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TCA 2010: HBO says Boardwalk Empire pilot cost $18M

When HBO does television, they do it big (after all…”It’s not TV, it’s HBO”). However, this is really, really big.

Variety reports that the pilot episode of  Boardwalk Empire , directed by Martin Scorsese, cost a massive $18 million (with tax breaks–so the actual cost was even higher).

“I kept thinking ‘This is pointless. How can we possibly afford a boardwalk, or an empire?’?” Writer Terence Winter recalls. “We can’t call it ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and not see a boardwalk.”

Winter, a longtime writer-producer on “The Sopranos,” worried that even with Martin Scorsese as a producer, the project was too ambitious for the smallscreen. Winter had found in his research that the boardwalk back then amounted to “Times Square on the ocean.” Such scope seemed impossible to reproduce authentically for a TV series.

But when he turned in his first draft more than two years ago, HBO execs began weighing options for how it could be done. Ultimately, they rolled the dice, building a 300-foot boardwalk in an empty lot in Brooklyn for what would become an 80-minute $18 million pilot.

Luckily for HBO, however, the cost got smaller as the 12-episode series unfolded with an average cost of about $5 million/episode.

The net cost of the pilot, including New York tax credits, came to $18 million. With the costs of the set and other expenditures now amortized over 12 episodes, “Empire’s” per-seg pricetag comes out to around $5 million, which execs say isn’t much higher than for its other top-tier series.

Boardwalk Empire premieres Sunday, September 19, 2010 on HBO.