Ever since the highly controversial end of The Sopranos in June 2007, the cast and crew came upon a realization. The show not only changed their lives, but changed tv culture for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two decades since the world was introduced to Tony Soprano and HBO.
James Gandolfini was the first character we all loved to hate, and that began the trend of anti-heroes that we continue to root for today. The show was a pioneering event that emerged at a time when watching TV was about to evolve.
HBO Needed A Way To Lure More Viewership
With video rentals more popular than ever before, HBO needed a way to attract viewers with something unique. It had to be worth paying for and the only way to do that was with a show that gave the network something we’ve never seen before.
Essentially, HBO needed a series that was like a movie, full of R-rated elements like swearing, violence, and nudity. The Sopranos universe provided that, and if they were on another network, they’d have been held to FCC standards.
The Show Was The Foundation For HBO To Become A Cultural Force
Six months before viewers were introduced to Tony Soprano, Sex and the City premiered. The show broke ground for women in television and comedy. But, with a female focus and light touch, it didn’t earn the same respect as The Sopranos.
Sarah Jessica Parker and company gave HBO glitz whereas The Sopranos brought a grimy reality to life. The network would become a key player for quality drama, including shows such as The Wire and Game of Thrones.
It Set The Template For The Life Cycle Of A Great TV Show
Shows generally gain critical praise before viewers begin to watch it to be apart of the conversation. It’s every detail becomes obsessed upon on the internet, and a conversation starts that never has to fade out in the age of binge-streaming.
Every cable network learned that if you build a critically praised show with complicit characters and high production values, viewers will come. This cycle transitioned into the streaming era for shows like Orange Is The New Black.
It Looked Like Nothing Ever Seen On Television Before
When the show first aired, it wasn’t like anything on TV. Friends, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond were a hit. ER was drama gold but The Sopranos practically dunked over ER and showed what a respected drama should look like.
But, it might not have worked before 1999 since cable was becoming more standard in homes in the United States. Thus, cable networks began to explore original programming to fill their schedules around syndicated re-runs and movies.
The Influence Of The Sopranos Was Felt Across The World
There’s no denying that The Sopranos was one of the sitcoms to put HBO on the map. The show is still discussed today, especially with the series finale cliffhanger. Outside of that, it’s apparent that the influence of the show spread across the world. Think about it for a second.
This was the model that would become the measuring stick for quality television. The Danish show Borgen and the British dystopian anthology Black Mirror has followed in the artistic norm of The Sopranos.
The Show Wasn’t Pitched For Television
Long before series creator David Chase developed the story, he pitched it as a movie. The story of Tony Soprano and his family was ultimately picked for television.
During an interview with CultureBox, according to Chase, his manager Lloyd Braun made him consider TV by telling him “I want you to believe that you have inside you a great television series.” I think it’s safe to say that all of Tony’s story would need more than a couple hours to explain.
Few Predicted One Thing About The Show
Chase acknowledged he wasn’t sure anyone would take to the show. Actress Edie Falco recalled that Gandolfini was taken aback by it. When news of a second season was announced, Falco recalled him saying to her “Well, I guess we gotta do it again.”
Matt Weiner, who was a writer and producer on the show, said he had to remind Chase that the show was successful even that far into its run. It’s was a cultural event that people obsessed over.
The Sopranos Was Too Real For The Security Service
With a movie-like feel to the show, the FBI had to set the record straight. Agents told the creative team that on Mondays, all anyone could talk about was The Sopranos. On the wiretaps they’d collected from the weekend, it was all the real-life mobsters could about too.
Terrence Winter would tell Vanity Fair, “We would hear back that real wiseguys used to think that we had somebody on the inside. They couldn’t believe how accurate the show was.”
Following Its Debut, The Show Became America’s Obsession
After the January 10, 1999 debut, the reviews were through the roof. They were so ecstatic that the show became the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit. The show would hit every culture marker, including a parody in Mad magazine.
In addition, the cast was showered with praise by their performances. New Yorkers including James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Tony Sirico were suddenly rock stars. It even inspired a pinball machine and a video game.
One Character Was Supposed To Die In The First Season
After Chase abandoned the movie idea, the tension between Tony and his mother, Livia, provided conflict in the first season. Now, that’s where it was supposed to end, but the character just kept on growing.
