David Chase

Producer / Show Creator


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his nearly five-hour Archive interview, David Chase speaks about the films and television shows he watched growing up and the influence of rock 'n' roll in his early creative thinking. He talks of his move to Los Angeles and his work on low budget features, and discusses his struggle to get work, despite being part of the Writers Guild. He describes landing a job as a writer and story editor on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and getting hired on The Rockford Files starting in season three - his first credit as a producer. Chase tells how the television movie Off the Minnesota Strip, a gritty drama that had been a critical success, led to a reassessment of his talent within the industry. He notes his various attempts to break into features, mainly with comedies he had written, but how their dark tone seemed to prevent them getting produced. He talks of his directorial debut on an episode of the 1980's version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and describes his trial-by-fire experience on that show. He recounts his work as a co-executive producer on the Joshua Brand/John Falsey-created series I'll Fly Away and Northern Exposure, and his attempts to mesh his sensibilities with those of the show creators. He speaks of the two-year development deal he had with Brillstein-Grey that got down to its very last day when HBO green-lit The Sopranos. He then details the conception of The Sopranos, which began as a feature script idea, then turned into a network series idea, and finally became a more-realistic cable television series idea. Chase outlines his narrative and stylistic concept for the series, and chronicles the series' characters and recurring themes. He comments on his writing style, the writing process on the show, and the main cast of actors including James Gandolfini and Nancy Marchand. He also shares his thoughts on the now-infamous final episode of The Sopranos and the use of the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" in the final scene. Karen Herman conducted the interview in two parts on December 11, 2008 and April 29, 2009 in New York, NY.

"['The Sopranos'] was just this idea about a mobster in therapy... This was uncharted territory. I mean, all of a sudden the guy that your entire network is riding on is going to strangle somebody to death with a piece of piano wire? That had never been done… I said 'This guy is a mob boss in New Jersey. If he doesn't kill this guy, he's worthless as a mob boss. He's worthless as a TV gangster.' And I knew I was right about that." 

Highlights
David Chase on how growing up in New Jersey gave him access to the goings-on of the mob
02:02
David Chase on how the original version of The Sopranos for Fox had no murder scenes and how that changed when it went over to HBO
David Chase on how the character "Carmela Soprano" was "not realistic" for a mob wife; and why the character was problematic for him
David Chase on the meaning of the finale of The Sopranos - "it was no great mystery" 
David Chase on his love of editing "it's magic"
03:34
David Chase on what James Gandolfini brought to the character of "Tony Soprano" on The Sopranos -- "depth"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood, family life, and education; on growing up in New York and New Jersey; on his early interest in theater
On when he realized he wanted to be an artist - first a rock 'n roll musician, then a filmmaker
On making his first films as a college student at NYU; on wanting to be a Director of Photography; on graduating from Stanford film school and moving to Los Angeles
On moving to Los Angeles and struggling; on getting a job in the soft-core porn industry; on what he learned from working in production 
On his first job in television, as a writer on The Bold Ones for producer Roy Huggins; on realizing he wanted to be a writer; on the Writer's Strike of 1974; on meeting Paul Playdon and getting more opportunities to write for television; on writing "Grave of the Vampire"
On finding his stride as a writer in Hollywood; on becoming a writer on Kolchak: The Night Stalker
On The Rockford Files and what he learned from Stephen J. Cannell about writing a lead character who was realistic; on his writing style

Chapter 2

On being primarily more interested in film than in television; on the TV movie Off the Minnesota Strip; on developing a reputation as being a "dark" writer; on finding his voice as a writer; on learning what it was like to be on a working set
On how the idea for Almost Grown came about
On how he came to work on I'll Fly Away with Josh Brand and John Falsey
On working on The Rockford Files with Stephen J. Cannell 
On leaving Brillstein-Grey and hearing HBO was looking for new material to develop; on pitching them The Sopranos; on the genesis of The Sopranos and how it began as an idea for a feature film for Fox; on not wanting it to make it into a TV version of "The Godfather"; on why it starts with "a mobster in therapy";  on how the HBO version was more true to reality than the Fox version would have been
On why it was important for The Sopranos to be shot in NJ; on wanting the look of the series to be "visually arresting"; on how much of the story arc of The Sopranos  he had pre-planned

