Fifteen years ago Friday (Jan. 10), the face of television changed. That was perhaps not apparent at the time, but those who saw “The Sopranos” before it premiered on HBO on Jan. 10, 1999, did see it as something special.
What reviewers at the time couldn’t know, of course, was just how large and lasting an effect “The Sopranos” would have on TV drama. Shows ranging from “The Shield” to “Dexter” to “Breaking Bad” to “House” might not have existed — or at least not in the form we came to know them — were it not for Tony, Carmela and Co.
Oceans of ink and pixels have been spilled about the show’s legacy (this excerpt from Alan Sepinwall’s book “The Revolution Was Televised” is as good as any), and about how people came to discover the show (Ahem). But there may still be a handful of things you don’t know (or have forgotten) about the series. Here are a few.
– The show was one of two pilots HBO commissioned when it made the decision to go forward with a drama series. The other came from “My So-Called Life” creator Winnie Holzman and centered on a female executive at a toy company.
– Among the actors who could have been Tony Soprano: “Goodfellas” star Ray Liotta (who has said he didn’t want to commit to a series), Michael Rispoli and Steven Van Zandt. Rispoli and Van Zandt both auditioned to play Tony but ended up in other roles, as Jackie Aprile Jr. and Silvio Dante.
– Creator David Chase originally approached Lorraine Bracco to play Carmela. She gravitated toward Dr. Melfi, though, since she had played a mobster’s wife in “Goodfellas.”
– Despite the near-universal praise and a boatload of Emmy nominations every year it was on, “The Sopranos” didn’t win the Emmy for best drama series until Season 5 in 2004. Prior to that, in the years “The Sopranos” was eligible the best drama award went to “The Practice” (1999) and “The West Wing” (2000, 2001, 2003).
– The show’s highest-rated season was the fourth (which, incidentally, some critics see as one of the show’s weaker season), at just under 11 million viewers per episode. The series finale in 2007 drew 11.9 million people.
– As detailed in Brett Martin’s book “Difficult Men,” “Sopranos” writer and producer Todd Kessler‘s relationship with Chase became so fraught that it helped form the basis for the relationship between Patty Hewes and Ellen Parsons on “Damages.”