Initially, the series co-creator intended for Tony to suffocate his mother with a pillow after she tries to have him killed. However, actress Nancy Marchand was diagnosed with cancer during her time on the show.
Nancy Marchand Passed Away
The actress worked until the very end. Marchand passed away from lung cancer and emphysema on June 18, 2000. Her death meant Liva’s final moments on screen were cobbled together from old footage.
In addition to that, they had to use recordings of her usual choruses and special effects, like using CGI technology to put her head onto a body double. When audiences saw the scene, critics were quick to pan the scene, calling it an awkward moment on the show.
Two Writers Crafted Other Sitcoms That Were Widely Popular
Sopranos writers and producers Matthew Weiner and Terrence Winter went on to do great things. During Weiner’s time on the show, he went looking for a network to produce Mad Men. After FX and Showtime passed up, Weiner pitched the series to AMC, who picked up the show.
As for Winter, he became the creator, showrunner, and head writer for Boardwalk Empire. Respectively, both shows took home many accolades including Golden Globes and Emmy Awards.
The Co-Creator Directed Two Crucial Episodes
David Chase directed the pilot and the series finale. There were a few other directors who took a turn behind the camera. Tim Van Patten directed three episodes, including the season six episode “Members Only” that was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.
Allan Coulter would direct 12 episodes, but an actor also called “Action!” too. Steve Buscemi directed four episodes, but only one episode was directed by a female. Lorraine Senna directed the first season episode “Down Neck.”
During The First Six Seasons, The Show Raked In 111 Emmy Nominations
Take note, Game of Thrones. Despite the nominations, Sopranos only won 16 Primetime Emmy Awards. Throughout its entire run, the show was nominated for outstanding drama series, and it won in 2004, a first for cable television.
It raised the bar for cable network, but it shined a light on the producers of the show. Allen Coulter was given his first feature film, Hollywoodland. The writing team of Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess would go on to create Blue Bloods.
There’s A Goodfellas Reunion On The Show
It’s no surprise that Chase went with actors who had experience in mob-like roles. Six regular cast members of The Sopranos appeared in Martin Scorsese’s classic, Goodfellas. Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, and Joseph R. Gannascoli all had roles in Goodfellas.
But, Bracco and Vincent had more notable roles. Bracco portrayed Karen Hill while Vincent played mobster William “Billy Bats” Bentvena. Ten recurring Sopranos characters and eleven one-time guest stars all appeared in the 1990 masterpiece.
One Of The Actors From Goodfellas Was Approached For A Role
Ray Liotta was offered a part, but wouldn’t say which one. In a 2001 Today Show interview, the actor revealed that he turned it down just so he could focus on his acting career. However, in 2003, Liotta revealed a bit more in his story for GW Hatchet.
“Having done Goodfellas, I mean, that’s pretty much the ultimate in Mafia everyday life. And that show is pretty much structured around Tony Soprano. There was no way I was gonna shine,” he said.
James Gandolfini Wasn’t The First Pick For Tony
Long before Gandolfini was cast, Chase wanted Steven Van Zandt. Chase told Vanity Fair in 2012 that the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band always stood out to him. “He had this similarity to Al Pacino in The Godfather.” The producers didn’t want to take a chance on a first-time actor for the show’s lead.
As soon as the character Silvio Dante was created, Van Zandt was cast to play the role. It was inspired by a short story about a retired hitman, written by the musician himself.
Tony Wasn’t Going To Be So Tough
Chase didn’t view Tony as a ruthless character — it came from Gandolfini himself. In an interview for Written Magazine, Chase said, “Jim showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be.”
“The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood. In the script, it said something like, ‘Tony slaps him.’ But when we shot it, all of a sudden, he picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar.”
One Cast Member Lobbied Not To Be Whacked
Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Molisanti, brought up a recurring Sopranos ritual to Rolling Stone. He would take the cast member whose character was just offed out to dinner in Little Italy.
However, not every actor was thrilled at the very likely prospect that he or she may be written out of the show. Producer Terence Winter recalled that Tony Sirico said to him, “If I die, you die.” Sirico just smiled but didn’t deny it.
A Different Role For Drea De Matteo
The actress skyrocketed to fame thanks to her unforgettable role as Adriana La Cerva. However, it almost didn’t happen. During auditions, David Chase told her she wasn’t Italian enough for the show. Initially, the actress thought she was auditioning for a show about opera singers.
