- Cable’s biggest hit and TV’s most acclaimed series in years returns (finally) Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT with the first of 13 new episodes this fall and the promise of just one more season to follow next year.
But thanks in part to a marketing barrage that includes books, DVDs, Italian food products — and even a spread in Architectural Digest on the North Caldwell, N.J., digs used in the series — The Sopranos has become as unavoidable as the tollbooths on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The marketing overkill might have been unnecessary. Befitting a series about a mobster in therapy, loyal viewers’ sense of anxiety has been growing as the months passed. Even minor stars made into household names by the show have tired of answering fans’ inevitable questions.
”People stop you everywhere and say, ‘When are you guys coming back?’ ” says Steven Schirripa, the oversized actor who plays Bobby ”Bacala” Baccalieri, one of Mob boss Tony Soprano’s trusted minions. ”I was going to get a T-shirt that said, ‘Sept. 15: Don’t ask me.’ ”
HBO chairman Chris Albrecht says the buzz is a tribute to the show’s power. (So is $75 million in video and DVD sales.) ”I’m confident that when the show airs, it’s really going to be like seeing old family members and friends that you’ve missed,” he says. ”It fits with the relationship people have with the show, that they’re anxiously awaiting a reunion.”
Sunday’s premiere could easily draw 12 million viewers, a record for any cable series.
What took so long?
* David Chase, the guiding hand behind the series as creator and executive producer, wanted more time to hone story lines in preparation for an unusually long eight-month production schedule. (Typical network dramas produce 22 episodes but spend less time filming each one; they’re also shorter, to leave room for commercials.)
* Actor Tony Sirico, who plays Soprano captain Paulie ”Walnuts” Gualtieri and was to figure prominently in the season’s early episodes, was diagnosed with a spinal tumor just as production began last fall. That forced writers to scrap the first five scripts and shut down the show for nearly two months for retooling.
”We had quite a bit planned for him,” Chase says, and while Sirico recovered and returned five months later, they were by then nearly midway through filming for this season. ”We could never really recover from it.” Instead, the season opener finds Paulie in jail; his scenes were shot late and inserted into otherwise finished episodes.
* And though The Sopranos’ first episodes were ready by late spring, HBO shelved the series, opting to air Sex and the City instead in its usual summer pattern. That way, it could save The Sopranos to battle the networks’ traditional fall season, the first time an established cable hit has done so.
We let HBO lapse after The Sopranos ended last season – looks like it’s time to hook it back up. I am somewhat leery about this season – it seems like it was a real struggle for all involved, especially creator Chase and James Gandolfini, who plays Tony.
Gandolfini was reportedly very upset last season with Tony being made to kill his best friend for informing, and the relatively light body count this year is doubtless related to this.
But I was hesitant heading into last season also – I hate to be disappointed – and it was great once again, even with the novelty factor worn off, no small feat. Now where’s that number for the cable company?