DATE March 2, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Writer and director David Chase talks about the
upcoming fifth season of "The Sopranos"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
"The Sopranos" starts its fifth season on Sunday after a 15-month hiatus. My
guest, David Chase, is the creator of the series and is one of its chief
writers. Chase got his start writing for the TV series "The Rockford Files."
He was a director and executive producer of the series "I'll Fly Away" and
worked on "Northern Exposure." Before we talk about the new season of "The
Sopranos," let's hear an excerpt of last season's final episode. One of Tony
Soprano's girlfriends has found out that Tony's been cheating on her, so in
retaliation against him, she calls his wife, Carmela, to let her know that
Tony's been unfaithful. No longer able to remain in denial, Carmela tells
Tony she knows about one of his girlfriends.
(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")
Ms. EDIE FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) You've got a one-legged one now, huh?
That's nice. You've had quite a time on my watch. Pre-school assistant, the
Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) At least I never stole
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Who stole, Tony? Who? Me?
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) My own wife, 40 grand, from the
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) The bird feeder. Listen to yourself. You
sound demented. What? You want to hit me, Tony, go ahead. Just go away,
please. I can't stand anymore.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) I didn't do it.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) I found her fingernail, Tony. You saw it
that day on your night table. I found it and I put it there. I know you saw
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) That...
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) What? That what?
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Nothing.
(Soundbite of refrigerator door opening and being forced shut)
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) This is my house, Carmela, and
I'm not leaving.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Get out of here, Tony. I asked you once,
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) All right. Look, I know what
happened was wrong. I was an asshole and I apologize. I'm sorry. It won't
(Soundbite of refrigerator door opening and being forced shut)
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) I said get out.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Make me.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) I have an appointment with the lawyer, Tony.
I will get a restraining order.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) A lawyer, go ahead. Go ahead,
call him. Here. Use my phone.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Fine. Stay.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Come here. You're not going
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Let go of me. Your son will be home. Do
you want him to see his father like this?
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Yeah. You'd love that, wouldn't
you? I'm not leaving here, Carmela.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) I don't love you anymore. I don't want you.
You are not sleeping in my bed, Tony. The thought of it now makes me sick.
GROSS: When we left off in the previous season, Tony and Carmela appeared to
be separating. She basically threw him out of the house and that story line
will be continued in the new season. How did you decide to have them begin a
separation? I mean, he'd been cheating on her from the start of the series
and more recently she started to have crushes on people who she couldn't
really fulfill a relationship with, both because of her husband and because of
the position that they were in. One was a priest, one was very connected. So
why did you decide to actually start a separation?
Mr. DAVID CHASE (Writer/Director, "The Sopranos"): I guess it mostly came
from the externals. In other words, Edie Falco is a great actress and I began
to feel--I don't know, I never talked this over with her--I began to feel and
my fellow writers began to feel that she was always playing the same kind of
scene, `Nay, nay, nay, nay, nay,' just nagging all the time and complaining
and shrying to her priest and to anyone who would listen about this terrible
predicament that she had. And we thought, `Well, there must be something else
that we can have Edie be doing.' And that external sort of led us into
thinking about the character herself and like why is she in this bind and how
long is she going to stand for it. And if she's so unhappy, why doesn't she
do something about it? It just had to happen, if you were going to have any
respect for her intelligence or--and her standards.
GROSS: What do you gain and lose as a writer in terms of character
possibilities with Carmela and Tony, at least for the time being, separated?
I mean, you're no longer going to have all of those kind of great scenes in
the kitchen with, you know, the family. You might occasionally, but it's not
going to be as regular. So what are some of the things that you're giving up
and that you're gaining as a writer?
Mr. CHASE: Well, we are losing a certain amount of the--well, the scenes in
the bedroom certainly we're losing.
GROSS: Yeah, right.
Mr. CHASE: Scenes in the kitchen, there are still a fair number of them
because what's happening is that he has to come up and give her money, her
allowance and her child support and all that. And he still is involved with
his son and so there's pick-up and drop-off and still parenting issues that
take place there. So there's still a fair amount of it. So in terms of the
great kitchen debates, I don't think we've lost that much.
What we've gained? I think you should probably figure--find that out for
yourself. I hope we've gained something.
GROSS: There's a common confrontation between the New Jersey and New York
mobs and as the new season opens--I don't think I'm giving away too much
here--members of both families are getting out of prison. Can you explain
what's about to happen?
