By: Joe Strupp
For any television critic, revealing the ending of The Sopranos, the HBO hit that will offer its final episode Sunday, would be the ultimate scoop. But for Alan Sepinwall, TV writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., known by many as “Tony Soprano’s paper” for its almost weekly appearances on the show, it would be a no-brainer.
“I wouldn’t do it,” says Sepinwall, the paper’s 11-year TV critic. “If someone gave me the last script, I would burn it. I want no part of it. That would be no fun.”
And fun seems to be the way most Star-Ledger readers and staffers describe the paper’s intimate connection to the show. Most every viewer of the mob family drama, which ends its seventh season Sunday, have seen boss Tony Soprano picking up the New Jersey daily at the bottom of his driveway in his North Caldwell home.
The paper has returned the favor with likely more Sopranos coverage over the years than any other newspaper, and a Web site devoted to the program that offers everything from ongoing chats to a map of Soprano-related locations of scenes filmed in the Garden State. This week, the paper is offering a string of stories on all facets of the final episode, which included a lead story today on a Fairleigh Dickenson University poll of residents, revealing most want Tony Soprano to live on and not become another “whack job.”
“It has been nice to have something that was Jersey-based,” says Editor Jim Willse. “We enjoyed it as much as anyone else. As a nice promotional opportunity.” But he says, “we’ll survive” without it, although “I don’t know who from the show will.”
Colleen Stone, a senior producer at NJ.com, the Star-Ledger Web site, says the Soprano chats are among the most popular on the site, noting last Monday’s traffic saw 450,000 page views on the Soprano reader fourm. “People are in there constantly,” she said.
Sepinwall, who like Sopranos creator David Chase is a Jersey native, from Pine Brook, says he will miss the show, but not the workload it has heaped on him. Between regular reviews of the episodes, and related stories about cast members, location filming and the occasional protests from Italian-American groups, he also has hosted a weekly online chat for each episode.
“People are aware of the existence of the paper out of state in a way they would not be before the show,” Sepinwall says of the impact. “When I am doing an interview, a celebrity interview, I used to have to explain what the Star-Ledger was, now I don’t. They say, ‘Oh yeah, like Tony Soprano reads.'”
Sepinwall says his views of spilling the plot, even before the final season, have always been to reject any attempt to give him crucial plotlines. “People try to tell me stuff, people who have been on location and I tell them I don’t want to know,” he says. “I don’t see the value in trying to reveal the stuff ahead of time. I would argue vehemently if we got it that we should sit on it.”
Sepinwall recalls the final Seinfeld episode, which the Boston Herald revealed before it aired. He remembers arguing against the Star-Ledger reporting on it, eventually asking that someone else handle it.
As for his own predictions, Sepinwall has been writing that viewers should not be surprised if the last episode is not a bloodbath or a definitive ending. As regular watchers recall, last week’s show ended with Tony Soprano holed-up in a “safehouse” clutching his gun after one of his top henchmen, Bobby Bacala, was killed, and another, Silvio Dante (ex-Asbury Parker Steve Van Zandt) , was seriously wounded. Not to mention his son, A.J., still recovering from a suicide attempt.
“I am sticking with the notion that they will find a way for Tony to be alive, in power, but still miserable,” Sepinwall said. “Then he’s got to be Tony Soprano, and as we’ve learned over time, that is no fun.”