Winter Creates Own 'Empire'

'Sopranos' alum takes turn at the helm on hit HBO series

Why This Matters

Terence Winter

Executive Producer/ Creator/ Writer, Boardwalk Empire

B.A., New York University, 1984; J.D., St. John’s University Law School, 1988

Writer: The Great Defender, 1995;The Cosby Mysteries, 1995; Flipper, 1995-96;Xena: Warrior Princess, 1995-98;Sister, Sister, 1996-97;Soldier of Fortune, 1998; Eddie Murphy’s the PJs, 2000;The Sopranos(also Executive Producer/ Director), 2000-07
Films Written:Get Rich or Die Trying, ‘05; Brooklyn Rules, ‘07

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., 1960; married, two children

Terence Winter, creator and executive producer of
HBO’s new Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire
and Emmy-winning writer and producer of HBO’s The Sopranos, has found success writing
about brutal violence, crime and sex...
which makes his own favorite TV show,
Project Runway, a bit of a surprise. “It’s
my appointment television,” he says.
“I’m just really into it.”

A new career in fashion is not likely
for Winter, but in fact, it wouldn’t be
entirely unexpected from a man who
dabbled in several different careers before
eventually finding his sweet spot
in the television business.

One of five children growing up in
Brooklyn, N.Y., Winter attended an automotive
vocational high school where he
was trained as a mechanic. After graduation,
he chose a different path, becoming
part-owner of a deli. At 19, when
that business went south, he realized he
needed a steadier career and began to
consider college for the first time.

Winter stumbled upon the NYU campus
and gained some footing by applying
as a medieval history major, although he
ultimately graduated with a political science
major and journalism minor. Having
a strong desire for a more lucrative
career, Winter went to St. John’s University
Law School and, armed with a degree,
wound up at a corporate law firm
in Manhattan.

“I was miserable,” he recalls. “I would literally sneak out of the job during the
day to go to movies.” After two years and
some soul-searching, he finally focused
in on his dream.

“The deep dark secret is that I wanted
to be a writer,” Winter says. Despite
friends suggesting he’d lost his mind, he
quit his job, sold everything he had and
moved to Los Angeles in May 1991.

Winter began writing spec scripts
while working as a paralegal to pay the
bills. “I literally lived, ate and breathed
writing,” he recalls.

After making some connections in
the business, he landed at the Warner
Bros. Sitcom Writers Workshop, which
placed him in his first writing job, on
Fox’s The Great Defender, in 1994. The
series only lasted one season, but it
launched Winter’s career as a TV writer,
working on shows such as Flipper,
Xena: Warrior Princess and Sister, Sister.
“I tried not to get pigeon-holed in a
particular genre. I wanted to bounce
back and forth between dramas and
half-hours and remind people that I
could write anything,” he says.

In 1999, Winter met Sopranos creator
David Chase through Defender creator
Frank Renzulli; Winter joined the hit
show in its second season and went on
to win four Emmys for his work.

Chase admired Winter’s ability and
drive. “As a writer he is so specific,
and that’s the acid test,” Chase says.
“God is in the details, and his work is
so finely drawn. Plus, he’s got the most
amazing work ethic I’ve ever seen.”

When The Sopranos ended in 2007,
HBO execs came to Winter with the
book Boardwalk Empire, which the network
had optioned, to see if he could
adapt it for TV. Winter immediately
immersed himself in the project after
hearing Martin Scorsese would be
producing. Winter’s first script was so
compelling that Scorsese asked to direct
the pilot.

 Winter was thrilled to re-up with
HBO. “It’s the best place I’ve ever
worked,” he says. “They just have balls.
They literally let you work without
handcuffs on.”

Boardwalk debuted on Sept. 19 to 4.8
million viewers, the largest premiere audience
for any HBO program in six years,
since Deadwood debuted in 2004 with
Sopranos as lead-in. Two days later, the
network renewed Boardwalk for a second
season. The Sept. 26 episode following
the premiere had 3.3 million viewers and
the show has since leveled off to around
3 million. It is averaging 12 million viewers
gross audience—linear, on-demand
and DVR—per episode.

With its early success, there’s buzz
that Boardwalk could unseat Mad Men
as best drama at the Emmys next year.
This has spurred friendly banter between
Winter and Mad Men showrunner
Matt Weiner, his friend and former
Sopranos colleague. “It’s good-natured
ball-breaking,” Winter says. “When
[Weiner] won the Emmy I had said
to him, ‘Congratulations, totally welldeserved—
this is the last one of these
emails you’re going to get.’ ”

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