Mr. CHASE: It's not that there's really confrontation between New Jersey and
New York mobs. What is happening is--I think we all recall, people of a
certain age, recall that in the 1980s when the RICO statutes were first put
into really effective use or wide-scale use, the Mafia started to take some of
its big hits. And a lot of high-level guys were sent away using the
racketeer, influence, corruption charge or the RICO statutes, which is a way
of gathering a bunch of cases and a bunch of charges together, piling them
together and legally being able to send someone away for quite a long time.
And I think a lot of people thought that we'd never be seeing those guys
again. Well, lo and behold, it's 20 years later and some of them have--are
still alive and they're getting out.
And I read an article in the Newark Star-Ledger about this and that there was
some law enforcement people from New Jersey were expressing concern as to what
would happen with the stability of the New Jersey outfits. Would they be
compromised? Would there be power struggles? Would these guys behave? Would
some of they try to go straight? Would some of them be too old? And that's
the starting off point of this season is that these people that we call the
Class of 2004 getting out of prison and Tony has a cousin who's one of them
and there's an old mobster who was always referred to before in the show, a
guy named Feech La Manna, who had his card game that Tony knocked over a long
time ago as a kid. So there's several people getting out in both families.
GROSS: So one of the people getting out, Tony's cousin, is played by Steve
Mr. CHASE: Yeah.
GROSS: ...who's such a great actor. Now Steve Buscemi has played a big part
in "The Sopranos" before but behind the camera as a director.
Mr. CHASE: He directed one of our best episodes, Pine Barrens.
GROSS: Yeah. So how did you and he decide that he would be a recurring
Mr. CHASE: Well, we had a--he was going to direct one anyway and there was
the idea for this character, of Tony Blundetto, and we were trying to figure
out, `Well, who can play this part?' And I think Steve went through a lot of
our minds but I never wanted to ask him because I thought, `Well, Steve's a
big movie actor and he probably doesn't want to do a TV show.' And part of
that is not, `Gee, miserable little TV.' Although, I think there is that kind
of feeling on a part of a lot of actors, but it's also a kind of a grueling
lifestyle which movies are not as much as. At least there's some break
between movies and--but a TV thing is kind of relentless, 13, 22 episodes,
whatever it is. So I just never thought he'd want to do it, so I didn't ask
And then he said later one that he was thinking, `Well, gee, I wouldn't mind
being on the show. But nobody seems to want to ask me or they haven't invited
me. They don't want me.' And somehow we got past that. I forget how it
happened and so there he was.
GROSS: Are there characters who you've developed a surprising affection for?
You know, that maybe you didn't think would have as big a role as they do or
maybe you just didn't care much about them but they--maybe because of the
actor playing them that they've developed this personality that you've come to
Mr. CHASE: One of the best parts of this job for me has been--I mean, we
have actors there with varying levels of training and various levels of
experience when they first came. And by and large, all of them--the actor has
sparked something in me and in the writing staff where we have wanted to see
their parts grow. And they all have taken on because of who they are and
because of their innate talent, taken on more. And they become more
interesting because they--it's like you--I don't know, it feels like baseball.
Like who knows--you're out there on the school field and who knows who's any
good and you start throwing the ball around and you see this one kid, like,
`Wow, this kid can really hit it.' `This kid can really catch.'
And that's happened with every one of the actors. And so there's--one of the
reasons people complain about the show that, `Well, they have these story
lines and then they just drop them.' Some of that's intentional, some of them
we just don't drop them. What I feel about it is, the story's over as far as
I'm concerned or it's over for now. And some people don't see the ending, but
to me it's there. Every one of our actors has interested me a great deal and
the characters they play interest me a great deal.
If you want to know my favorites, I guess, or the...
Mr. CHASE: I know all the writers love writing for Junior--Uncle Junior.
GROSS: Dominic Chianese's character.
Mr. CHASE: Dominic Chianese, because--and all the other actors really like
working with him, Jim especially. He just like knocks Jim out. Because you
have this old man who behaves in such a reprehensible way, he's just a
complete kid, just a child. He says anything that comes into his--he says the
worst things to people and he is so self-involved that he's a delight--it's a
delight to write a character like that, it really is, because you can't
believe the things that he says and gets away with. And he's obviously an
idiot, but he's also not just an idiot. It's a strange thing. It's a really
GROSS: One of the things I really like about that character, and this is true
of several of the guys in Tony's gang, is that they're real complainers. You
know, here they are, they're these tough guys and they kill ruthlessly, but
they're always complaining about--particularly Junior, they're always
complaining about their latest health problem or their indigestion or
something. You know, I love to hear them complain.
