"The Sopranos", also known as "Pilot", is the first episode of the HBO television drama series, The Sopranos, which premiered on January 10, 1999. It was written and directed by the series creator and executive producer David Chase.
It is New Jersey, summer 1998. New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a capo in the DiMeo crime family, has been referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, after having a panic attack. Tony tells her he is a waste management consultant, but she knows who he is. After Melfi establishes what will and will not fall under doctor-patient confidentiality, Tony begins to partly open up.
He has recently been dealing with tensions between his wife Carmela and teenage daughter Meadow, as well as trying to keep Christopher Moltisanti, whom he calls his nephew, in check. Tony's uncle, known as Uncle Junior, resents Tony's rise in the crime family and his own decline. Tony also has a strained relationship with his widowed mother Livia, who is resisting his advice to move into a retirement home. A confrontation with his mother triggers another panic attack, and he returns to Melfi. He tells her about a family of ducks that were living in his swimming pool, but left when the ducklings fledged. Guided by Melfi, Tony realizes he is sad to see them go because he dreads losing his own family; to his consternation, this makes him cry.
When a Czech-American criminal organization bids against Tony for a waste management contract, Christopher acts on his own initiative and kills one of the Czechs, Emil Kolar. The Czechs withdraw their bid.
Junior wants to kill turncoat "Little Pussy" Malanga in a restaurant he frequents, owned by Tony's lifelong friend Artie Bucco. Thinking the murder would ruin the restaurant's reputation, Tony asks Junior not to do it there, but he refuses. Tony tries to get Artie to close the restaurant for three weeks by giving him cruise tickets, but his wife Charmaine refuses them. Finally, Tony has his right-hand man Silvio Dante bomb the restaurant; Artie's reputation will not be damaged, and he will be able to claim insurance compensation.
Mahaffey, whom Tony calls a "degenerate gambler", is in debt to Tony and Hesh Rabkin, an old Jewish friend of Tony's father. Tony, driving, runs Mahaffey down, breaking his leg. He then concocts a scheme for Mahaffey's company to make insurance claims payable to non-existent clinics in order to pay off his debts, and he is forced to comply.
At Tony's son's birthday party, Christopher, bitter about not receiving recognition for killing Kolar, tells Tony he is thinking of turning his life story into a Hollywood script, which Tony angrily forbids.
Driving Livia to the party, an embittered Junior says, "Something may have to be done about Tony". Livia silently looks the other way, with a hint of a smile.
Pre-production for the pilot commenced in the summer of 1997, a year and a half before the series debuted on TV. The episode was filmed in August 1997 and completed by October 1997. Despite being well received by Chase's closest friends and the cast and crew who watched it, Chase feared the pilot would not be picked up by HBO and, in that case, planned to ask the network for additional money to shoot another 45 minutes and turn it into a feature film. Chase was also pressured by another, completely new development deal offered to him by another network, which he kept postponing until he heard HBO's verdict on The Sopranos. Right before Christmas of 1997, David Chase received a phone call and learned that HBO did like the pilot and ordered a full season, all of which happened about two hours before the deadline for accepting the other network's deal. Chase was relieved as if "let out of jail. It was like a reprieve from the governor." "The Sopranos" is the first of only two episodes directed by Chase. The other is the series finale, "Made in America". Although this episode is titled "The Sopranos" on the VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and reruns on A&E, it was referred to as "Pilot" when originally aired.
During the year-long break between the pilot and the start of the shoot of the rest of the 12 episodes of the season, James Gandolfini gained 60 pounds for the role of Tony and underwent voice coaching. Siberia Federico and Michael Santoro play Irina and Father Phil respectively. For future episodes, these roles were recast with Oksana Lada and Paul Schulze. Drea De Matteo was originally simply cast as a restaurant hostess for this one episode only. The filmmakers liked her performance, and her character was developed into the role of Adriana La Cerva in future episodes. The pork store used as a meeting place is Centanni's Meat Market, a real butcher shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey. However, because the shop had a steady business and because local business owners were annoyed with the incidental effects of having a television production being shot on a weekly basis, HBO acquired an abandoned auto parts store in Kearny, New Jersey which became Satriale's Pork Store for use in future episodes.
David Chase won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series for his work on this episode and a Primetime Emmy Award for Joanna Cappuccilli for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series. It was also Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for David Chase. James Gandolfini and Nancy Marchand both submitted this episode for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series & Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, respectively. Nancy Marchand additionally submitted the next episode, 46 Long.
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