of ‘Boardwalk’ that it announced on Tuesday that the show will be back for a second season – a decision rarely made after the airing of just one episode of a new TV show. “All the ingredients aligned for this one, from [producers] Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson’s initial pitch, to Martin Scorsese’s enormous contributions as director and executive producer, to the genius of [writer/producer/director] Terry Winter… to a stellar cast led by Steve Buscemi,” said Michael Lombardo, president of HBO programming. “The response from the media and our viewers has been nothing short of amazing.”
The premiere episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Sunday night attracted 4.3 million viewers, great numbers for HBO. In reporting the ratings for Sunday’s debut, HBO also noted that the audience tally rises to 7.1 million when you factor in the episode’s second airing Sunday night (directly following the first one). And of course, viewership will likely grow when DVR use, On Demand, and additional telecasts all this week on HBO are added.
What drove the viewership? Well, without question, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ was the most lavishly promoted series HBO has introduced in years. You’ve been seeing the promo spots and outdoor billboards for weeks, if not months. And you’ve likely been reading all about it too in hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories – how they built an elaborate, full-scale replica of part of the 1920s Atlantic City boardwalk (spending $20 million on Sunday’s episode alone), about the real-life stories of the legendary gangsters featured in the series (Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano, the young Al Capone), and about the involvement of Martin Scorsese, one of the series’ executive producers and the director of Sunday’s episode.
How Was ‘Boardwalk’ Created? Go Behind The Scenes:
In fact, with his history as the film industry’s poet laureate of hard-boiled gangland movies such as ‘GoodFellas’ and ‘Casino’ (OK, Francis Ford Coppola is also a poet laureate of mafia movies, but he’s not involved in ‘Boardwalk Empire’), the value of Scorsese’s involvement in bringing ‘Boardwalk Empire’ to the small screen is immeasurable. His name alone was probably enough to attract a significant portion of Sunday’s audience to tune in and sample the show.
‘Boardwalk Empire’ tells the story of Atlantic City in 1920, at the dawn of prohibition and the Roaring ’20s, through the eyes of the city’s political boss, city treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (in real life, he was Nucky Johnson), played by Steve Buscemi. In Sunday’s episode, the New York and Chicago mob factions were just beginning to understand how the prohibition of liquor presented them with a golden opportunity to reap unheard-of riches through the sale of bootleg hooch. Atlantic City, a town with a reputation for anything-goes hedonism, was the place where the Chicago and New York mobsters came to parlay – at least, that’s what happened in Sunday’s episode.
As HBO well knows, the Roaring ’20s will keep on roaring until 1929, which means HBO now finds itself with a hit on its hands that could run for years.
Did you check out ‘Boardwalk Empire’? How did you like it? And how did it stack up against all the other beloved, legendary films and TV shows about the mob – the ‘Godfather’ movies, ‘GoodFellas’ and ‘Casino,’ and ‘The Sopranos’?