Mr. CHASE: They're always complaining. They are always all complaining,
that's absolutely true. And Junior--that's the reason I think Junior--Junior
never takes his eye off the ball, the ball being himself. His focus is
completely, 100 percent on Junior at all times. And you're just not used to
seeing people with characters, like that. And yet we see these people in
life. Especially I think a lot of people--I've noticed this about people as
they get older, that it--and I think as people become ill, this also happens,
they start to focus on their problems, especially I think as they're feeling
vulnerable and weak.
And Junior does this, but he's probably always been this way. He's just
completely selfish. He never got married. He doesn't really have anyone in
his life. And yet there are times when he steps out of that role in which you
get these flashes of insight from Junior. And then this other stuff comes
cascading back in again. He also has this interesting vocabulary. Junior
sometimes uses words that you wouldn't assume that he would use.
Mr. CHASE: I think he used the word `abattoir' one time.
Mr. CHASE: What else did he say? I think he referred to money as
`fondulicks'(ph) one time. And he has these old-fashioned words that he'll
use. I think this year we have him saying `nonplus.'
GROSS: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Mr. CHASE: But every once in a while, Junior comes out with a word that's
sort of correctly used or correctly used, but you would never think that he
would use it in his speak. And I think we do it because he's from another
generation, I think, where more people spoke with a little more care.
GROSS: One of the things I love about Junior's character is the fact that
he's complaining and he's self-involved. Because, you know, I don't think I
know any mobsters, but I know plenty of people who are self-involved and who
complain all the time. So there's something so recognizable about this
character, even though he's in a business that I know very little about. I
bet a lot of people feel that way.
Mr. CHASE: I think you're right. I think you can imagine if this was really
your uncle and you have to make this weekly or daily pilgrimage over to his
house to bring him his sandwiches or whatever, what a drag it would be. But
because he's not really your uncle, he's on TV and you have uncles who are
like this or grandfathers or fathers or whatever it is, it is very
recognizable and so I think it's pleasure and se--I think there's a pleasure
in seeing this kind of behavior. I think we all--I guess everybody would like
to behave this way, in a way, to just be able to spew out whatever comes into
their head. Olivia was a similar character.
GROSS: Uh-huh, Tony's mother.
Mr. CHASE: Tony's mother. And yet they are characters that people seem to
like very, very much. But I don't think in your real life, you wouldn't--you
don't want that. It kills you; it's crushing.
GROSS: Yeah. I think for those of us who are from New York, there's
something particularly recognizable about these characters because we
recognize their speech patterns. We recognize the accent. We recognize some
of the language that they use and so there's, I think, just a particular
connection. So does writing that kind of whining come naturaly to you or do
you have to get into a certain frame of mind to write that kind of whining?
Mr. CHASE: I soar like a hawk when I'm writing that kind of stuff.
Complaining? Complaining is no problem for me to write. Selfish complaining,
I could do it--I could write 13 hours a day like that, 14 hours a day without
GROSS: Are there role models for you who you can summon up?
Mr. CHASE: For this kind of attitude you mean?
GROSS: Yeah, uh-huh.
Mr. CHASE: For Junior's attitude?
Mr. CHASE: Well, he's sort of left them all behind. He's his own man now.
But, yeah, my mother had that aspect to her. Some of my uncles have that.
It's just always made me laugh, and I complain a great deal. I'm...
GROSS: I was just going to say, do you ever get into a thing when you hear
yourself and you go, `Oh, no, I sound like Junior'?
Mr. CHASE: Sure, but that doesn't stop me.
GROSS: That's the spirit.
Mr. CHASE: What? I should be concerned about what other people think? I've
got enough problems.
GROSS: It's really interesting to...
Mr. CHASE: In fact, if people knew how bad it was--you know, how much of a
tough time I have, then they'd have some more sympathy for him.
Mr. CHASE: But this is the way Junior thinks. That's what he thinks.
My guest is David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos." More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Chase, the creator of
"The Sopranos" and the new season starts Sunday night on HBO.
What are some of the scenes of the past season or two that got the biggest
Mr. CHASE: Well, the head being the murder and decapitation of Ralph got a
big reaction and...
GROSS: This is the Joe Pantoliano character.
Mr. CHASE: The Joe Pantoliano character, yeah. And the last episode, the I
guess kind of lacerating scenes between Tony and Carmela got a lot of
GROSS: Let's get to the decapitation. How did you decide to go there?
That's a pretty grotesque demise.
