HBO’s Boardwalk Empire has only aired three episodes this season, but apparently that’s enough for the subscription cable network to give the go-ahead for next year’s Season 5. With storylines in Chicago, New York, Atlantic City and elsewhere, the drama rarely runs out of things to talk about and signing on for a fifth season almost seems to be a formality, even if Boardwalk Empire doesn’t do quite as well in the ratings (or in illegal downloads) as some of HBO’s other anchor programs.

Not that Boardwalk Empire is doing badly. HBO is a little closer to Netflix in that it is the opposite of network and cable programming, which relies on its viewers to watch advertisements to bring in money to produce new content. HBO earns its money through its subscriber's contributions, so it doesn’t really matter if those subscribers decide to show up for the first airing or not. Thus, while the last episode of Boardwalk Empire only did 1.87 million total viewers that’s not a disaster like those numbers would be if we were discussing NBC. When you factor in original broadcasts, encores, DVR, and HBO Go, about 7.5 million total viewers show up each week to watch Nucky Thompson and co. break and bend the law.

HBO’s drama also cleaned up at this year’s Emmy Awards, although you wouldn’t have known it if you were watching the broadcast of the ceremony. The drama won five categories this year, but they were all creative arts categories like “Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-camera Series” and “Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series” (true that). Though the show didn’t win for best drama or any of the more prestigious awards, the Emmy wins do serve to show that the drama is made up of a lot of really great singular components.

Mostly, I think HBO wants to continue with Boardwalk Empire because the drama is still producing strong new story ideas. Season 4 is taking a look at 1924, a year that happens to be smack dab in the middle of prohibition, when the liquor is flowing and there is plenty of money to still be made. I think a nice ending point for the series might be the year Prohibition ended, but there would need to be some serious time-hopping going on in order to get there.

HBO’s announcement on Thursday was preliminary, which means we don’t know when the show will return to the schedule or how many episodes the series will produce for Season 5. Taking history into consideration, I bet we’ll see twelve episodes next September, but again, we can't guarantee that right now.

In the meantime, Season 4 is in full swing. You can catch new episodes on HBO on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET. Here’s what’s coming up…

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