The boundaries between television drama and cinema have blurred in recent years. Tim Van Patten, the director of The Sopranos, once said “This show [The Sopranos] is like making a feature in nine to twelve days”.
This review looks at what is quality television and what makes The Sopranos so successful. “Quality Television” term has started to be used by critics and scholars after 1990s to describe a genre which contains the style, content and its subject. They use this term to qualify the television show to higher than others. But what are those reasons making those shows better than others? Kristin Thompson’s criteria for “quality television” programs are “…a quality pedigree, a large ensemble cast, a series memory, creation of a new genre through recombination of older ones, self-consciousness, and pronounced tendencies toward the controversial and the realistic”. Also, US group Viewers For Quality Television describes Quality Television as “A quality show is something we anticipate, focuses more on relationships, explores character, it enlightens, challenges, involves and confronts the viewer; it provokes thought…”
- Cinematic Television
The elements that make the TV series more cinematic are good acting, good script and a big budget. In The Sopranos, each episode is polished like a feature film. They shoot it on 35mm film and 16:9 aspect ratio. They keep the scenes a bit longer than usual. They focus on the characters more than the action. Each character has its own arc and personal inside problems. For example, in the season three, the episode seven, the audience watches Carmela Soprano is dealing with herself being a wife to a sinner and criminal husband. Or Vito’s own story within few episodes in season 6, he is dealing with his mafia fellows finding out that he is a homosexual. As David Chase says, it is more visual than talking. Also during the shooting process having higher budgets gives them to work on the episode like it is a feature film.
- What is so good about The Sopranos?
The creator of The Sopranos David Chase (David DeCesare), is a member of an Italian-American family in New Jersey. He says that it is impossible to grow up in New Jersey and not to envy mafia life style. His first intend was making a film called The Sopranos which is a story of his old neighbourhood in New Jersey. He wanted to add his family’s stories and combining them with some mafia flavour. However, after some time, he realised that making this a TV show would be better. He set the main roof of the show within the idea of Tony Soprano seeing a psychiatrist and dealing with his mother’s issues from his childhood.
The Sopranos has all the elements that make a TV series a Quality TV. Like big group of good actors, excellent script, shooting it on 35mm film, stories more about the characters, more visual style, 16:9 aspect ratio etc. All those elements make The Sopranos more cinematic and better series than the other ones.
In the show, most of the characters are Italian-American. Some of the actors had been in some projects together earlier from The Sopranos. David Chase had interviews with all the actors personally. One of the main criteria of choosing the right actors is the accent.
* Published in Political Reflection Magazine (PR) Vol. 2 | No. 3
** Enes Erbay is an M.A. Student in Directing: Film and Television at the University of Westminster. http://www.eneserbay.com/