The Sopranos ending is one of TV’s most controversial finales, but why did the show even end with season 6? Of course, all TV shows comes to a close, one way or another, but before The Sopranos, the reasoning behind major shows concluding was largely external, usually chalked up to creative exhaustion or viewer disinterest. This wasn’t the case with The Sopranos, which reached its ending through an organic journey and a collaboration between HBO and the show’s creator, David Chase.
Chase initially conceived The Sopranos as a movie about a mobster working through conflict with his mother in therapy, but at the time, gangster films were dipping in popularity, so he was encouraged in 1995 to reconceive the idea into a drama series. Suddenly, Chase realized the potential of a more macro approach to his initial concept; this mobster would have a home life, a wife, and two kids with rich inner lives and plenty of potential conflict. Add to the mix this guy’s other family, a tough pack of New Jersey wiseguys, and there was more than enough material to stretch past a two-hour runtime. By 1999, The Sopranos premiered on HBO and was well on its way to becoming a prime example of “must-see” television.
The Sopranos lasted for six seasons, the last of which was split into two parts in 2006 and 2007, and the decision to end the series ultimately lied with Chase. When The Sopranos aired its controversial finale in June 2007, the series hadn’t experienced any major drop in viewership, so it wasn’t HBO who was calling for its cancellation. Rather, The Sopranos ended because Chase drafted the best finale for the story, which he told a crowd gathered for his Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television acceptance in 2008 that he came up with during an extended hiatus between seasons 5 and 6.
This isn’t to say there wasn’t some HBO interference, particularly early on. According to interviews in Alan Sepinwall’s and Matt Zoller Seitz’s book The Sopranos Sessions, Chase didn’t want to continue with the show past its second season, but pay raises for himself and his cast made ducking out early a near impossibility. By the time the fourth season was winding down, Chase says, “I thought I had more to give The Sopranos. I wasn’t ready to give up. I was feeling really good, and I wanted to keep doing it.”
After finally winning the Best Drama Series Emmy for the show’s fifth season, then-HBO chairman Chris Albrecht said in The New York Times that Chase felt “really reinvigorated.” Therefore, an initial plan to produce ten more episodes and sign off transformed into a deal for 21. Those 21 episode filmed in one continuous production cycle and then premiered as two separate parts, the first in March 2006 and the second in January 2007.
In this way, Chase satisfied the coffers of HBO leadership, who of course wanted their flagship program to continue as long as possible, while still staying true to the story he set out to tell at the beginning. The result was a finale that came not because of declining ratings or creative bankruptcy, but because of the organic nature of the storytelling. The tale of Tony Soprano and his two families had run its course. It’s a credit to HBO for trusting that course throughout the run of The Sopranos, but it’s Chase that knew just when to cut to black.