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The Sopranos: The Final Season

After more than eight years and six seasons, the saga of the New Jersey crime family will come to a close after nine more episodes.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007

David Chase doesn't look like a mastermind of organized crime. But for millions of devoted television viewers around the world, over the last eight years, that's just what he has been. Chase is the creator, the godfather, of "The Sopranos," the most popular program in the history of cable TV, the winner of multiple Emmy awards, the show that has changed forever the nature of the small screen and made massive fortunes for its producers, its stars and its network. Yet despite Chase's intimate knowledge of all things mob related, when he was asked why his series and other Mafia movies are so popular, he immediately cited a cinema expert of another era: the legendary film director John Ford.

Ford "said that we live in a very complicated technological age," Chase recalled during a free, public question-and-answer session last fall at the McGraw-Hill Building in Manhattan. "Everything's fractured. We work for corporations. The government is beyond you. It's all depersonalized. But a mob movie is you and your tribe. It's you and your clan against the clan over the hill."

After a 10-month hiatus, the final nine episodes of the sixth and last season in the epic saga of Tony Soprano and his crime clan will begin on HBO on April 8. And, to discover the ultimate fate of Tony, one of television's most beloved, evil, influential and iconic creations, what is expected to be the largest audience in the history of cable television will tune in on a Sunday night in June, for the very last chapter of the landmark series.

In recent months, as "The Sopranos" was filming its farewell episodes, three of the show's key figures—Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher Moltisanti, Tony's conflicted nephew; Lorraine Bracco, who portrays Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony's truth-telling psychotherapist; and Frank Vincent, who plays Phil Leotardo, Tony's vicious and cunning archenemy—took time out to talk about the series, its origins, what it has meant to them, and their expectations about life after "The Sopranos."

Little has been revealed about this ultimate season. We know that it begins a year after last June's finale; that Christopher is at last getting a chance to make his Saw meets The Godfather II horror film, with Daniel Baldwin as the star. And that Leotardo has recovered from his heart attack, and that his battle with Tony takes on new dimensions.

But whatever happens, one thing is certain: to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar—a notable mob tale of a different era—Mother of mercy, this is indeed the end of "The Sopranos."

It will not, of course, be the end of the cash flow to HBO, which, since the series premiered in January 1999, has made hundreds of millions of dollars cashing in on the popularity of Tony and the gang. It's an unprecedented amount of money for a cable network, especially one that sells no advertising.

First, there's the income from the untold number of subscribers who signed up just to watch Tony battle his evil mother, his scheming Uncle Junior and an assortment of Mafioso Machiavellis. Then there's the millions upon millions in revenue from the release of each season's DVD set. And finally there's the sale, two years ago, of syndication rights on basic cable to the A&E Network, which reportedly paid HBO at least $2.5 million per episode—for a total of about $215 million.

Not a bad haul—a lot more than the cash Tony has stashed away behind the walls of his lavish suburban New Jersey home, gained from multiple criminal schemes: from hauling garbage, from the construction business and, of course, from the nude dancers at his Bada Bing! Club. And it's all a part—an unpleasant part, perhaps, but an undeniable one—of the American Dream.

Many questions remain to be answered. Will Tony end his TV days sleeping with the fishes? Entombed in concrete? Or simply blown away? Will he join the witness protection program? Will he ascend to the role of godfather of godfathers, moving beyond his New Jersey fiefdom to control New York as well? Or will he stay just the way he is, walking down the driveway each morning in his bathrobe to pick up the daily newspaper, spending his life fucking anything that comes his way and fucking up anyone who gets in his way?

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