Mr. CHASE: Just research. You know, they committed--Tony committed a
homicide. He's a boss of the crime family. So in point of fact what is often
done is the head and the hands are separated from the body and they're
deposited in two different places so that it's harder to identify.
GROSS: And then deciding how much to show and how much to imply.
Mr. CHASE: Right. As to how good the fake head was or wasn't. So you
can't--you couldn't hold on that fake head too long. No, it really--it
was--it really is all that decision to how much to show and how much to imply
and we--I know people don't believe it, we really try not to sensationalize
violence. It's not about making violence into poetry. That's not what our
show is. And it's also not meant to just go, `Ooh, look how shocking that is.
Isn't that disgusting?' Or, `How can we one-up it this time?' The fact of
that matter is, if Tony had murdered this guy, they would have done what they
did to him in order to preserve Tony from being--from that body being
Maybe I was at one time as a film student interested in the poetry of
violence, but I'm not anymore. It's just--and I think we try to show this,
it's just--unfortunately for them, it's a day's work.
GROSS: Why aren't you interested in the poetry of violence anymore?
Mr. CHASE: I hope because I'm older, because I've had children. Because--I
think that has a lot to do with it, because I've had a child. And because as
a technical challenge, it's boring, really. I mean, you know, we have a
machine that squirts blood on the wall. We have guns that are--you know,
there's quarter loads, half loads. We have guns that are called non-guns
which they spit flame like a real gun, but it's not really a gun so you don't
really have to put a bullet in it. There's all kind--to a certain extent, if
people are offended by the violence, they probably shouldn't watch a mob show.
That is, it's part of the package. We don't do it to stir people up. The
cutting off of Ralph's head was not meant to be a big deal, like `Wow, this
will really get them?' It just came out of the research and we did what the
research told us.
GROSS: Are there any scenes, particularly like scenes involving violence or
sex that you thought were misinterpreted, that your motives were
misinterpreted or that the--you know, the point of the scene was
Mr. CHASE: I believe that people didn't--yes, I believe that people
misunderstood the--to a certain extent, the murder of this young dancer,
Tracy. And it was interesting to me what all the uproar that that caused
when--and, you know, it had nothing to do with being in the mob. There's
violence against women in this country every day. It's on the news every
night. And yet nobody focused on that, like `What a horrendous thing? Oh, my
God.' And it had have been OK for us to kill I don't know how many guys
before that. Nobody had a problem with that. Well, some people did. Some
people just don't like violence, but those people shouldn't be watching a mob
show, as I say. But even among people who do like the show, they found that
was--we'd gone too far this time because we murdered a woman.
What that story to me was about, the story of Tracy...
Mr. CHASE: ...was not the story about Ralph and it was not a story about
Tony. It was a story about this girl that nobody cared about. About
her--someone--between the lines there, there was this lost, little girl who
was working as a topless dancer, who was a victim of bad--very bad parenting.
If you had read between the lines as to what she said about her mom, about her
dad, she was--there was nobody to love that person. That's what that story
was about. And that person was expendable and that person was treated like
trash and died like trash. That's what that story was about to me. And I
don't think anyone picked that up.
That episode makes me cry. It doesn't make me--it doesn't repulse me. It
makes me feel like crying.
GROSS: Well, so does it make you feel like `Maybe I was too subtle. Maybe I
needed to, like, make my feelings about that scene and the character more
Mr. CHASE: No. I just--I don't like that. I just don't want to do that. I
don't like to do that. I don't like to tell people--none of us on the show
do--we don't like to tell people how to feel. That's why we don't have a
score--musical score and I was telling someone else this the other day, for
example, in the therapy scenes, we have one--only one rule production wise on
the show, which is that there's no camera moves in the therapy office. We
don't have any push-ins on Tony's face or the camera does not move one inch in
the therapy office because we don't want people to say, `Oh, here's the
important part.' `Oh, isn't this interesting, oh, this thing about his mom
when he was six, this is where we're really going to get to the heart of the
matter.' Because I don't think therapy really works that way. In a real
therapy office, we don't have the benefit of a Fisher dolly and a synthesizer
GROSS: That's interesting. Uh-huh.
Mr. CHASE: So we don't do that. It's just--we just shoot it flat.
Just--not flat, but we just shoot it still.
GROSS: David Chase is the creator of "The Sopranos." The new season begins
Sunday on HBO. Chase will be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Woke Up This Morning," theme song for "The Sopranos")
ALABAMA 3: (Singing) Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun. Mama always
said you'd be the Chosen One. She said...
GROSS: Music from a new box set featuring the complete verve recordings of
trumpet player Roy Eldridge. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead has a review.
Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel "The Birth of Venus," and we
continue our conversation with the creator of "The Sopranos," David Chase.
The new season begins Sunday.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with David Chase, the
creator and executive producer of "The Sopranos." He's also one of the
series' chief writers. The new season starts Sunday after a 15-month hiatus.
Here's a scene from last season's finale. The Sopranos' marriage has been
coming apart and Tony tries to fix things by buying Carmela a house at the
shore. But the mood remains very tense in the Sopranos' home. To make
matters slightly worse, Tony has been yelling because the Chinese food that's
just been delivered isn't the complete order. Then their son A.J. walks into
the dining room.
(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")
ROBERT ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) What happened?
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) They left out part of the order.
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) Call them up.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Sit down and eat.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Well, I guess some things just weren't meant
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) What are we talking about?
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) I was thinking of buying your
mother a house down by the shore.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Tony.
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) Well, un-(censored) believable.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Hey.
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) Hey.
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) Well, would we have a gym?
Mr. GANDOLFINI: (As Anthony "Tony" Soprano) It's the shore, wouldn't you
want to be outdoors?
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) Forget that. You're fined $3 for the
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) I heard Dad say mother-F when I was coming
down the stairs.
Ms. FALCO: (As Carmela Soprano) He's fined, too. We're going to make this
ILERS: (As Anthony "A.J." Soprano) It's too late.
(End of excerpt)
GROSS: It's interesting to watch Tony and Carmela's children getting older.
It's always interesting in a TV series when the kids become teen-agers and
their voices change and their bodies change. And that must be presenting
interesting story developments for you, too, 'cause they're not the characters
they were at the beginning.
Mr. CHASE: No, they're not, especially--I mean, neither one of them are, but
to me, Robert--it's...
Mr. CHASE: Robert Ilers as Anthony Jr. is just extraordinary. He was this
pudgy little boy, a tiny tot, and now he's a man. He really is a man, and
it's extraordinary to see that, and that shapes the show, you know. There's
nothing we can do about it and it very much shapes the show as to what's
GROSS: Yes, it's like writing for a new character.
Mr. CHASE: It is like writing for a new character and, of course, it changes
the family dynamic. Anthony Jr., for all of his laziness and his
mischievousness--some people might think it was worse than
mischievousness--but for whatever, Anthony Jr. was always sort of a jovial,
easy to get along with kind of guy. But now he's 16 and he's no longer like
that. He's angry and he's complaining and hostile and bitter and all the
things that happen when a lot of people hit that age.
GROSS: How old are your own children now?
Mr. CHASE: I have one child who's 23.
GROSS: So has being a father informed at all how you write about Tony and
Carmela as parents?
Mr. CHASE: There wouldn't be a--"The Sopranos" wouldn't exist if I hadn't
had a kid. I wouldn't have known to make a family drama. I would have had no
inclination or understood that at all, and it's so much a part of it that show
would not exist right now.
GROSS: Carmela's at the point now where she's going to be kind of commanding
that her son Anthony, you know, do this or get that, and he's at the point
where he's old enough to, like, defy her and I think there's likely to be a
lot challenges there about who has the authority, you know, whether he has to
listen to this mother anymore or not. How much of a man is he? Do you
remember going through that stage with your own son and--or...
Mr. CHASE: I don't have a son.
GROSS: Your daughter, sorry--with your daughter. Are there issues about that
that are now being translated in the show?
Mr. CHASE: I do know that my experience as a parent, a lot of it goes into
the show. In a way, it's my favorite part of the show is writing that stuff
and seeing that stuff come to life. It's just--I mean, everything from how
young people express themselves now to what it's like to be that age, and I
have a feeling that in a lot of other filmed and taped entertainment the kids
are sort of overempowered and they're sort of too smart and too hip and they
always have the right answer, and they...
Mr. CHASE: ...and yet when I see a lot of kids--you know, all the way along,
my daughter and her friends, they don't particularly feel that way. I don't
think it's a really accurate depiction of what certainly teen-age years are
like, and it certainly wasn't like that for me. I didn't feel empowered at
GROSS: David Chase is my guest, the creator of "The Sopranos," and the new
season starts Sunday night on HBO.
In some ways, there's two, like, discreet separate worlds of television now.
