New Jeresey Bids Farewell To The Sopranos
by Christine Bord
If New York City is Sex and the City’s fifth lady then there is no denying that New Jersey is Tony Soprano’s right hand man. The state, for better or for worse, will be synonymous with the HBO series The Sopranos long after the series’ final episodes air this spring.Since The Sopranos first aired in 1999, it has been a favorite of fans and critics alike, the Washington Post has called the series, “the television landmark that leaves other landmarks in the dust.” Few would argue considering the series has pushed the envelope for what could be said, done, and accepted on television.The series is also part of an important turning point for premium cable channels. Channels like HBO and Showtime are now competing with the major networks for ratings and awards. Shows like Sex and City, Six Feet Under, Entourage, Oz, Weeds, The L Word, and Queer as Folk have all won audiences from the major networks by giving them groundbreaking material that the big three wouldn’t dare produce out of fear of alienating the audience, not to mention the FCC.It has paid off too, as many are now willing to pay extra for these channels just for the original programming. Nicole Getz, a basic cable subscriber, starting paying more to have HBO after catching an episode of The Sopranos at her sister’s house. Getz explained, “We had to get it, we didn’t want to miss an episode and we didn’t want to have to wait for the DVD, we had thought about cancelling in between seasons but then there is always something else we start watching, like Entourage, we love Entourage, so we end up keeping it.” The Sopranos paved the way for the success of original series on premium channels and upped the ante for all networks, proving that high quality, well written television is possible and will gain a following.The Sopranos didn’t just change what was accepted on television; it changed the aesthetics of television. Television producers once chose stripped down sound stages for filming most series to save on costs and time. It was also common to cut back on details in a scene because the television screen was smaller and the viewer may be distracted by too many furnishings. In his essay “Broadcast TV as Sound and Image”, John Ellis states, “broadcast TV characteristically offers an image that is stripped down, with no unnecessary details.” With the increase in HD televisions making the picture crisper and a push for film like quality on TV, this is no longer the case. The Sopranos is filmed partially on a sound stage in New York but it also uses the streets of New Jersey for filming, giving the series a realistic, gritty feel. The series has been filmed in over 40 different communities throughout the state, making itself at home at the delight of some residents and the dismay of others. The look of The Sopranos is more like that of a feature film than that of a television series, to achieve this look filming on location is a necessity.In Keary, NJ locals have become accustomed to seeing the cast and crew of The Sopranos in their neighborhood. The show rents a vacant building in town and when needed, they convert it into Satriale’s, one of Tony Soprano’s favorite hang outs on the show. In an interview with Janet Frankston Lorin, Kearny mayor Alberto Santos said, “when the pig goes on the roof, you know it is close”, referring to the prop pig that sits on top of the fictional Satriale’s Pork Store. Lorin notes in her article, “So Long Sopranos”, that when The Sopranos are in town, “you do what they say- for a price.”The building next to Satriale’s is used by The Irish American Association. When filming, the association replaces their Irish flag with an Italian flag and they have been compensated for doing so. The organization has received approximately $20,000 from the producers of The Sopranos. This is a small amount compared to the overall revenue The Sopranos has provided New Jersey while filming in the state over the past 8 years.To get the authentic gritty feel we see in the show, the producers have paid upwards of 60 million dollars in filming fees, rent, meals, costs associated with hiring locals, as well as other miscellaneous expenses. It is rare for a state to receive such a windfall from a production like this, though many communities benefit from the one time filming of a movie, few communities benefit over a long time period since it is still relatively rare for a series to be filmed in this way.Another benefit of the filming has been an increase in tourism. Thousands have taken bus tours to see these locations. Many more have made the trek themselves spending money in restaurants and hotels, just one more way the series is contributing to the state’s economy and will continue to do so for years to come. Even though TV shows like Seinfeld and Sex and the City have been off the air for several years, there are still tour companies profiting from fans who want to see the restaurants, apartments, and streets where these shows were filmed. You can bet the same will be true for fans of The Sopranos. In this way the show has put NJ on the map. Corners and neighborhoods that most tourists would never seek out now have people lining up to take pictures. Take the Keary strip club The Satin Dolls Club which transforms into Bada Bing’s for the show. The club has gained a new reputation, business is booming, and people are driving off the beaten path to get a picture of this strip club turned pop culture icon.
At most of the locations where filming has taken place a flurry of activity was created from the time the crew arrived. Locals would gather around trying to get a memento, glimpse or picture of the show’s stars. These mementos and pictures now hang on diner walls, in the common rooms in retirement homes; even some private residences proudly display the picture that represents that home’s brush with stardom.
This is not to say that all New Jersey residents are thrilled with being the home of Tony Soprano. Some think the show and its criminal antics give New Jersey a bad reputation. The town of Bloomfield originally denied a filming permit to the producers because they felt it gave an “offensive depiction of Italian-Americans”.
The Sopranos could act as a case study in on location filming. Though towns had to make accommodations, like closing roads for the filming, most residents enjoyed having The Sopranos around. And few would deny the economic benefits of having a major television production filming scenes all over the state. It took four full time location scouts to find the perfect location for each scene and in each case it took weeks to secure permits, gain security, set up and then tear down the make shift sets used for just a few minutes of screen time. With all of this there came controversy in each town about the reputation the show brought with it and the balance of keeping quiet towns quiet while still reaping the benefits filming had to offer. As more television programs are being filmed on location it will be interesting to see how other states and communities embrace their own brush with stardom.
If you are interested in visiting some of the locations used in The Sopranos, here is a list of online resources to get you started:
Be sure to check out the blogs on this site. Some people have great stories about their encounters with The Sopranos cast. This is IMDB’s list of locations used in The Sopranos.
This site features several locations with good directions to most.
Actor Joe Gannascoli gives a tour of North Jersey that is definitely worth a look.
This is just one on the companies offering bus tours through “Sopranoland”.
I have saved the best for last, Soprano Sue rocks! This is a must see for all fans of The Sopranos.