But shabby is relative: The money spent on Boardwalk Empire is lavish even by the standards of HBO, which is still struggling to replace ratings-busters The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Although the words New Jersey and organized crime initially evoke that other Garden State gangster drama, Boardwalk is in fact more reminiscent of Rome, HBO’s blood-soaked 2005–07 saga. Estimates of that series’s first-season costs ran as high as $100 million, but HBO shared the burden with its co-producer, the BBC.
Like Rome, Boardwalk aspires to a top-shelf, whole-cloth re-creation of a place and time long lost, but now the network is footing the bill alone. Industry insiders peg the cost of the season at upwards of $65 million. Variety recently reported the price of the pilot alone at $18 million, though that includes constructing a 300-foot-long actual boardwalk featuring period-perfect replicas of storefronts and seaside attractions, including the then-shocking Incubator Baby.