Pay Cable TV spares no expense on costly original dramas

For its new gangster series "Boardwalk Empire," HBO built a $5 million, 300-foot-long boardwalk on the Brooklyn waterfront to recreate Atlantic City circa 1920. The set required 150 tons of steel and includes historical elements like the Baby Incubator, an actual nursery where tourists could gawk at tiny, premature infants.

The 12 episodes produced for the first season employed more than 300 crew members, 225 actors in speaking roles and 1,000 extras. It took about 200 days to shoot, twice what a standard network drama would take.

Sumptuous historical epics have long been part of screen entertainment, from Cecil B. DeMille to "Gone With the Wind," "Ben-Hur" to "Braveheart." Now, a Renaissance is flourishing, and in an unlikely spot—cable TV. As broadcast networks cut back and fill the prime-time schedule with reality shows made on the cheap, pay-cable channels are splurging on lavish period pieces, and spending big money to mount these productions. Many of these series strive for high quality. Virtually all of them also take advantage of the looser cable environment to portray grisly violence, heaving décolletage and more.

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Film Business, Filmmaking, TV


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