“The Sopranos” has long been one of HBO’s most acclaimed series, but its popularity has surged in the quarantine era as more younger viewers stream the mafia drama for the first time. Aiding the show’s enduring popularity is the “Talking Sopranos” podcast that fan favorite cast members Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa launched at the beginning of the year. Each episode of the podcast finds Imperioli and Schirripa re-watching an episode of the series and discussing behind-the-scenes details with special guests. During an interview this week with The Daily Beast to promote the series, the actors remembered HBO not being too happy with one of the series most iconic episodes.
“College” is the fifth episode of “The Sopranos'” first season and often ranks high on lists of the series’ best episodes. One half of the episode’s storyline centers around Tony (James Gandolfini) traveling to Maine with his daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) to visit colleges. The episode takes a dark turn when Tony spots a former member of his crime family now living under the Witness Protection Program after becoming an FBI informant. Tony ends up strangling the snitch to death. The murder is perhaps Tony’s most famous kill in “The Sopranos,” but it turns out HBO pushed back against it.
“HBO didn’t want him to kill the snitch when he took his daughter to college,” Schirripa told The Daily Beast. “And they said, ‘There’s no way, a leading man never murdered someone before, we’ll lose the audience.’ And David Chase said, ‘No, if he doesn’t kill the guy we’ll lose the audience because that’s what he does.'”
The reveal came up in the midst of Schirripa and Imperioli discussing the political incorrectness of the series. The reporter brought up how openly homophobic characters are in the show towards closeted gay character Vito Spatafore. Some viewers might find the show’s homophobia problematic these days, but Imperioli said the show was never condoning such behavior.
“That comes with the territory. These guys, that’s some of their mentality,” Imperioli said. “I think it would be a bigger horror to make them PC and cleaned up. I think that would be a big disservice to the audience. And I think most people understand that. Most people know that these guys are criminals, they’re not the brightest people in the world, they’re not particularly educated and they have a lot of bias.”
The actors noted how audiences are more likely to forgive the characters on the show for murdering people than they are for other despicable actions like homophobia or even murdering a dog. As Schirripa put it, “Michael has taken heat for sitting on the dog, killing the dog, but not for killing, how many people did Christopher kill, Michael?”
Schirripa is referring to the fourth season episode “The Strong, Silent Type” where Imperioli’s character Christopher Moltisanti is high on heroin and sits on his girlfriend’s dog and kills her. When asked if he gets more anger from fans over the dog killing than any other murder, Imperioli answered, “I do, yeah. Fans take that very personal and get angry.” The actors’ point is that fans should be just as angry with Christopher for murdering people as they are with him murdering a dog.
Head over to The Daily Beast’s website to read more from Schirripa and Imperioli’s latest interview.