TV critics shower love on HBO, Martin Scorsese, Steve Buscemi, 'Boardwalk Empire'

By Lisa de Moraes
Monday, August 9, 2010

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. HBO's Q&A session in the final hours of Summer TV Press Tour 2010 was a love fest the likes of which the tour hasn't seen in ages.

The pay cable network used to be the darling of critics. Its deliciously lurid scripts attracted big movie stars, writers and directors, which enabled HBO suits to hold their heads up high around their offices. But these days, HBO is not the critics' only love: AMC and FX have muscled into the HBO gripper-drama business with shows such as "Mad Men" and "Sons of Anarchy." Last month, HBO again nabbed the most Emmy nominations of any network, but only three went to its series; the rest were in the movie and miniseries competitions.

Looking to come back in a big way, HBO has upped the ante, ordering sweeping epics from the likes of Martin Scorsese and starring movie icons such as Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman has been landed to star in next year's "Luck," from David Milch and Michael Mann, about the world of horse racing and horse race gambling. For this year, HBO is trotting out its most lavish series in ages, "Boardwalk Empire." The show debuts Sunday, Sept. 19, with 12 episodes ordered.

It is executive-produced by revered filmmaker Scorsese, who directed the pilot and will direct some future episodes.

Critics love that.

It is written by Terence Winter, who was David Chase's right-hand man on "The Sopranos."

Critics love that, too.

It is set in Atlantic City in 1920, just as Prohibition seizes the country, and features mobsters such as Lucky Luciano and Al Capone.

Good, good and even better, say critics.

But the icing on the cake: Scorsese and Winter have cast Steve Buscemi in the lead role.

Buscemi is a highly respected character actor whom no one -- including Buscemi -- ever expected to see cast in a starring role. You may know him from Scorsese's "New York Stories," his one season on "The Sopranos" or as the guy who got fed into the wood chipper in the Coen brothers' "Fargo." This time, Buscemi is playing Nucky Thompson, the treasurer cum gangster of Atlantic City who is an only thinly veiled fictionalization of an Atlantic City politician of that era, Nucky Johnson. TV critics at the tour, who are not, after all, film critics or theater critics, often exude a collective sense of underdoggery.

Like Buscemi.

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