Today it feels as if pay-cable broadcaster HBO has been producing ambitious and lavishly expensive dramas forever, with a current stable which includes Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Newsroom and Treme. But in fact it is less than 15 years since the channel enjoyed its first truly major critical and ratings success with this David Chase-created series about the troubled ‘professional’ and domestic life of a New Jersey mobster. Watched regularly by audiences of more than 10 million at its peak – making it the most successful US cable series of all time – it contributed to fundamental changes in the way dramas are made and presented on TV, a legacy that lives on through Boardwalk Empire, created by former Sopranos writer and executive producer Terence Winter.
The Sopranos (86 episodes, 1999-2007).
The adventures of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), as he struggles with his professional, family and psychological issues.
Positively luxurious by contemporary standards with a length of 90 seconds, the intro follows Tony as he drives through the Lincoln Tunnel from Manhattan to his suburban New Jersey home via the New Jersey Turnpike, passing various landmarks in Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey on the way.
Creator David Chase has said that his intention with the title sequence was to emphasise that the show was set in New Jersey and not New York itself, as is traditional for Mafia-focussed shows.
As the series itself frequently did, the title sequence firmly puts music at the heart of the show, with the theme being Woke Up This Morning by British band Alabama 3 (known in the US as A3). No, I’d never heard of them, either. In the UK, their most successful single, Ain’t Goin’ To Goa, peaked at number 40 in April 1998. And yet millions of people around the world are familiar with the track used by The Sopranos which fits the series so perfectly, but was actually written about a British woman, Sara Thornton, who was jailed in 1990 for stabbing and killing her husband after 20 years of domestic violence and subsequently released in 1996 after her original murder sentence was downgraded to manslaughter. The original track was written in the first person – the version used by the series has lyrics in the second person.
Other than cast credits, the intro remained unchanged throughout the entire run of The Sopranos, with one small but notable exception. After the events of 9/11, the sequence was amended to remove a shot of the World Trade Centre, which can be seen in Tony’s wing mirror as he exits Lincoln Tunnel before entering the New Jersey Turnpike. The original version is shown here.
The Sopranos was the first cable-television series to win the Emmy award for Outstanding Drama Series – in 2004, for its fifth season. It won the award a second time, for the second part of its sixth season, in 2007.
The ‘Bada Bing’ strip club featured regularly throughout the series is actually a go-go bar in Lodi, New Jersey, called Satin Dolls.
Creator David Chase claims the relationship in the story between Tony and his mother Livia is based on his relationship with his own mother, who was also named Livia.
The series has close links with Goodfellas, with six of its regular cast having appeared in the film: Lorraine Bracco (Dr Jennifer Melfi), Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti), Tony Sirico (Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri), Vincent Pastore (Sal ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero), Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo), and Joseph R Gannascoli (Vito Spatafore). Ten recurring cast members and 11 one-time guest stars also appeared in the film.
Lorraine Bracco was originally asked to play the role of Carmela Soprano, but she felt that the part was too similar to her character in Goodfellas. She decided the role of Dr Melfi would be more challenging.
Dr Melfi was named after David Chase’s grandmother, Teresa Melfi.
In the whole series Tony cheats on Carmela on screen with 11 women.
The word ‘fuck’ is used in the series 3,539 times, an average of 41 per episode. Tony alone is responsible for nearly one-third of these (1,152).
Corrado Soprano’s nickname ‘Junior’ was taken from the actual nickname used by Tony Sirico when he was a mobster as a young man, before he became an actor.
In season five a story about Feech La Manna was told, concerning his killing a New Jersey longshoreman for refusing to give up his favourite seat in a bar. This story was based on a true-life incident involving former Philadelphia/Atlantic City crime boss Nicodemo ‘Little Nicky’ Scarfo.