Chapter 3

On working on Kolchak: The Night Stalker and what he brought to the writing style of that show
On the films that he watched which influenced him - gangster films and the work of Hitchcock
On writing for The Rockford Files; on the "urban explainer" episode he wrote, of which he was very proud; on the "rules" Stephen J. Cannell laid down for writing the show; on what he learned about story from that show
On what he learned about crafting "stories"; on realizing you had to work to construct a story; on the importance of characters in shaping a story
On writing a TV movie Off the Minnesota Strip; conceived by Meta Rosenberg, for which he won his first Emmy; on how that win affected his career; on awards shows in general
On overcoming his fear of directing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and working with a cast and crew as a director; on why he continues to edit despite his fear; on his real love for editing film; on how directing changed his writing style; on his relationship with other directors who work with him; on his series Almost Grown

Chapter 4

On Almost Grown and his feelings about the use of music in television; on issues with licensing music
On working on I'll Fly Away while working for Lorimar as co-executive producer on the series; on why he was particularly well-suited to write a show about 1960's segregation; on being typecast as too "dark" of a writer
On working on Northern Exposure and why he didn't enjoy that show; on Paul Provenza's role coming onto the show; on working on The Rockford Files and several other development deals before writing The Sopranos
On writing The Sopranos, which was originally envisioned as a movie; on FOX passing on producing the show; on why it took so long to wind up at HBO; on why he insisted the show be shot in New Jersey; on why he didn't plan the story arc past the first thirteen episodes
On coming up with names for The Sopranos; on how both his parents and The Rockford Files influenced the character development of "Tony Soprano"; on what made the character watchable
On shooting the scenes between "Tony" and "Dr. Melfi" on The Sopranos and why the therapy scenes looked different from the rest of the show

Chapter 5

On the character of "Dr. Melfi" on The Sopranos; on how Lorraine Bracco was cast; on keeping track of the backstories and histories for each character on the show when everything the characters said were "lies"; on the character of "Carmela Soprano" and the role of women on the series
On how the character "Livia Soprano," "Tony's" mother on The Sopranos, is based on his own mother; on how the character was originally supposed to die in the first episode but Chase changed his mind; on how "Janice" was not originally a character in the series
On the importance of "Tony Soprano" having kids on the show; on "Tony's" crew ("Paulie Walnuts", "Big Pussy", "Christopher") and casting them; on the portrayal of senior citizens on the show; on the names of the characters like "Uncle Junior"
On planning the first and second season story arc on The Sopranos; on wanting each episode to be a "mini-movie"; on the writing process on the show
On the directors on The Sopranos; on the editing process
On censorship and the creative freedom at HBO; on how actors were told they were to be killed off

Chapter 6

On killing off main characters on The Sopranos and why it was necessary
On how the events of 9/11 changed the whole show for him
On exploring various topics on The Sopranos; on his dealings with networks; on why "Tony" had to murder someone on the show; on whether he considers "Tony" a villain; on the original name for The Sopranos was "Family Guy"
On keeping the storylines secret on The Sopranos; on red herrings; on the show's finale; on the choice of music on the last episode and the screen going black
On the legacy of The Sopranos; on his influences and proudest moments; on how TV has changed; on advice to aspiring writers
Shows

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

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David Chase on confronting his fear of directing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; on learning how to deal with a crew and winning over an Italian DP
04:08

Almost Grown

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David Chase on the premise of Almost Grown - a series utilizing songs to tell a story
David Chase on why he didn't like the historical use of music in movies and on television, but how he wanted to use it in Almost Grown as part of the story

Bold Ones, The

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David Chase on getting his first job in television, writing for the lawyer series The Bold Ones for producer Roy Huggins

I'll Fly Away

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David Chase on how he came to work on I'll Fly Away  with Josh Brand and John Falsey
David Chase on the premise of I'll Fly Away - an African-American maid in the segregated 1960's South

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

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David Chase on being hired as a writer on Kolchak: The Night Stalker along with his friend Paul Playdon
David Chase on some favorite episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker that he wrote including, "The Zombie"
David Chase on some of the behind-the-scenes drama on Kolchak: The Night Stalker and why he began to take a more humorous, surreal tone with his scripts for that show
David Chase on what his particular brand of writing and surrealism brought to Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the type of humor he was developing as a writer on that show

