Farewell to 'The Sopranos'

HBO's hit show The Sopranos airs its last installment on Sunday. Mike Pesca does all he can in 90 seconds to deliver a complete Sopranos orientation. Jerry Capeci, who runs the organized crime website GangLandNews.com, tells Madeleine Brand how he thinks the series will end.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Sure, there are other TV shows that ended this year.

COHEN: "Veronica Mars," "The King of Queens."

BRAND: But let's face it, Sunday night's finale of the "The Sopranos," well, it's truly the end of something special.

COHEN: Madeleine, seven years of our lives over in a mere 60 minutes.

BRAND: I know. I'm mourning. Well, in a moment, we're going to speculate on exactly how it's going to end with an expert on the real mob.

COHEN: But if you've never seen an episode of "The Sopranos," if you don't get what all the fuzz is about, our Mike Pesca wants to help you see the light.

MIKE PESCA: It's not that "The Sopranos" isn't a show about murder. We've seen scenes like this one.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

PESCA: To the tune of 49 characters killed on screen over 85 mere hours of TV. That body count doesn't even include a racehorse and Maltese named Cosette. But the show's genius goes far beyond the schemes and the double crosses. Just as every medical drama comes back to a theme about healing, there's an undercurrent to "The Sopranos" and that undercurrent is rot.

American institutions - family, the legal system, the media, the church - they're picked up, examined and flung aside. It's all done expertly, set in a world made real through the little details of modernity. Take Carmela Soprano, the mob boss's wife. We've seen this archetype before, but never in such depth that we got to know her taste in the stars of romantic comedies.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Ms. EDIE FALCO (Actress): (As Carmela Soprano) Just last week I told I'm not a big Renee Zellweger fan.

PESCA: Then a few years later she apparently backtracks on that very pronouncement.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) I went to Blockbuster today to rent "Cinderella Man" and guess what?

Unidentified Man: She's still a classic?

PESCA: On "The Sopranos" it's so hard for the characters to connect. And when there seems to be that moment of communication, things almost immediately veer off into emotional rampages or confusion. Let's take one scene, a small gem. Here, Bobby, Tony's underling, chats up his boss over steaks in a diner.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Mr. STEVE SCHIRRIPA (Actor): (As Bobby Baccalieri) I really went down here after the World Trade Center.

PESCA: Post 9/11, this was the sort of admission heard in North Jersey a million times, but on episodic television almost never. Back at Bobby in the diner.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Sopranos")

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby Baccalieri) You know, Quasimodo predicted all this.

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI (Actor): (As Tony Soprano) Who did what?

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby Baccalieri) All these problems, the Middle East, the end of the world.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) Nostradamus. Quasimodo is the hunchback of the Notre Dame.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: (As Bobby Baccalieri) Oh, right. Notradamus.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) Nostradamus, and Notre Dame. It's two different things completely.

PESCA: This was kind of a symphony of inarticulateness that was funny on the surface, it developed character, and even added to the tension, because now it seems as if Tony Soprano was entrusting his life to a hulking dullard. Who knows how many viewers care about the subtleties? Many probably just want to see if Tony lives or dies. Either way, come Sunday night 11 million or so Americans will want to know that A.J. and Meadow still have a father, no matter how corpulent, murderous and self-deluded Tony Soprano really is.

COHEN: NPR's Mike Pesca, reminding us why we love "The Sopranos." So what's in store for Tony? Will rival mob boss Phil Leotardo do him in? Will anyone survive Sunday night?

BRAND: We're going to turn now to Jerry Capeci. He is an expert on real organized crime and in a strange life-imitating-art-imitating-life - whatever - moment, he appeared as himself on the show this season.

I heard that they shot multiple endings for the finale.

Mr. JERRY CAPECI (GangLandNews.com): I have heard the same thing. My view is that Tony Soprano and Agent Harris are going to ride off in the sunset together.

BRAND: That's the FBI guy?

