Beverly Hills, Calif. - When Steve Buscemi read the first script for "Boardwalk Empire" more than a year ago, he knew he was looking at something totally different in his career.
"I'd never had the chance to play anything like this before," he said. "I knew I wanted to do it, and I was lucky to get the part."
The industry has noticed, too. Buscemi, known for the quirky roles in independent films for most of his career, earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series this year for his portrayal of Atlantic City treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Thompson. He's a man of duality -- a kiss-the-babies politician by day and an illegal-alcohol kingpin during Prohibition by night.
He's violent, harsh, demanding, loving, empathetic and remorseful.
Set at the dawn of Prohibition, "Empire" was a contender for Outstanding Drama. Though neither won an Emmy, the recognition speaks volumes about the respect the series has gotten already.
A second season of "Empire" begins at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday on HBO. In the opener, Nucky sees a valuable land opportunity come his way, which will increase his foothold on power. But he has a more pressing matter: Trying to keep the peace between one of his associates and the Klu Klux Klan.
"He's a guy with a big heart," Buscemi said. "He had a hard life growing up ... and in many ways had to scrape by. He's smart, and he is smart enough to see an opportunity and take it.
"He loves the power that comes with his job, and he knows he has to kiss the babies to keep the power. I truly believe he thinks he's doing a greater good."
Buscemi wasn't looking to star in a series when he came across "Empire." He'll admit, though, that after years of doing low-budget films that garner more praise than box-office bucks, "It's nice to have steady work.
"As the years go by, it's something I think about. When my dad used to ask me about what I was doing (careerwise), I'd say, 'I'm between jobs.' He's say, 'Oh, so you're out of work?' For years, I never thought the beloved TV box would be somewhere I might work all the time.
"I've never had a plan in that way. It's wonderful to play a character so complicated that I can learn more about and see him grow."
Other highlights for the week of Sept. 25 to Oct. 1 (listings subject to change; check local listings):
"The Amazing Race" (8 p.m., CBS). The 19th season gathers at the starting line.
"The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox). Season 23 begins: Marge dreams of being on "Top Chef" while her kids and husband, undoubtedly, do something stupid behind her back.
"Dog Park Superstars" (8 p.m., GSN). Dogs and their owners compete to win prizes in this new game-show special. How'd it go for the dogs involved? "Ruff!" one canine reported.
"Sister Wives" (9 p.m., TLC). A polygamist's newest wife announces she's pregnant as a new season unfolds for this reality series.
"Dirty Soap" (10 p.m., E!). Kelly Monaco, Kirsten Storms (both from "General Hospital"), Farah Fath, John-Paul Lavoisier (both of "One Life To Live") and Nadia Bjorlin ("Days Of Our Lives") allow cameras to chronicle the soap-opera-like antics of their real lives.
"Long Island Medium" (10 p.m., TLC). A married mom of two talks to the dead in this new reality series about her life and career.
"Kendra" (11 p.m., E!). The former model is back for a new season of her reality show about life after Playboy Bunny-hood.
"The Chew" (1 p.m., ABC). A lot of cooks in the kitchen come together for this daily talk and cooking show, bumping "All My Children" off the schedule after 41 years.
"Terra Nova" (8 p.m., Fox). In this new action drama, the world is going to seed, and a futuristic family escapes into the past to save humanity.
"Mike & Molly" (9:30 p.m., CBS). Last season's biggest new couple make wedding plans. Molly's all into it. And Mike? Not so much.
"New Girl" (9 p.m., Fox). Jess breaks into her ex's apartment to gather up her stuff, but gets caught in the act.
"The Middle" (8 p.m., ABC). Brick's new teacher (Chad Overstreet) is allowing Brick to ditch gym class. Back in the day, Brick's teacher would have been my hero.
"Charlie's Angels" (8 p.m., ABC). The popular 1970s action series gets a 21st-century spin with three new angels clipping the wings of bad guys.
"How To Be A Gentleman" (8:30 p.m., CBS). Two unlikely buddies -- a manners columnist and a life coach -- try to smooth out each other's rough spots in this new sitcom.
"Jessie" (9 p.m., Disney Channel). The opener for this new sitcom has a small-town Texas girl moving to New York City and landing a job as a nanny to four precocious children.
"'Weird Al' Yankovic's Live -- The Apocalypse Tour" (9 p.m., Comedy Central). The comedian's first special since 1999 focuses on his most recent musical parodies, including a twist on Lady Gaga with "Polka Face."