The series begins in 1920, the night Prohibition is enacted. Steve Buscemi's character, "Nucky" Thompson, is the puppet master and default king of Atlantic City. As crime and money take their toll on the seaside city, "Nucky" learns to integrate his version of the American dream with bootleggers, drugs, and the likes of a fledging Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza).
Writer Terence Winter recounts a funny interaction with Scorsese. "I wrote the pilot and Marty really loved it, and at one point he said, 'Wow, I would like to direct this.' One of the next questions was, 'Well how do you think we should move this forward with HBO?' and I said, 'Well if you pick up the phone and say the words you just said to me, 'I want to direct this' that will probably move this forward.'"