Television changed dramatically 14 years ago when a guy named Tony Soprano first appeared on the box. Played by James Gandolfini who died suddenly this week at the age of 51, Tony was a mob boss who could have been your next door neighbour.
He wandered down the driveway in his boxer shorts to fetch the morning paper. He had family problems galore that Don Corleone never had to worry about. Tony was filled with doubts and insecurities, and the actor who played him did not walk the earth with the swagger of a wise guy.
What set The Sopranos apart as a TV show was the fact that it was driven by the characters. It would have been easy to do a show about the mob which was punctuated by brutal violence every week.
There was certainly lots of rough stuff and cruelty. There were moments when you would turn your eyes away from the screen. But very often the mere possibility of violence was enough to sustain the dramatic tension while we enjoyed the characters like Uncle Junior.
The Sopranos lifted HBO into a new realm of TV. It led the way as specialty cable became the place for thoughtful drama that we used to find on the big screen.
The audience quickly became OK with the idea of paying a little extra to have shows that were free of commercials, and free of the constraints that were imposed by the networks and their sponsors.
What a shame that we never got to see what happened in that restaurant after The Sopranos faded to black six years ago. And what a shame that the actor who created Tony will now live only in reruns. I’m Roger Currie.