You've got cable, and I'm thinking specifically of HBO, which has, you know,
these adventurous comedies and dramas in which the line has really been
pushed, particularly in areas of sex and violence, but also just in story line
and complexity. And then on broadcast TV, for a while, the pushing of the
line on cable seemed to be pushing the line on broadcast as well, particularly
since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, the line seems to be getting
pushed back the opposite way. There are so many objections being raised to
that and, you know, hearings about, `Have we gone too far,' you know, `Do we
need to tighten up the standards on broadcast television.' I'm wondering how
that looks to you from your perch at HBO, how the pressures on broadcast TV to
tighten up the standard looks to you.
Mr. CHASE: I have no sympathy for them.
GROSS: No sympathy for who?
Mr. CHASE: Executives at those networks, for their back and forth and having
their problems that they get from this group and from that group and from
public pressure, I just don't have any sympathy.
GROSS: Why not?
Mr. CHASE: They could leave. They could go do another job. I don't like to
hear this whining about all the things they can't do, the money that they
can't spend, the limits that they can't cross. And what's really irritating
about it is to hear that they think that shows are successful on cable only
because they have sex and violence, and there's plenty of sex and violence on
Mr. CHASE: There's something else going on there. And that's what they don't
bother to try to study is what else is happening in those comedies and dramas
on cable. They don't pay a bit of attention to that. It's just, like, `Well,
if we could curse like that, well, then we'd have an audience.' Why is that?
Why would people tune in to hear people curse? It makes no sense at all.
GROSS: It does sound kind of harsh to say you have no sympathy for people
that broadcast TV.
Mr. CHASE: The reason I don't is because they, in an attempt to justify their
own failings--and we all have failings--they blame their limitations on
external events, but there's also things they could do internally to escape
some of the traps that they're in. And we've also had situations where--I
mean, "The Sopranos" had situations where we have been blamed for the content
of our show, that it's somewhat despicable and destructive to society, and in
the same letter or the same person, then go on to say, `And why can't we do
that, too?' And I find that hypocrisy really appalling.
You know, all of us have the freedom to do story lines that unfold slowly. We
all have the freedom to create characters that are complex and contradictory.
The FCC doesn't govern that. We all have the freedom to tell stupid, bad
jokes which may actually turn out to be funny. And we all have the freedom to
let the audience try to figure out what's going on instead of telling them
what's going on. We all have that freedom, so sex and violence isn't the only
thing that's going on there.
GROSS: So what do you think that the broadcast executives are missing about
what makes successful shows on cable, like "Sex and the City" and "Sopranos,"
Mr. CHASE: It's a really difficult question to answer. Obviously, if I could
answer it, I should go over, you know, take a job at NBC or someplace like
that and try to fix it and make a bunch of money doing it. It's an
intangible, but I think what it needs, first of all, is a desire, first and
foremost, to entertain. And I've worked at network television for a long time
and it's--believe it or not, I don't think that's the first priority is to
GROSS: What do you think it is?
Mr. CHASE: I think the first priority is to push a lifestyle. I think there's
something that they're trying to sell all the time.
GROSS: Like literally sell on the commercials?
Mr. CHASE: Well, there's that and I think that the programming is subservient
to that to that, is a handmaiden to that. Of course, they're trying to sell
those things on the commercials, but I think the programming--and there's a
lot of very talented people working in network television. Believe me, I know
some of them, but to work within those strictures is very difficult. I think
what they're trying to sell is that everything's OK all the time, that this is
just a great nation, a wonderful society and everything's OK and it's OK to
buy stuff; let's just go buy some stuff. I think that's a great deal of it.
I think so. I think that comes--there's some indefinable image of America
that they're constantly trying to push, as opposed to actually being
entertaining. They're trying not to offend, first of all; that's what they're
trying to do...
Mr. CHASE: ...first and foremost, is not to offend.
GROSS: Fear of losing listeners and...
Mr. CHASE: Yeah, I think so.
Mr. CHASE: Mm-hmm, yeah.
GROSS: The next season of "The Sopranos" is expected to be the last; at least
that's what I've been reading. You're the one who'd know, not me, but is that
what you're thinking? Not this season, but the one after?
Mr. CHASE: Yeah, the one after, there will only be 10 episodes.
GROSS: Why do you want to end it then?
Mr. CHASE: I don't want to get into the position where we're going over the
same ground again; that we're doing stuff that we've done. It gets harder and
harder to find new areas to go into and new ideas, new places for your
characters to go and, at the same time, respect who they really are in the
reality of their lives and not do things which they really wouldn't get
involved in and haven't gotten involved in. It's a difficult--it's a tricky
thing because, I mean, one of the problems with television for me, as a
viewer, is I don't--and I don't like it when they're always doing the same
thing over and over again; that's not interesting to me, and yet that's why
people watch TV is because they enjoy seeing characters do their favorite
bits or they like to see those kind of stories unfold. But I'm always
concerned about the desperation level that creeps in after a while in a
series, where it's either--either it's become rote or it's going off somewhere
where it shouldn't go. And that's just what I don't what to have happen.
