The Sopranos Changed The Landscape of Television Drama

Dramatic television has come a long way. It wasn’t that long ago television was seen by many big screen actors as a step down. A place where failing actors had to go in order to get work.

It wasn’t unreasonable for them to think so. Television history is littered with dramatic shows featuring bad writing, corny characters and goofy plots. Most of the best writers in television were plying their craft on situation comedies. The 80′s landscape featured a plethora of television shows that enjoyed fan popularity, but wouldn’t in a million years attract top tier Hollywood talent. ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, ‘CHiPs’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Dynasty’, ‘The A Team’ and were all part of that era.

In the early 90′s there was a shift. Shows such as ‘Law & Order’, ‘Homicide’, ‘ER’, and ‘NYPD Blue’ started to take television dramas into an edgier realm. These were shows that featured strong writing, good characters and stories that did not always end happily.

There was a seismic shift in television however, when ‘The Sopranos’ premiered on HBO in 1999. Like the shows I mentioned previously, ‘The Sopranos’ featured an ensemble cast. But from the first episode to the last, the core of show was really about one character: Tony Soprano.

James Gandolfini brought to audiences the most complex and interesting mob boss to ever appear on screen.

When Quentin Tarantino was asked about why he had criminals sitting around talking pop culture, he said criminals consider what they do, “their job.” Outside of that, they are often like any other people, dealing with many of the same issues every day and having similar conversations as about sports, pop culture or current events.

Audiences saw a side of Tony Soprano they did not see in other big screen mob bosses. Some might argue showing Tony dealing with teenage kids, arguing about bills with Carmela and cleaning his pool weren’t necessary to the show but they’d be wrong. It was the world outside of Tony’s “job”, particularly his sessions with Dr. Melfi, that truly made the character intriguing.

‘The Sopranos’ truly made television cool again – for actors and writers. It’s no accident that some of the best dramatic television in history has been released over the last decade with some of the best writers and some big name actors making the leap. ‘The Sopranos’ paved the way for (not an exhaustive list):

The Shield
Mad Men
The Killing
Breaking Bad
Big Love
The Following

Tony Soprano was the first character seen in the show and he was also the last. It was all about him.

James Gandolfini made him an unforgettable character and he will be missed.