Top 50 Power Showrunners 2011
Schooled in the mafia omertà on the streets of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Marine Park, Winter once worked in a delicatessen owned by Gambino crime boss Paul Castellano. "If you kept your eyes open and your mouth shut, you saw a lot of stuff," he says. But his early education as a writer came in front of the television, where he spent countless hours watching The Honeymooners and The Munsters. "That's how I learned to tell a story. I actually paid attention to it. It's a perfectly valid way to learn about this stuff." So when in 1998 his agent sent him a pilot for an HBO series called The Sopranos, it was destiny. "I knew that world. And I was a huge fan of crime writing," he says. "I called my agent and said, 'You've got to get me on this show. I can write the shit out of this thing.' " Winter, 51, joined The Sopranos in its second season and is responsible for some of its most iconic episodes ("Long Term Parking" and "Members Only," among others). These days, Winter is mining an earlier incarnation of the organized crime underbelly in the Prohibition-era Boardwalk Empire, an Emmy nominee now in its second season, and where he works with numerous former Sopranos colleagues, including its Emmy-nominated star Steve Buscemi and director Tim Van Patten. The show has become the pay cable network's principal drama series given its auspices (its Emmy-winning pilot director Martin Scorsese is also an executive producer) and its status as an heir apparent to The Sopranos. "No pressure there," laughs Winter, who lives with his wife and kids in Manhattan. "It's flattering that anyone even talks about this series in the same breath."