GROSS: Do you have any idea how the series will end, or are you not thinking
about that yet? Don't worry, I'm not going to try to beat the answer out of
Mr. CHASE: No, I do not. No, I understand.
GROSS: ...about how it's going to end.
Mr. CHASE: I do have an idea on how it's going to end.
Mr. CHASE: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Do you need to know that to proceed now?
Mr. CHASE: Yes. Now when we get there, maybe that will change, when we
actually get there, but I do need to know that to proceed now.
GROSS: So what are some of the issues for you about, like, how the series
should end, you know, like happy ending vs. tragic ending, resolution vs. a
kind of complex uncertainty? It might be too soon to talk about that, but you
wouldn't be giving anything away; it's just, you know, like some people really
want happy endings, other people prefer the uncertainty or the tragedy.
Mr. CHASE: Well, so far what I think about it is, as far as I know, there
hasn't been--you know, the gangster movie is a long American tradition, but
they've all been, except for "The Godfather" trilogy, they've all been--and
even that's only three episodes, all right? It's usually the rise and fall.
It's been that way since the beginning, the criminal rises up from the gutter,
has his moment of glory and then goes down and pays for his crimes in a hail
of bullets. That's usually the template. Even--I mean a great film--I mean,
"GoodFellas" is, to me, a remarkable film but in the end those guys are
wrapped up and their life is over. Their life as criminals is over, at
least--or a main character. So that to me basically seems to have kind of a
rise and fall aspect to it although that's oversimplifying it. I also have
always felt that while Tony's having his rise, he's always having his fall
Mr. CHASE: His rise and his fall seems to be happening all the time together.
That's as far as I've analyzed it, thus far.
GROSS: Well, that's interesting. Have you thought ahead about what it's
going to be like for you when "The Sopranos" ends and you're not furthering
the story of these characters that you've lived with for several years now.
They must be such a part of you.
Mr. CHASE: I'll be complaining.
GROSS: Oh, wouldn't have it any other way.
Mr. CHASE: I'll be complaining. I'm complaining about having to do it now,
and I'll be complaining that I don't have it to do then.
GROSS: That's perfect. David Chase, a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you
Mr. CHASE: Thank you.
GROSS: David Chase is the creator of "The Sopranos." The new season begins
Sunday on HBO.
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the new box set, collecting the
complete verve recordings of trumpeter Roy Eldridge. This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New box set of Roy Eldridge's studio recordings
TERRY GROSS, host:
Roy Eldridge was the greatest jazz trumpeter of the 1930 swing era, fluent,
resourceful, and full of high energy. By the end of the 1940s with swing
music out of fashion, Eldridge worried he was out of date. Record and concert
producer Norman Grantz helped convince Eldridge that wasn't so, documenting
the trumpeter in varied settings throughout the 1950s.
A new box set of Roy Eldridge's studio recordings for Grantz's Verve label has
just been released. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's a knockout.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
That's one Roy Eldridge, the spitfire who careened around curves at 100 miles
an hour, with enough force to pin you to a wall. But there are other
Eldridges, too, like the one who'd baby a nice melody, showing off fad and
jowly low notes.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Roy Eldridge also used mutes on his trumpet to further color its
sound. His favorite was the harmony mute which Miles Davis favored on
intimate ballads. But Eldridge used it to get a pressurized swaggering sound
that's very different.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Eldridge tapped more of the trumpet's potential than most horn
players hint at. He could make notes pop, ooze or fly out of the bell, and he
used that expressive range to create high drama.
Here he is on Duke Ellington's "Echoes of Harlem" in 1953.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: Producer Norman Grantz recorded many swing-era greats in the
post-swing era 1950s and he had his pet settings for soloists. In the studio,
a Grantz client could expect to front the Oscar Peterson Trio or join mixed
bands of swing and bebop partisans or sail over a violin section. Roy
Eldridge did all that and more on his 16 studio dates for Verve now collected
in a seven-CD box from the Web and mail-order reissue champs Mosaic Records.
