Mobsters, psychotherapy, contract killings, depression, the deep interpersonal dynamics of a dysfunctional family – sound like a television series to you? Writer-director David Chase takes an original view of the traditionally even-tempered medium in his Peabody Award-winning HBO series The Sopranos. Chase uses the intriguing concept of a New Jersey mobster pouring out his heart and soul on a therapist’s couch to jump off into bold new territory that challenges audiences and keeps them guessing. Part satirical loving homage to the influences of the great American gangster films, part darkly comedic study of a New Jersey Italian-American family, The Sopranos is the first-ever television series set against the family life of a contemporary Mafioso, and it’s undeniable that the series has struck a chord with viewers and critics alike. The fourth season premiere earned HBO its largest audience for any of its original programs. Chase has won an EmmyÂ® Award for writing, a DGA Award for directing, and a Golden Laurel Award for producing. In addition, the series has been recognized by the Golden GlobesÂ® and the Screen Actors Guild. Several psychiatric organizations including the American Psychoanalytic Association have also acknowledged the series’ accuracy in portraying the relationship between therapist and patient. Most recently, Chase accepted the Banff Award of Excellence honoring his “exceptional achievement through a body of work, over a long period of time.”
For David Chase, The Sopranos marks a prime opportunity to take his own personal vision for a television series from initial concept to full-blown production – writing, directing and creatively guiding the entire first season. Yet Chase is no stranger to cutting-edge works for the small screen. He has also been instrumental in the success of such cutting edge series as I’ll Fly Away, Northern Exposure, and The Rockford Files. He brought to each of these acclaimed shows a rich sense of character, an iconoclastic humor, a love of cinematic complexities and a distaste for television conventions – raising them to new levels of expression for the medium.
Chase was raised on gangster films and imaginary worlds. An only child in a New Jersey Italian-American family, he quickly developed two unique penchants: one for Saturday matinees and the other for making up stories. This later led to his taking a filmmaking course at the School of Visual Arts in New York where he discovered an insatiable desire to be part of the medium. Slouching toward show business as a rock n’ roll drummer, Chase hung up his sticks and bought a Super 8 camera. Finding that he wanted a more formal training process, he went to study in the graduate film program at Stanford University.
It was at Stanford that Chase discovered his talent for writing and the joy of needing merely paper and pen rather than cameras, film stock and technical equipment. After graduation, he set aside her interest in motion pictures in order to write for several popular television shows. He quickly received attention for his risk-taking, psychologically intense writing. From 1976 through 1980, he was a writer and producer of The Rockford Files, which won the 1976 EmmyÂ® for Best Drama. He went on to write and produce the acclaimed ABC movie of the week, Off the Minnesota Strip, which garnered Chase the EmmyÂ® for Outstanding Writing and the WGA Award.
Chase’s first chance to direct came with the 80’s incarnation of the classic, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, when he helmed an episode he wrote. The experience altered everything that was to come, inspiring Chase to take up the hyphenate of writer-director as his new identity. He wrote, directed and executive produced the critically acclaimed short-lived series Almost Grown. He then joined the team of I’ll Fly Away, where he wrote, directed and executive produced episodes with John Falsey and Josh Brand for two highly lauded seasons of the daring Civil Rights-era dramatic series. This was television that broke the television mold-exceptional filmic storytelling that raised far more questions about the world and human behavior than it resolved. I’ll Fly Away was twice nominated for the EmmyÂ® Award for Best Series and Chase received a Best Teleplay nomination, as well as the Television Critics Award, Producers Guild Award, American Television Award, Humanitas Award and the Viewers for Quality Television Award. I’ll Fly Away was ultimately purchased for syndication by PBS, the first and only time a network show was so honored.
Heading due north from the locale of I’ll Fly Away, Chase segued into two seasons of Northern Exposure, the beloved series about a New York doctor in the Alaskan outback.
But it is with The Sopranos that Chase really comes into his own. Inspired by William Wellman’s The Public Enemy during his New Jersey boyhood, Chase is fascinated by the world of the contemporary mobster-a world as much about the indelible, often comical, influence of Scorsese and Coppola films on real life wise guys as it is about the old Italian ways. In The Sopranos, he merges Mafia mythology with the realities of impossible mothers, marital difficulties, rebellious children and a world that sometimes can seem a whole lot more manageable on Prozac.
While Chase continues to be among the most sought-after writers for television, it is his annoyance with network television’s rules that has brought him such success. Next, he may very well bring his vision to the cinema, the medium that first inspired his interest in both mobsters and human motivations.