The Sopranos creator David Chase has revealed the one thing that HBO wanted him not to do when making season 1 of the landmark series. The Sopranos follows the life of Tony Soprano, a capo in the fictional DiMeo crime family, as he navigates the balance between his notorious work and trying to have a normal family life. The show went on to win an astonishing 21 Emmy awards during its six seasons, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential shows of all time.
Among many accolades, The Sopranos was lauded for its ambitious storytelling, strong performances, and for its ability to loom large in the cultural memory. The series was recently followed up with a prequel film, The Many Saints of Newark, released in October 2021. The prequel followed a young Tony Soprano’s induction into a life of organized crime, with Chase returning to write the script. A younger version of Tony was played by Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, who played the character in the original series. The Many Saints of Newark went on to receive largely positive reviews and was a streaming success for HBO.
Chase recently say down with THR to discuss several aspects of The Sopranos, including the one thing HBO asked him to change. The moment occurred during The Sopranos season 5, episode 1, “College,” in which Tony murders an FBI informant he runs into while visiting colleges with his daughter. HBO wanted Tony to spare the informant, thinking the murder would make him look too cruel. Read the details below:
When did you feel that your writing really kicked into high drive? I heard it was maybe that fifth episode of the first season, which to this day is discussed as one of the great ones, “College.”
“…By the time we got to the fifth episode, the first time Tony killed somebody, I got a call from Chris Albrecht, who ran HBO, screaming about, “How could you do this?! You’ve created one of the most dynamic characters of the past 20 years, and you’re just going to ruin him. You’re going to kill him right now because he kills that guy!” And I said, “Well, then don’t air it.” And he went nuts. I wasn’t trying to be a smartass. And I said “Chris, he’s a captain of a crew, and he comes upon a guy who was a rat. If he doesn’t kill that guy, the show’s over.” And he said, “OK, OK, OK.” But he made me make some small little side thing, that the rat was also selling drugs to kids in high school.”
Because this was how foreign the idea was that your main protagonist could be …
“A murderer. And compared to what I was used to, I made that compromise because I thought, “We’ve got something here, and that’s not such a big deal. And maybe he would be selling drugs. I don’t know.” So I said, “Yeah.” And that was the only time they ever asked me not to do something.”
Chase ultimately believed that if Tony didn’t commit the murder, the audience would think he looked weak, and the show would be “over.” The creator clearly saw this moment as crucial to the character’s development, cementing his status as an anti-hero from early episodes. Eventually, Chase won the decision and “College” went on to become a fan favorite Sopranos episode, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series.
With the recent release of The Many Saints of Newark, the renewed interest in The Sopranos from viewers both returning and new has become clear. The show has been praised for its ability to handle complex issues that had never been seen in television before, such as the intersection of crime with family dynamics, mental illness, and cultural identity. The effects of The Sopranos can be felt in all prestige television, elevating the medium and allowing it to become the method for high quality storytelling felt to this day. Ultimately, it was Chase’s conviction to stay true to his interpretation of Tony Soprano that made The Sopranos such a compelling series, the legacy of which will likely be seen by generations to come.