It's hard to think of anyone except Ella Fitzgerald who was better served by
Grantz's favorite tacts which also included friendly encounters with
compatible players, like Roy's admirer Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Benny
Carter whose fluent virtuosity had inspired Eldridge early on.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: In the '50s, Roy Eldridge sounded eternally modern without
changing his established style and all but ignoring new developments. His
internal momentum is so strong he pulls even fleet rhythm sections along in
his wake. You can really hear that on a 1960 postscript with a sleek quartet.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: There are other finds in the Roy Eldridge box, including a
growling one-man band number, a modernized Dixieland date and some hip trumpet
and drums improvisations with Alvin Stoller. Eldridge isn't the only good
soloist, but he dominates most every session and he's so versatile and
assured, he never wears out the welcome.
This is the sound of an artist who got his confidence back.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, Absolute Sound and
Down Beat. He reviewed a new box set of trumpeter Roy Eldridge's Verve
sessions from the Web and mail-order company Mosaic Records.
Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel, "The Birth of
Venus." This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New novel by Sarah Dunant, "The Birth of Venus"
TERRY GROSS, host:
"The Birth of Venus" is a new historical novel that offers readers the
opportunity to get lost in Florence during the Renaissance, but critic Maureen
Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
The title of Sarah Dunant's new novel, "The Birth of Venus," refers to the
famous Botticelli painting of the hefty goddess on a half-shell. It also
signals to readers that this is another one of those historical novels about
painting, like Tracy Chevalier's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," and Susan
Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue." Certainly the chief attraction of these
artsy novels that are so hot right now is that we readers get to step through
the frame and into the painters' worlds and stay there for hours and hours
longer than even the most extended museum visit allows.
To be sure, "The Birth of Venus" offers escapism of the erudite sort. It
packs in plenty of information about fresco painting and church politics and
aristocratic marriage rituals in Florence at the end of the 14th century. But
it befits the novel about the humanist art of the Renaissance, all these
scholarly details mesh with the spicy story line.
In the prologue of "The Birth of Venus," we readers are shown the corpse of an
elderly nun which is being stripped in preparation for burial, except instead
of stigmata or self-flagellation scars or the other common marks of holy
distinction, this nun's body turns out to be tattooed with a long,
silver-green snake that writhes its way down from her shoulder to the place
where fig leaves usually nestle, and the head of the snake is actually the face
of a man with a tongue like Gene Simmons. From that moment on, no matter how
many mini lectures on Renaissance dress and architecture this novel offers, we
readers know that plot-wise, we're really into the wild and woolly realm of
What follows is the life story of that nun with the hidden body art whose
name, long before she entered the convent, as Alessandra Cecchi. Alessandra
grows up in Florence, the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant. Through the
intercession of her sympathetic mother, Alessandra is tutored in classical
philosophy and literature, along with her doltish brothers. She also develops
a secret passion to paint, learning to draw by copying devotional art around
the house. As Alessandra tells us, `It was one thing for my father to indulge
a precocious child in an occasional sketch of the virgin. It was quite
another to have a grown daughter so possessed that she raided the kitchen for
capon bones to grind for boxwood dust or goose feathers for a dozen new
quills. Art might be a way to God, but it was also the mark of a tradesman
and no pastime for a young woman of good family.' Alessandra finds a
much-needed mentor when she's almost 15 and her father commissions a young
artist to decorate the family chapel. Furtively, Alessandra seeks the artist
out to seriously learn something about painting. Other lessons eventually
Meanwhile, outside the hushed confines of the house, the geometry of influence
within Florence begins to shift. Upon the death of the city's cultivated
leader, Lorenzo de'Medici, the infamous fire and brimstone monk Savonarola
begins terrorizing the citizenry with his god squad goons. To add to the
anxiety of this historical moment, French forces are poised to invade the city
and Alessandra, as an unmarried young woman, is especially vulnerable, so her
family arranges a marriage to a much older man. What she's long dreaded is
about to come to pass. As Alessandra says, `I will go to his house, run his
household, have his children and disappear into the fabric of his life like a
pale thread of color in a tapestry.'
Not to despair, though, we're only about a quarter of the way through this
tale that has more twists and turns in it than that salacious snake tattoo.
"The Birth of Venus" is a rollicking, elegantly written and, yes, slightly
educational novel. But what makes it more than just a bodice-ripper with a
graduate degree is the robust character of Alessandra. Like Olivia
Shakespeare, the bard's mythical and much more gifted sister whose thwarted
career Virginia Woolf imagined in "A Room of One's Own," Alessandra Cecchi is
so eloquently captivating in talking about her yearning to paint, she makes
readers regret the real lives of those anonymous artistic women of the
Renaissance who might have wanted to do more than just model.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Birth of Venus" by Sarah Dunant.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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