The First Five Episodes Were Make-Or-Break For The Sopranos Writers

Similar to fellow HBO darling “The Wire,” the first season of “The Sopranos” acts as an enclosed arc but would leave its season finale as open-ended as its infamous series finale. Primary baddies Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) and Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) are both put out of commission, but new seasons would bring new antagonists, a staple of the show where death always hovers, and its players are forever doomed to look over their shoulder.

Chase would become known for running a tight ship in the writers’ room, even beyond the first five episodes (and presumably, he had the writers he wanted). In Brett Martin’s book “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution,” Chase’s exacting guardianship of the show is speculated to come from decades of studio middling. Fifth-season writer Matthew Weiner is quoted as saying:

“We were exorcizing David’s demons. Do you know how many decisions were based on some meeting when he was on ‘Northern Exposure,’ or ‘Rockford,’ or ‘Kolchak,’ or some other show you’ve never heard of where he worked for three years and somebody told him, ‘You can’t do that’?”

No-gos for Chase included a ban on walk-and-talk shooting (which delivers information via dialogue as two characters share the frame and walk to their next destination) and a hard rule about camera movement in Tony’s therapy scenes. A swift departure was in store for any writer that the showrunner felt was losing their touch, as quickly as a mob hit. 

These were the pressures of working on the number one show in America. Like Tony says of running a criminal empire, “Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f****** thing.” Fifteen years beyond “The Sopranos,” the show’s legacy is an incredible testament to its creator’s fastidiousness.

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