Quantity vs Quality
An essay about David Chase
April 19th, 2000
by John Weber

 

We hear his named mentioned all of the time. We keep hearing that he is the brains behind The Sopranos. We assume that he is probably a guy who has vision, insight and creativity.

Everyone is also pissed off at him.

Why? Because he only makes 13 episodes per year and now there will be close to a three month delay to the start of season 3. He's making us wait until March of 2001 for the start of the new season?

This article is just my perspective on this situation and reflects things I've read, heard and seen. In addition to the press releases, news articles and the thousands of emails I receive you can't but help to have an opinion.

Everyone is always crying "more.......more....". Even the executives at the Original Programming Department at HBO have indicated that they were hoping David would create more episodes for Season 2; something like 17 or 18 instead the 13 which he made in Season 1. This of course never happened. David has just recently signed a contract with HBO to continue as Executive Producer for The Sopranos for another two seasons. In addition, he will write and direct a feature film. The price? 10 million dollars.

Is that a lot of money? Probably. It's certainly more money that you or I will ever see in our lifetime. This is Hollywood though. Money rolls everywhere and it's big money too. As an example, when Edie Falco (Carmela) appeared at the Emmy's, she received a lot of bad publicity due to her appearenance. Fashion was probably not one of her strong points. To help her improve her image, HBO allotted her $20,000 and a personal assistant. Twenty Thousand Dollars? Most of us probably think it's extravagant if we spend $200.00 for new clothes and a hair cut. But again, this is Hollywood and the cost of fame and looking good is very expensive. By the way, it is said that Edie only spent about $4,000 for the make over.

David Chase was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He is an only child and grew up in a typical household. When he was in the 7th grade, his family moved to North Caldwell New Jersey, the same town where Tony Soprano is supposed to live in. David says that he has always been fascinated with the mafia and mob related activities. Among his writing and directing achievements are The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure and I'll Fly Away.

Somewhere down the road, David came up with the concept of The Sopranos and it got as far as filming a pilot episode. Although several executives seemed interested noone ever got back to him. The Networks were the ones looking at it; NBC, CBS and FOX. The concept was good but the language and sexual content is something which could never happen on network television. No one was ever able to sell the idea and the pilot remained shelved for close to two years.

In 1998, the Original Programming Department at HBO expressed an interest and agreed to do a series. Since this was cable, it allowed much more freedom and possibilities than the Networks could allow. The show was an instant success and now all of the networks are kicking themselves for missing an enormous opportunity. They are finding ways to use this concept and develop their own shows. In addition to Falcone, there are at least three other series which are scheduled to air soon.

David is at the center of all of this. He calls the shots and makes the decisions. He is the Executive Producer as well as writes and directs some of the episodes. Even though his name was not mentioned as director in the season finale, in the HBO live chat Vincent Pastore (Big Pussy) said that David sat next to the director for every single scene.

David claims that he never thought about the show beyond Season 1. Why should he? When he created the series he had no idea if it would be picked up and why plan for years down the road if it would never happen. With the success of the first season, HBO ordered another season and now at least two more. The production costs are between $1.9 million and $2 million per episode. Added up this comes to about $26 million per season. HBO is willing to spend more if more episodes were developed. This hasn't happened and probably will not happen, at least in the next two seasons. If and when David leaves his position, we don't know what will happen after that. Will the show go on or will there be an ending written? During one interview David said that based on the lifestyle of Tony Soprano he can't live forever or go on the way he is forever. Something has to happen.

So why can't we have more episodes or not as long of a gap between seasons? This is just the way it is. David has said that he feels 'comfortable' with 13 episodes per season. He also wants two month post production time to review and access the current season.

I've personal received a lot of email of people complaining about this situation. It ranges from people saying that HBO should 'threaten' David to make more episodes to people saying that David and the rest of the cast are lazy and don't want to work more.

Both of these arguments are ludicrous.

One person wrote an email to me (thinking he was writing it to someone at HBO) a very detailed plan as to how the seasons should be shown and how HBO could make more money by following his plan. It was kind of interesting to read it because the person was taking himself so seriously. He had it all figured out.

What it comes down to is what do you want, Quantity or Quality? In my opinion a writer/director is just like any other artist. Could you tell a Salvatore Dali to crank out more paintings... could you have told the Beatles to write more music because you couldn't get enough...

I'm sure if the decision was made to double or triple the number of episodes that it could be done. You hire more writers, increase the time the actors are available, introduce new characters and everything else. What would happen then? The show would start to degrade. You'd see 'formula' type episodes. You'd end up with the Nightmare on Elm Street syndrome. How many are they up to? You'd also end up with not much more than a Dallas or Falcon Crest.

Is this what you want? I'm sure no one would argue that one of the reasons we love The Sopranos is that it is different. It is witty, cruel, black comedy, intense, funny and mafia and crime related....... everything that people are attracted to. As any show you see, a lot of work goes into writing an episode and getting it to come out exactly as you want it to. Each episode of the Sopranos was allotted 8 days to film. That is a very short amount of time. While the episodes are being filmed, changes are made to the script because something doesn't work or sound right or it doesn't fit into the big picture.

If episodes were being cranked out, they would start to get sloppy, poorly written and even poorly acted out. Then people would start to complain about that.

Don't get me wrong. I'm just like you and would like nothing more than to see more of The Sopranos. I think it's awful to have to wait close to a year for the next season. This is not right.

I also think though, that there is a winning formula right now. a BIG winning formula. Why change something that has taken off like a bat out of hell and ruin it? If you want to see more, don't worry. You're going to be seeing many take-off's and spin-off's in the Networks soon. And all you're going to do is complain because they're not going to be as good as the Sopranos. The reason they're not going to be as good is that production costs are going to be lower, more shows are going to be written and you're not going to have the genius of David Chase at the helm.

So now that the season is over, it's time to sit back, watch both seasons over when HBO decides to air them. We'll probably all walk away with a new perspective after seeing the episodes again.

If you still want more mafia and gangster movies, I have added the Mob Movie Guide to this site. It's still at the early stages but the intent is to have visitor reviews, feedback and recommendations.

 

 

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