By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Sep 17, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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This is the series I've been waiting for since the finale of "The Sopranos" aired on HBO more than three years ago.

No, I didn't know back in June 2007 that "Boardwalk Empire" was coming. It was a series with this sweep and style that I've been expecting to give me something to watch weekly with the substance of a good novel unfolding chapter by chapter. 

I've only seen the first chapter -- which premieres on the main HBO channel at 8 p.m. Sunday (with repeats at 9:15 and 10:30) -- but it's enough to know that this story of the rise of the mob at the birth of Prohibition in 1920 is the real deal.

The center of this colorful story is Steve Buscemi as Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, a fictionalized version of Nucky Thompson, the real-life treasurer of Atlantic City, N.J., who embraced the end of legal liquor as a way to rake in the bucks. The series' title, of course, refers to Atlantic City's legendary boardwalk.

But in the first hour-and-15-minute episode, the story stretches to Chicago, where crime boss "Big Jim" Colosimo doesn't think booze is the way to go, relying instead on prostitution. His underlings, including a young tough named Capone, don't agree with Colosimo's old-fashioned thinking.

That disagreement yields the expected results.

This is organized crime at its birth, with characters like a boyish Charles "Lucky" Luciano in his early 20s. Crime was hardly new, but its organization was jump-started by the silly social experiment that turned every poor schmo knocking back a shot into another tiny cog in a growing criminal empire.

"Boardwalk Empire" is a pre-"Godfather," (although not quite the territory explored in the young Vito Corleone scenes in "Godfather II.") And it portrays the roots of the crime culture that was on its last legs in "The Sopranos."

The world is always changing, and this is this new world of murder was powered by the Thompson submachine gun, a product of the just-concluded First World War.

"Boardwalk Empire" has great credentials. "The Sopranos" writer Terence Winter is the executive producer. He scripted what may have been the best episode of "The Sopranos," "Pine Barrens," directed by Buscemi. Martin Scorsese -- who took on the earliest New York mob in "Gangs of New York," and a more "The Sopranos" version in "Goodfellas," directed the pilot.

What made "The Sopranos" TV's best drama ever, at least as I rate them, is that it wasn't just a mob show. Creator David Chase used that familiar American setting to tell a bigger, more important story of families, anxieties and an ever-changing world.

It's too early to know if "Boardwalk Empire" will have such an overriding theme as it unfolds. But even if it's merely the story of how crime got organized in the first place, the first episode is clearly the launch of the fall's best drama.

Here's an HBO trailer for the show to give you a feel for the richness of the production:

On TV: Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert plan opposing Washington, D.C., rallies on Oct. 30 in a comedy mirror image of Glenn Beck's recent gathering at the Lincoln Memorial.

  • BBC America brings "Law & Order: UK" to American TV screens starting Oct. 3 at 9:30 p.m. That's a Sunday night, but subsequent episodes will air at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Whitney Miller, 22, from Poplarville, Miss., is the winner of the first season of Fox's "MasterChef."
  • Meanwhile, over on NBC, Michael Grimm, 30, of Henderson, Nev., will be remembered mostly as the guy who beat 10-year-old Pittsburgher Jackie Evancho on "America's Got Talent."
  • Fox says Ryan Seacrest will formally announce the names of the new "American Idol" judges -- still expected to be Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler -- on Wednesday. 

An era ends: CBS' "As the World Turns" airs its final episode today at 1 p.m. on Channel 58. The story of fictional Oakdale, Ill., premiered on April 2, 1956.

History may remember "ATWT" as the show airing on CBS when first word came of the assassination of John F. Kennedy broke on Nov. 22, 1963. This clip shows the first 10 minutes of the episode -- complete with commercials -- before the first bulletin from Walter Cronkite:


Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.