The amount of hype that's already been generated by HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" is overwhelming. And with the premiere of the series tonight, more is yet to come.
That means all stakeholders in the city - from casino executives and marketing gurus to casino workers and city employees - need to make sure the city capitalizes on the publicity and presents its best face to the spotlight.
Media focus on Atlantic City has already begun, and some of the coverage from out-of-town media has not been particularly flattering - a few tired, journalistic cliches about the parts of the city that are down-at-the-heels, about declining casino profits, about poverty. (Does anybody ever take these guys to the northeast Inlet, where a new neighborhood has risen from the 1970s-era blight? But we digress.)
"Boardwalk Empire," which debuts tonight, is being compared to "The Sopranos." Don't expect to see a documentary of Nelson Johnson's meticulously researched book. The series is pure entertainment - often violent, often bloody, often profane. It may not be quite the image of Atlantic City that marketers want to project today. But it's expected to draw millions of viewers. And that means priceless publicity and marketing opportunities.
Consider that Bloomingdale's in Manhattan is setting up a 100-foot replica of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in its store. Nearer to home, Caesars Atlantic City held a splashy premiere of the series Thursday night with the stars of the show attending. Restaurants are offering $19.20 dinner specials and Prohibition-era cocktails. The Atlantic City Free Public Library is featuring a series of related events. And the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority is talking to a company about "Prohibition Tours" of Atlantic City to spots featured in the series, similar to "The Sopranos" tours in North Jersey.
Still, Atlantic City can do more to capitalize on this unique opportunity. In his At the Shore column, Pinky Kravitz has suggested erecting mock 1920s-era storefronts along a short stretch of the Boardwalk that could serve as a photo-op for visitors. That's the kind of creative thinking the city needs more of.
But beyond promotions and marketing, here's what is critical: The resort must ensure that once visitors and media come here, they won't be turned off by unclean streets or shabby surroundings.
Atlantic City is going to get its closeup, whether it's ready or not. It better be ready.