Northern Exposure

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David Chase on working on Northern Exposure which he did not enjoy because he didn't buy the premise of the show

Off the Minnesota Strip

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David Chase on the TV movie Off the Minnesota Strip; on developing a reputation as being a "dark" writer
David Chase on writing a TV movie Off the Minnesota Strip - conceived by Meta Rosenberg, for which he won his first Emmy

Rockford Files, The

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David Chase on becoming a writer on The Rockford Files in 1976, and on show creator Stephen J. Cannell and star James Garner
David Chase on the rules Stephen J. Cannell set forth for writing story on The Rockford Files
David Chase on writing an entire Rockford Files script that was all exposition, "Irving the Explainer"
David Chase on writing for The Rockford Files; on what appealed to him about the show
David Chase on what he brought to The Rockford Files as a writer
David Chase on the "rules" Stephen J. Cannell set forth for writing The Rockford Files series

Sopranos, The

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David Chase on coming up with the idea for The Sopranos; on how it is based on his own mother and his relationship
David Chase on why he didn't want to do a "TV version of 'The Godfather'" but wanted to focus on the relationship between the mobster and the women in his life; on why the "mob wife" was important to the idea of The Sopranos
David Chase on how the original version of The Sopranos for Fox had no murder scenes and how that changed when it went over to HBO
David Chase on how he knew The Sopranos  should be made at HBO when they understood why he had to shoot it in New Jersey
David Chase on what he wanted to accomplish with The Sopranos pilot
David Chase on how much of the story arc of The Sopranos he had pre-planned, on how he did not envision past the first 13 episodes
David Chase on the original premise for The Sopranos when it was a movie 
David Chase on why FOX passed on The Sopranos because it was too dark; on the compromise he made to have it made with no murders in the pilot for FOX
David Chase on knowing HBO was the right home for The Sopranos when Chris Albrecht immediately understood the need to shoot the series in New Jersey
David Chase on creating the look for the pilot of The Sopranos; on what he wanted to show about New Jersey
David Chase on shooting the pilot for The Sopranos and truly believing it was not going to test well; on not having planned past the first thirteen episodes
David Chase on how he originally wrote a script for The Sopranos movie in which "Tony" would go to confront his mother, but she was already dead (he changed this when it became a series and had cast Nancy Marchand as the mother)
01:45
David Chase on coming up with the names for The Sopranos; on how both his parents and The Rockford Files influenced the character development of "Tony Soprano"; on how James Gandolfini was cast
David Chase on how The Sopranos was a show in which everything the characters say is a lie
00:24
David Chase on the decisions he made about writing and directing the scenes between "Tony Soprano" and "Dr. Melfi" on The Sopranos pilot 
02:30
David Chase on shooting the scenes between "Tony" and "Dr. Melfi" on The Sopranos and why the therapy scenes looked different than the rest of the show
01:43
David Chase on why he felt The Sopranos was covering new ground with a mobster as a protagonist and why he and the crew enjoyed working on the show
David Chase on creating the backstories for each character on The Sopranos and keeping track of them on the show so that there were no gaffes
David Chase on how the character "Carmela Soprano" was "not realistic" for a mob wife and why the character was problematic for him
David Chase on the female characters on The Sopranos and whether or not they were in danger of being killed off
David Chase on how the character "Livia Soprano", "Tony's" mother on The Sopranos was based on his own mother; on some of the real-life quotes he used on the show; on how the character was originally supposed to die on the first episode but Chase changed his mind
David Chase on one of his favorite Sopranos characters - "Junior Soprano" and the portrayal of senior citizens on his show as real
David Chase on the names of The Sopranos characters like "Uncle Junior"
David Chase on the writing process on The Sopranos; on what he looks for in a writer
David Chase on how "no one was safe" from being killed on The Sopranos including "Tony Soprano"
David Chase on arguing with HBO over having "Tony Soprano" murder someone on The Sopranos
David Chase on how the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" came to be used on the last episode of The Sopranos; on the reaction to the finale

