HBO Doubles Down on Boardwalk Empire

Two days after the premiere of HBO’s much-anticipated series Boardwalk Empire, the premium network announced it has renewed the Prohibition-era drama for a second season.

After garnering a number of breathless reviews, Boardwalk Empire bowed to 4.8 million viewers Sunday at 9 p.m., making it HBO’s most-watched series premiere since 2004. (Leading out of the third episode of season five of The Sopranos, Deadwood drew 5.79 million viewers on March 21, 2004. By comparison, Big Love opened to 4.56 million viewers in March 2006, while HBO’s proven vampire hit, True Blood, took wing with a rather anemic 1.44 million viewers in September 2008.)

Two encore presentations of Boardwalk brought the combined delivery to 7.1 million total viewers, per Nielsen.

At $18 million, Boardwalk is quite likely the most expensive TV pilot ever produced, and the money hangs all over the screen. Created by Sopranos vet Terence Winter––among other highlights, he wrote the script for the celebrated season-three episode “Pine Barrens,” in which Paulie and Christopher botch a hit in raucous fashion––the series also attracted the talents of Martin Scorcese. The Goodfellas/Raging Bull/Taxi Driver auteur is an executive producer of Boardwalk and he directed Sunday night’s opener.

Starring Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a political fixer and ward healer who has a finger in every barrel of illegal hooch flowing through Atlantic City, Boardwalk is based on a book by New Jersey superior court judge Nelson Johnson.

The period piece also stars Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Gretchen Mol, Dabney Coleman and Downtown scenester Paz de la Huerta in a breakout role as Nucky’s libidinous girlfriend, Lucy.

“All the ingredients aligned for this one,” said Michael Lombardo, president, HBO programming, by way of announcing the renewal. “The response from the media and our viewers has been nothing short of amazing.”