No matter who gets whacked, who goes to jail, or who turns into Tweety and starts singing secrets, tonight the world will say goodbye to the Soprano family. But their family name will stay present next to the Corleone’s from the Godfather, Tony Montana from Scarface and all the other legends of Mafiosa Entertainment.
Whatever happens in the episode, the curtain call will also mark the end of a program that, arguably, changed the fabric of Television programming as much as any other show in recent decades. Just as Mash and All in the Family opened new doors for sitcoms – from the subject matters considered, to the tone of the dialog – the Soprano’s too, altered TV. In bringing a gritty, edgy, violent concept and layering it with complex psychological nuance and wildly detailed character development, the Soprano’s ushered in a new era. The Soprano’s was more than just mafia TV. It was a program written and filmed with the kind of creative ambition and techniques usually reserved for feature films. The Soprano’s brought the air of film making and story telling back to the short form.
The legend of the show will transform with time and perspective but among its legacy are tens and twenty shows that reap the rewards of its influence. Quite simply, the success of the show, critically and commercially, helped give other cable channels, and even the broadcast networks, the kind of confidence necessary to green-light programming that would have likely otherwise been considered too dark, or too complicated for television. Complex story lines of show like Lost, for example, or the rebirth of serial programming (like 24), and the nuanced writing historically more appropriate to feature films than the popcorn fare of weekly TV – they all gained support from the Soprano’s…and without having to pay a little taste back to Tony.
The list of shows that owe life to the Soprano’s will read like a list of Emmy award nominees. They include: Nip Tuck, The Shield, The Wire, 24, Lost, Weeds, Rescue Me, Dirt and so many more. Even popular procedural shows from CSI to Law and Order saw the limits of what they could show (in terms of realism, content and language) expand as the barriers were pushed.
Shawn Ryan, the executive producer of the gritty, dark FX police show, “The Shield,” has been quoted as saying “the Soprano’s opened the door… While I think our show is distinctly different from the Soprano’s, I don’t think we’d be on the air if that show hadn’t been on the air and been such a success.”
When the Soprano’s first aired in 1999, the show topped nearly every top ten list for best programming. The New York Times called it the “greatest work of American popular culture in the last 25 years.” TV Guide has called it the best TV drama of all time, and one of the top 10 shows of all time. The Washington Post has said it is “the television landmark that leaves other landmarks in the dust.” In its 8 years, the show has been a huge commercial and critical success (18 Emmy Awards, 5 Golden Globes, 5 SAG awards).
Commercially, the success has been unheralded as well. Even though HBO is a subscription channel not seen by a majority of households, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of and seen a few episodes. Billions of dollars have been spent. With all episodes in the Top 100 (as of today) a quick look at DVD sales on Amazon shows just how far reaching (and successful) the program was:
Season 1 – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #14 in DVD
Season 2 – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #34 in DVD
Season 3 – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #55 in DVD
Season 4 – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #45 in DVD
Season 5 – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #35 in DVD
Season 6, part 1, – Amazon.com Sales Rank: #28 in DVD
Back in Season 4, Tony said to Carmella “Everything comes to an end.” Tonight, it will be official. This being goodbye. All in television should probably raise a glass to say thank you.
To Meadow, Tony, Carmella, Tony jr, to Dr. Melfi, the whole clan, to the Soprano’s: Salut and Arrivederci.