Twenty-five Years After Its Debut, The Sopranos Remains a Cult Show, Here's Why

Twenty-five Years After Its Debut, The Sopranos Remains a Cult Show, Here's Why
Image credit: HBO

The series had a tremendous effect on the entire TV industry.


  • The Sopranos is one of the few true cult shows that deserves the audience's recognition.
  • The show, with its uninhibited violence, was a novelty at the time of its release.
  • No predecessor of The Sopranos dared to feature such provocative and controversial scenes.

In 2024, we tend to think of many shows from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s as cult. But in reality, there are only a few series whose impact on the entertainment industry allows them to claim that title. Just as Frasier and Friends were the most influential sitcoms and Sex in the City was the most popular drama of their respective eras, The Sopranos was the most influential crime drama.

When The Sopranos debuted in 1999, audiences were immediately captivated by the show's explicit depiction of the violence of the mob world. Over its nine-year run, the HBO drama spanned six hugely popular seasons and explored the lives of its titular characters. But it did much more than that – it revolutionized television forever.

A Brand New Type of Sincerity

Centered on the Soprano family, a powerful mob that controls northern New Jersey, the eponymous show featured a lot of crime, gore, and violence that was stupendously ugly, yet very moving. It may not seem important now, but at the time of the show's release, it was almost unheard of.

No other show before The Sopranos was allowed to depict that level of ugliness and filth. Furthermore, it was reckless to even suggest such a story to network executives.

'Well, they would say, "You're joking." And if we said no, we weren't joking, then they would say, "Clearly we can't do that, and certainly Garner [the star of NBC's hit drama The Rockford Files] isn't going to want to do that. And when you walk out that door, you're fired. You need psychiatric help." And they would mean it,' David Chase, who created both shows, said of The Sopranos' unapologetic portrayal of the criminal world.

All Sweetness and Light

Before The Sopranos, TV shows were made bland and almost sanitized so that there was no shocking or provocative content. And according to Chase, that was a conscious decision on the part of network executives.

'Those network executives had a knack. They would cook the vitamins out of anything. By the time you got the string beans, they were flabby, overcooked, tasteless, with no salt. They always cooked the vitamins – and got you to participate in that,' the showrunner shared his experience.

'And they had flawless instincts for taking out the very thing that made the story worth doing. Whether it was right there right out front, or whether it was oblique. They always knew that, whatever you loved, they weren't doing it for that reason. They would go after what a writer was excited about.'

Fortunately, HBO eventually agreed to run a story as bluntly violent as The Sopranos which changed the industry forever. And even if the show isn't remembered for the story itself, it should be celebrated for paving the way for countless other crime dramas we still watch today.

Source: Rolling Stone.