Despite her rough audition, she earned a one-line role as an unnamed hostess in the first season. Eventually, she won Chase over with her performance.
Michael Imperioli Is Convinced About One Thing
The famous cut-to-black scene in the finale was one of the most shocking cliffhangers of all-time. Many questions arose, and people still wonder if *spoiler* Tony gets shot, arrested, or does the whole family finish their sundaes and go home.
Michael Imperioli believes one thing — that Tony is dead. The actor told Vanity Fair “David was trying to put us in the place of the last things you see before you die. You remember some little details and something catches your eye and that’s it.”
The Inspiration For Dr. Melfi
As much as the show was about the mafia, it had a connection to psychology. It was evidenced by Tony’s sessions with Dr. Melfi, and that was based on Chase’s own life experience. The co-creator was inspired by his own life to create the character.
In 2006, Chase told Rolling Stone how his psychologist played a part in the development of his characters. “My last therapist, Lorraine Kaufman in L.A., is the model for Dr. Melfi. She had the same way of cutting through your problems.”
Gandolfini Was Extremely Generous
After season four, production of the show came to a halt due to a pay dispute with HBO. According to Edie Falco, the cast staged a sort of “Occupy Vesuvio” sit-in that shut down the set.
During this time, James Gandolfini stepped up to the plate. The actor forked over his own earnings to get the show back on the road. He called all of the cast members into his trailer and gave them $33,333 each.
Robert Iler’s Arrest
Tony’s son, A.J., flirted with his father’s criminal lifestyle. Life began to imitate art in 2001 when the young actor was arrested in New York. Iler was arrested and charged with armed robbery of two Brazilian tourists and possession of marijuana.
At the time, he was only sixteen years old and the show was already in its third season. Iler pleaded guilty to a single count of larceny, and he was given three years probation for his actions.
One Of The Actresses Had An Intervention
In 2005, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played Meadow Soprano, came clean. She had a battle with exercise bulimia that had become her “main source of control.” She credits her ability to overcome the disorder to the producers of the show.
She told Huffington Post, “The Sopranos was a big thing because they had asked me to put on weight. They were concerned, I think, for my health, but they didn’t feel I was the picture of a girl that is living in an Italian household.”
The Show’s Theme Song
At first, Chase wanted to use a different song for the opening credits. However, the producers convinced him otherwise. For the theme song, the co-creator chose a remixed version of “Woke Up This Morning” from Exile on Coldharbour Lane, the 1997 debut album by English band Alabama 3.
The frontman, Rob Spragg, wrote the song after hearing about the 1996 murder trial of Sara Thornton. She stabbed her alcoholic husband to death after suffering years of domestic abuse at his hands.
Tony Sirico Was A Criminal
Before he played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, he was a criminal. According to the Los Angeles Times, his rap sheet was longer than his acting credits combined: 28 arrests compared to 27 acting jobs.
As both Sirico and Chase put it, the similarities between the character and the actor didn’t end there. Paulie’s neat-freak tendencies and unusual living arrangements were transferred directly from Sirico’s real life to the screen. “David knew that going in. That became one of my storylines,” he told Vanity Fair.
A Sopranos Movie Is In The Works
David Chase is ready to return to the state of New Jersey. In March 2018, New Line Cinema announced that they have purchased a film detailing the Sopranos background story. It’s been said to be set during the Newark riots in the sixties, with the working title The Many Saints Of Newark.
At the time of the riots, African-Americans and Italians of Newark were at each other’s throats. Amongst the gangsters of each group, the conflicts become lethal.
Some Of The Beloved Characters From The Series Will Be In The Movie
There aren’t many details as to who will be in it, but the time period indicates familiar faces will return. For instance, Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni “Johnny Boy”, the former captain of the Soprano crew, will likely be heavily featured.
In addition, a younger version of his wife Livia and Tony’s uncle Junior will likely be in it. As for Tony himself, James Gandolfini’s son Michael has been cast to play his father’s iconic role.
One Of The Stars Of The Movie Revealed Some Details
Alessandro Nivola will star in the movie. Nivola talked to The Associated Press about the project. He had a good reason to be careful about how much else he could reveal about the film itself.
“I’m playing Dickie Moltisanti, who is the central character in the movie, and he is Christopher Moltisanti’s dad.” Moltisanti was a protege to Tony Soprano. As for Tony’s appearance in the film, he said, ” Tony will be a character.”