So in today's Toronto Star I've got a short article about ending TV series and how it relates to the series finale of The Soprano's. Writing to a word count was a brand new experience for me and I thank Garnet Fraser at the Star for that opportunity. It was trimmed down slightly so a 'Director's Cut' is below. Copy editors...whaddya gonna do?
In The End It Doesn't Matter (How It Ends)
What a ride! After more than seven years, The Sopranos glorious 86 episode run wraps up this Sunday evening. But the question squirreling through every entertainment newspaper and blog and website out there right now is how will creator David Chase bring his epic story to a close? Will Tony live or die? Will Phil take over New Jersey? Will Carmela and Tony stay together? Take it from me, it doesn’t really matter. Whatever happens happens.
I’ve played a role in ending a couple of TV series. One was Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, a syndicated one hour episodic that ran for four years in the late ‘90’s. The other was Mentors, a series that had a five year run on Family Channel here in Canada. And when it came time to 'end' both series, that’s when and only when we thought about 'how' to conclude them. That’s how television series works. You map out the beginning, but you really have no idea how long a road your series might travel or where it might end up.
Mentors followed the adventures of two teens that, with the aid of a time machine, brought forward famous individuals from the past to inevitably teach them some life lesson. But no one from the original cast or creative team was still with the series. We brainstormed for a weekend and decided to come full circle. The teens brought forward the historical figure from the pilot, Albert Einstein, but this time to resolve a mystery and reveal he was in fact the father of one of the lead characters. See, with time travel, you can do that kind of stuff.
Psi Factor was about a team of scientists investigating paranormal phenomena. Only a couple of us remained from the original incarnation of cast and creative, and like Mentors, there was no master plan. We came up with a case involving regressive hypnosis therapy for one of our investigators. It basically was an excuse to blow up the team’s secret lab. But based on a directive from the studio to leave some doors open in case another network wanted the series, we had the investigator wake up at the end of the episode leaving the viewer to wonder whether it really happened or was just a dream.
I know, a cop out --- but whaddya gonna do? Of course our dreams weren’t allowed to be anywhere near as surreal as some of Tony Soprano’s, but we still had the investigator head off to see a therapist…pronto!
At any rate, with both shows we had only a few months notice of our cancellation so we just concluded the series in the best way we saw fit based on where our characters and the evolution of various storylines were to that point.
David Chase, creator and overseer of the Sopranos, has had to deal with no such wango tango. His hit series redefined television drama, and is the only pay TV series to ever win a Best Drama Emmy. Without the Sopranos we probably wouldn’t have Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Dexter, The Wire, Brotherhood, and many more. Not to mention a spillover effect onto cable and conventional networks with Rescue Me, The Shield, and Nip And Tuck. Its influence is felt even up here in Canada with Intelligence, Durham County and Regenesis.
So nobody was going to tell David Chase when and how to end his groundbreaking show. He’s built to his conclusion on his terms and at his pace. That said, no studio or network ever wants to completely say goodbye to a successful franchise. There’s talk of a feature film, specifically the idea of a prequel with Tony as a young boy a la Godfather II. Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, Chase couldn’t have known how The Sopranos was going to end way back when it began. For example, at the beginning of the third season, the actress who played Tony’s mother Livia, Nancy Marchand, unexpectedly passed away. As integral as she was, the series had to go in a new direction without her. If Chase had an ‘ending’ in mind involving Livia, he had it no more.
TV series is not some self-contained entity with a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end. Movies? Yes. Novels? Yes. TV Series? No. They’re an organic, constantly evolving creature --- and the end is discovered, not predetermined.
So will Tony meet his maker in the series finale? Or will he survive only to be left broken and alone? Neither conclusion might feel satisfactory, but don’t judge a series on how it ends. Relish instead in the ride thus far, and give thanks to David Chase and HBO for blessing us with some of the finest drama ever to grace our TV screens.
Remember, when it comes to television series it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey --- even if it takes us through the messy moral swamps of New Jersey.
SONG&ARTIST? - "This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end."