5 Reasons Why 'Boardwalk Empire' Might (Not) Be Bigger Than 'The Sopranos'

Without a doubt, my most anticipated new show of the fall 2010 TV season is Boardwalk Empire, HBO's semi-fictionalized series about crime and corruption in Atlantic City during the Prohibition Era.

Boardwalk Empire has everything: great actors, an interesting premise, and, most important of all, an outstanding creative team. (Not only is Martin Scorsese an executive producer, he also directed the pilot episode - it doesn't get much better than that.) Of course, the thing that intrigues me the most about Boardwalk Empire isn't Martin Scorsese, it's the show's creator, Terence Winter.

Winter is best known as one of the lead writers of HBO's most famous hit show, The Sopranos. Winter wrote 25 episodes of The Sopranos, second only to Sopranos creator David Chase, and was responsible for some of the show's most compelling episodes, including a personal favorite: "Pine Barrens" which he co-wrote with Tim Van Patten.

Given Winter's involvement with both shows, many TV analysts have been wondering whether Boardwalk Empire could become an even bigger hit than The Sopranos. Today at Screen Rant, we're going to do our scientific best to answer that question from both the "yes" and "no"  perspectives. Read on to see our five reasons why Boardwalk Empire might (or might not) be bigger than The Sopranos.


1) It's Fiction (But is it the Right Kind of Fiction?)

Boardwalk Empire - Steve Buscemi 2

Unlike The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire is based, at least partially, on real-life events. For instance, the lead character in the show, "Nucky" Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) is based on an actual Atlantic City politician, "Nucky" Johnson. Similarly, the basis of the show's plot is rooted in historical events, namely the passing of prohibition and the rise of organized crime in the United States.

While Winter has said that Boardwalk Empire will fictionalize aspects of Johnson's life, as well as other characters and events, the fact that it takes place in a very specific period in American history could either help or hinder the show.

YES: HBO has already shown that it knows how to do historical fiction well with its critically-acclaimed western series Deadwood. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Boardwalk Empire is set during Prohibition, a time period with which most audiences are at least partially familiar. Add in the lavish costumes and sets typical of a period drama, and you've got the makings of a guaranteed hit.

NO: Even if the events and personalities in Boardwalk Empire are fictionalized, the historical setting still somewhat limits the show's writers. David Chase created The Sopranos from scratch. This liberated him to take his characters in any direction he wanted and provided an organic flow to the show's plot. The Sopranos has gone down in history as one of the greatest shows of all time because of its superb writing and direction. If the show were limited to a particular time and particular place, would it have found as much success?


2) It's Gotten Lots of Hype (But Will it Live Up to it?)

Boardwalk Empire Image

As I said at the top of the article, Boardwalk Empire is my most anticipated new show of the year, and I know I am not the only one looking forward to it. Given the high-profile talent attached to the project, expectations for the show are at an almost unreasonably high level. Along with this hype comes a built-in audience, but also a lot of potential for disappointment.

YES: Boardwalk Empire isn't being built up without good reason - there are dozens of reasons to be excited for the show (Do I need to mention Scorsese again?) and HBO's long track record of success with original programming is also worth noting. The media attention and fan expectations surrounding Boardwalk Empire could propel the show to high initial ratings, meaning bigger audiences and, more than likely, a commitment from HBO for more seasons.

NO: You may not remember, but when The Sopranos first came out, it didn't do all that well in the ratings. Despite terrific reviews from critics, the show garnered an average Nielsen rating of only 3.46 percent in its first season. Eventually, this number climbed as more and more people were turned on to the show through DVD sales. The nice thing about The Sopranos flying under the radar in its first two seasons was the creative freedom it gave the show's writers. David Chase took the show in the direction he wanted without having to worry about meeting anyone's expectations. The Sopranos became a hit over time, a luxury that Boardwalk Empire's creative team will not enjoy.


The final 3 reasons Boardwalk Empire might (not) be bigger than The Sopranos...

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