Sopranos, The: "Made in America"

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David Chase on how the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" came to be used on the last episode of The Sopranos; on the reaction to the finale
Topics

9/11

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David Chase on how 9/11 changed The Sopranos  

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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David Chase on how both his parents and The Rockford Files influenced the character development of "Tony Soprano"; on the character's strengths and weaknesses
David Chase on some of "Livia Soprano's" memorable lines, which he quoted from his own mother, like "Poor you" 

Diversity in Television

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David Chase on the role of women characters on The Sopranos
David Chase on the subject of a gay mafia member on The Sopranos and how the character of "Vito" coming out was dealt with

Emmy Awards

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David Chase on how winning an Emmy for writing Off the Minnesota Strip affected his career; on his opinion about how awards can have a negative impact as well

Industry Strikes

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David Chase on a memorable encounter with Steve Allen on the picket line for the Writers Guild of America strike in 1974

LGBTQ

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David Chase on the subject of a gay mafia member on The Sopranos and how the character of "Vito" coming out was dealt with

Pivotal Career Moments

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David Chase on some of "Livia Soprano's" memorable lines, which he quoted from his own mother, like "Poor you"

Television Industry

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David Chase on how HBO decided to take a chance on The Sopranos; on the creative freedom he had there

Women

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David Chase on the role of women characters on The Sopranos
Professions

Directors

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David Chase on overcoming his fear of directing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents when he had no idea what to do
09:09
David Chase on confronting his fear of directing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents when he had no idea what to do
07:35
David Chase on how directing affected the way he writes "a camera can only do one thing at a time"

Writers

View Profession
David Chase on the writers problem of exposition and use of the "urban explainer" that he used on The Rockford Files
David Chase on how directing affected the way he writes "a camera can only do one thing at a time"
David Chase on his writing process; on what he looks for in a writer
06:54
Genres

Drama Series

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David Chase on creating The Sopranos, coming to HBO, casting James Gandolfini, and the character of "Tony Soprano"
28:25
David Chase on the female characters on The Sopranos
24:20
David Chase on "Uncle Junior" and "Tony's" crew on The Sopranos
05:54
David Chase on the writing, directing, and editing on The Sopranos
26:38
David Chase on arguing with HBO over having "Tony Soprano" murder someone on The Sopranos
David Chase on how the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" came to be used on the last episode of The Sopranos; on the reaction to the finale
People

Chris Albrecht

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David Chase on knowing HBO was the right home for The Sopranos when Chris Albrecht immediately understood the need to shoot the series in New Jersey
01:30

Steve Allen

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David Chase on a memorable encounter with Steve Allen on the picket line for the Writers Guild of America strike in 1974 - Milton Berle had been Allen's babysitter

Lorraine Bracco

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David Chase on how Lorraine Bracco was cast on The Sopranos as "Dr. Melfi", but originally read for "Carmela"; on what she brought to the role

Stephen J. Cannell

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David Chase on becoming a writer on The Rockford Files in 1976; on the talents of show creator Stephen J. Cannell and star James Garner
David Chase on what he learned about crafting "stories" from Stephen J. Cannell while working on The Rockford Files

Edie Falco

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David Chase on the talents of Edie Falco and how she was underused as "Carmela Soprano" on The Sopranos

James Gandolfini

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David Chase on how James Gandolfini was cast as "Tony Soprano" on The Sopranos; "it's all in his eyes" even though his character never says one true thing
01:43

Alfred Hitchcock

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David Chase on how Alfred Hitchcock's work inspired him; on the suspense and offbeat humor in his films

Roy Huggins

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David Chase on getting his first job in television, writing for the lawyer series The Bold Ones for producer Roy Huggins

Nancy Marchand

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David Chase on casting Nancy Marchand as "Livia Soprano" on The Sopranos, a role very different from one she was used to playing

Paul Playdon

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David Chase on meeting writer Paul Playdon who brought him on as a writer on The Magician

Meta Rosenberg

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David Chase on writing for The Rockford Files and how producer/agent Meta Rosenberg helped get him on the show

Steve Van Zandt

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David Chase on tracking down Steve Van Zandt to be a regular on The Sopranos
00:46

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