As everyone else who heard the news I was shocked at the sudden death of actor James Gandolfini. I was a big fan of the Soprano series and continue to watch the program in reruns and remember just how much that program affected popular culture. It even crossed over to the world of sports television when I was with the Empire Sports Network.

At Empire we always looked for ways to create humorous promos to catch viewers attention. When the Sopranos took off we decided to capitalize on the show’s success and play off the angle of Gandolfini as Tony Soprano visiting his psychiatrist. The thirty second spot had our engineer Mark Ewart playing Tony and Brenda Alesii playing Doctor Melfi. “Tony” is bragging about his crew in the spot, but complains about a person in his life who can be very critical, an obvious reference to his mother.

While “Tony” is talking a thought balloon over his head shows his crew as the Empire Sports on-air reporters. Then the payoff is seeing what looks like the back of the head of Tony’s mother, but when “she” turns it’s actually Art Wander who says “Bada Bing!”. The spot is below.

I bring this up because that show, “The Sopranos”, and James Gandolfini in particular, changed the way we watched television dramas. Up to that point the pay channels like HBO and Showtime provided us with first run movies, but not episodic weekly hour long shows. “The Sopranos” changed all of that and led the way for such huge hits like “Game of Thrones”, “Rome”, “Oz” and many , many more.

Gandolfini and the writers for Sopranos also changed the way mafia bosses were portrayed on video. Gandolfini was excellent playing a man who was both a killer and a parent. Someone who could give the order to snuff out a life and then get teary eyed watching his daughter sing at a school recital.

Gandolfini was Vito Corleone of the new millennium and he had a tougher time dealing with family stress and a dysfunctional mother than the streets. To hear that this bear of a man dropped dead at the relatively young age of 51 is a major surprise and sad. Yet, it now keeps Gandolfini forever young in our minds as Tony Soprano and a major pop culture figure of the past decade.

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