Mr. CAPECI: Yes. And he's going to become a rat in the parlance that the Mafia likes to use, a turncoat or cooperator in the verbiage that the good guys, the Feds want to use, and give up whatever he can give up about what's left of the New York and New Jersey mob on the show. I mean, he's got nothing left. I mean, even the shrink rejected him last week. I mean, she kicked him out of the office. All his guys are dead. You know, everybody has turned against him. I think - you know, what I would do if I were writing the script to make it happen is, I would have either Carmela or Meadow or maybe even A.J., you know, clipped by a mistake that would send Tony over the edge.

BRAND: Jerry, is there a real life parallel, to your knowledge, to Tony Soprano? Is there someone that reminds you of him?

Mr. CAPECI: Well, he's got the brassy in-your-face attitude that, you know, John Gotti displayed. You know, he's got the physical appearance of Joe Massino, the guy who did become a rat. Not in recent years has anyone been visiting a shrink, but even there - back in the '50s, Frank Costello, the prime minister of organized crime in New York, the boss of the Genovese crime family, spent a couple of years talking to a shrink.

So there are a lot of things that happen in real life that "The Sopranos" grabs on to. Just last week, you had Phil Leotardo talking about the Jersey crew is a minor league outfit. They don't even prick the finger during the ceremony. That's based on fact. I've written columns about it as well. John Gotti was angry at the boss of the New Jersey family for not living up to the traditions during inductions. They made them re-induct all members of the New Jersey family, I think for the 20 or 22 years previously, who hadn't been inducted the proper way.

BRAND: Okay. You talk to real life wiseguys, right?

Mr. CAPECI: Mm-hmm.

BRAND: What did they think about it? How do they think the show's going to end?

Mr. CAPECI: Well, I think they feel that Tony will get whacked, and he should get whacked for some of the crazy things he's done. Seeing a shrink - I mean once he dies you can't a have sequel, you can't have a follow-up, you can't do it again.

BRAND: But here's the problem with that, Jerry

Mr. CAPECI: Okay.

BRAND: He's already been shot twice.

Mr. CAPECI: That's why I think he's not going to get whacked. It's too obvious. There's only four ways a mafia boss ends his reign. One, he gets killed. Another one, he becomes a cooperator. The other - three, he goes to prison and spends the rest of his life in jail. I don't think that's the way it's going to happen. Or four, he retires. There's no way Tony Soprano can retire to Florida.

BRAND: Given your scenario that he becomes part of the witness protection program...

Mr. CAPECI: Okay.

BRAND: Where would he go? What would he do? How would he live his life?

Mr. CAPECI: He would have to spend a long time in prison like Joe Massino is doing right now, the Bonanno boss who's been cooperating for a couple of years. And then when, you know, he serves his time, he would go off somewhere in America and live next to John Q. Public or Jane Q. Public with a new identity. Maybe a little bit of plastic surgery, maybe he'll grow a little hair, he'll get hair plugs to make the hair - to have a full head of hair.

BRAND: Lose a little weight.

Mr. CAPECI: Lose a little weight. That's one of the things that I've - we've noticed over the last seven years, is not only have Meadow and A.J. gotten older, but some of the characters, Tony, have gotten a little heavier. They've gotten a little greyer. They've lost a little hair, like I guess all of us have.

BRAND: Jerry Capeci, thank you so much.

Mr. CAPECI: It's been a pleasure, Madeleine.

BRAND: Mafia expert Jerry Capeci runs GangLandNews.com.

How would you end the show? Let an experienced TV producer be your guide. On our Web site, npr.org, you'll find my conversation with Darren Starr. He created HBO's "Sex and the City."

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Darren Star: How to End a Hit Show

Darren Star

hide captionDarren Star is the producer of Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, Sex and the City and other shows.

On Sunday night, HBO's mobster drama The Sopranos will come to an end after six seasons.

Darren Star, creator and producer of another long-running HBO hit, Sex and the City, shares his take on how to write a satisfying ending to an iconic show.

The endeavor can be a challenge because show producers can face competing objectives: delivering the "ratings event" that networks want from a series finale, and fulfilling the viewers' need for a closing that honors the characters.

"There's something that's always going to ring a little false [in ending a series]," Star says. "The idea of viewers getting invested in a series is that you're getting invested in the reality of these characters' lives that, in fact, don't have an ending."

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