The Sopranos is often heralded as one of the greatest shows ever made, and certainly one of the most influential. Before it, television was often seen as an inferior medium, especially when compared to film. However, its abundant and obvious quality helped change that stigma, and suddenly, television was regarded as a legitimate form of media that hosted long-form and complex storytelling.
Stories behind such monumental pieces of pop culture often prove just as fascinating as the pieces themselves, and the making of The Sopranos proves no different.
It Was Originally Going To Be A Movie
While The Sopranos is often regarded as the most influential television show ever made, it didn’t begin that way. While creator David Chase had worked on numerous television projects throughout the years, he never envisioned The Sopranos as a television show.
During an interview with Written By, Chase stated, “I [pitched] this as a movie, which was a mobster in therapy having problems with his mother, who’s also involved in some sort of a gang war or mob business problem.” He also firmly stated, ” I didn’t care about creating a series.”
Tony Soprano Might Have Been A TV Producer
Before Tony Soprano was the legendary mob boss everyone knows him as today, he was a producer of television. Chase stated in the same interview, “I thought about turning it into a story about a TV producer and his mother. Then I thought, ‘That’s such a wussy thing’… So I had thought, ‘Well, maybe if the guy’s a gangster, he’s at least a tough guy.'”
Thus, the modern conception of Tony Soprano was born, and he would later launch the antihero TV show movement, thanks to his tough guy, unlikable characteristics.
Tony Was Supposed To Kill Livia
The Sopranos was prone to dropping storylines, and the one involving Tony and his mother proved one of the most suspect and frustrating. It seems as if Tony is going to kill his mother, but then she gets sick and he doesn’t get the chance. However, the story was clearly building to Tony’s assassination of his own mother, and that was originally the plan.
Chase told Written By, “[Livia] was supposed to die. But Nancy [Marchand] was sick with cancer, and she said, ‘David, just keep me working.’ So Tony didn’t kill his mother with a pillow.”
Chase Thinks The Early Formula Was “Stupid”
If The Sopranos is criticized for anything, it’s the rather cyclical nature of the storyline. If often goes that a new dangerous enemy is introduced, they get into it with Tony Soprano, Tony and the villain clash in terms of business, and then Tony deals with the villain by either killing them or disposing of them in some other manner.
Chase actually agrees with this criticism, saying, “I decided that Tony needed a nemesis, somebody who wanted his job. But how many times can you do that? You take care of Richie Aprile and then the next one was, the character Ralphie, Joey Pants. It was mechanistic and stupid when I look back on it.”
It Was Originally Toned Down For Network TV
While HBO was obviously a thing before The Sopranos, The Sopranos helped turn it into the household name it is today. Known for its “no holds barred” approach to TV, HBO has long been associated with late-night TV, which often means swearing, graphic violence, and sexuality.
The Sopranos took full advantage of this, but not before Chase tried toning down certain elements of the show for network TV. As he mentioned to The Guardian regarding the original script, “It was a mob show but I didn’t have anybody murdered. And I think that might’ve been one of the reasons why it didn’t sell.”
The Sopranos Began On The Rockford Files
Before The Sopranos, David Chase worked on a network detective drama called The Rockford Files, which aired for six seasons on NBC between 1974 and 1980. While writing for the show, Chase worked out what would eventually become the core concept of The Sopranos.
As he mentioned in the same Guardian article, “I did an episode of The Rockford Files that was kind of like The Sopranos, about an Italian mother and her son who’s a hitman. They were going to give him up so that the mob boss would give her a house. It was a similar tone.” The Sopranos went on to become one of the best TV shows about gangsters, so clearly Chase was on to something from the beginning.
David Chase & James Gandolfini Grew Sick Of Each Other
While David Chase and his team of writers and directors generated a fantastic performance from James Gandolfini, it often came at the expense of the personal relationship between Chase and Gandolfini.
Chase told The Guardian that the two had grown sick of each other by the time The Sopranos ended, stating, “He was tired of me, for sure. And I was kind of tired of him.” Luckily, they were able to work past their differences and reunited on Chase’s Not Fade Away before Gandolfini’s tragic passing in 2013.
Chase Was Struck With A Lawsuit
As told to Today, while writing the pilot, David Chase was consulted by a prosecutor named Robert Baer. Baer reportedly introduced Chase to numerous police officers and other members of the legal system while touring New Jersey, and Chase used their stories for characters and storylines throughout The Sopranos.
Baer in turn sued Chase, claiming that he helped create the show and should receive a share of its profits. After just two hours of deliberation, a jury found Baer’s accusations heedless and refused to award him credit, clearing Chase of all charges.
Chase Consulted An Expert On The Mafia
The Sopranos is often praised for its authenticity, and that’s because Chase employed an expert with a deep and complex understanding of the mob. As reported in the same Today article, that man was Dan Castleman, who worked as a technical advisor throughout the show’s six seasons.
He was paid a total of $15,000 for his work throughout the first season ($3,000 for the pilot and $1,000 for each of the remaining 12 episodes), and he even made cameos throughout the show as the federal prosecutor prosecuting Junior Soprano.
Family Guy Resulted In The Show’s Name Being Changed
Once HBO picked up the show, the cable network and series creator David Chase began arguing about the show’s title.
As Chase explained to Vanity Fair, “HBO had a problem” with naming the show The Sopranos, as “they thought people will say, ‘It’s about opera.’ They had people generating lists of alternate titles, page after page after page: New Jersey Blood, this terrible s***. They wanted to call it Family Man.'”
However, they finally changed their minds after Family Guy debuted in January of 1999, and HBO decided on the use of The Sopranos.