The Sopranos

How Breaking A Secret TV Rule Helped The Sopranos’ Success

David Chase set out to break the rules of US TV drama when he created The Sopranos, banning one particular trope to make the show feel more real.

David Chase’s refusal to adhere to an unspoken rule in TV helped to secure the success of The Sopranos. HBO’s gangster drama is still lauded as one of the greatest American TV dramas of all time, and it has lost little of its power in the years since it concluded its run. Its focus on complex, morally compromised characters was relatively new ground for US television in the late 1990s, and the success of how David Chase and his writing team handled those characters continues to influence creators to this day.

Shows like Breaking BadMad Men, and even Game of Thrones have tried to repeat the success of The Sopranos with mixed results. All of these shows follow the template set out by David Chase and the character of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). However, for The Sopranos to redefine the rules of television for future generations, it had to break many of the existing rules of contemporary television. One of the most important creative decisions that David Chase made early was to ban a common show trope, going against what was happening elsewhere on TV in the late 1990s.

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Why The Sopranos Banned “Walk And Talks” (& Why it Helped The Show)

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano and the cast of the West Wing walking and talking

The most infamous use of the “Walk and Talk” trope is in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, which began airing on NBC in 1999 – the very same year as HBO began airing David Chase’s The Sopranos. Sorkin’s show would regularly include long scenes where President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and his staff would wander the halls of the White House, delivering snappy exposition. These types of scenes were beloved by network executives because the camera was focused on the characters talking, which meant that less attention was being paid to the locations – thereby saving money on production design and set building.

As revealed in Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, David Chase reportedly was adverse to these types of scenes. As such, he banned them outright from featuring in The Sopranos. This allowed for conversations to take place in recognizable Sopranos locations like the back rooms of Satriale’s Pork Store and the Bada-Bing strip club. In tandem with the real-life exteriors, this decision to root conversations inside fixed locations grounded The Sopranos in a believable world.

Why The Sopranos Broke So Many TV Rules At The Time

The Sopranos cast featured

The “Walk and Talk” wasn’t the only rule broken by The Sopranos. Coupling the gangster genre with both a family drama and contemporary psychiatry allowed the show to explore themes such as toxic masculinity and male mental health. There was no other show like it at the time, and the biggest rule the show broke was in its protagonists. While network television regularly portrayed adulterous or alcoholic detectives in shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life on the Street, they were fundamentally on the right side of the law. The same could not be said for the likes of The Sopranos‘ Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) or Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).

David Chase dispensed with the restrictive rules of network television when creating The Sopranos because the show wouldn’t have got made with them in place. The need for bad people to be punished for their actions – or for characters to learn valuable moral lessons – just wouldn’t fit within a show that was so firmly focused on criminality. So David Chase tore up the rulebook when he created The Sopranos, and the TV landscape became much richer as a result.

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