Todd A. Kessler was the boy genius of the Sopranos writers’ room. In 1999, he wrote a teleplay, “D-Girl,” about a gangster who writes a screenplay (You Bark, I Bite) that was so good, it changed the rules of dark comedy on television. He was 26. It was the first Sopranos episode he’d done. By 2000, his standing at the show had risen to the point that rumor named him as the successor-in-waiting to David Chase, the Sopranos creator. The two became friends. That summer, when an episode they co-wrote was nominated for an Emmy, Mr. Kessler was elated. Still, he can’t have been much surprised. The episode, “Funhouse,” the last of the second season, is a brilliant piece of writing. The surprise came 10 minutes after the nomination was announced, when Mr. Chase phoned up Mr. Kessler and fired him. He was stunned. “The timing isn’t great,” Mr. Chase admitted during the call. Mr. Kessler wept, and although he obtained a reprieve, it didn’t last.
Had he been fired for being too good? The next act of Mr. Kessler’s career suggested that this possibility hadn’t escaped him. In 2007, he created Damages, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning drama about a litigator who brutalizes her protégé. It was “based,” Brett Martin writes in his new book, Difficult Men, “in no small part on [Mr. Kessler’s] experiences working on The Sopranos.” Nor was its creator the only Sopranos alumnus whose later success involved getting even. Mr. Chase had a talent for inflicting the kind of trauma that results in a trip to the podium.
About 30 years ago, the actor Roger Bart noticed something beneath the complex demeanor of James Gandolfini, a young bartender fresh out of college: the embryo of an actor.
“I looked at him, and I talked to him, and I thought, ‘He’s such a great type,’” said Mr. Bart, who had recently earned a degree in acting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts when he met Mr. Gandolfini through a mutual acquaintance in or around 1985.
“He was this interesting, deep, funny, sweet and gentle giant,” Mr. Bart recalled. “Even when I met him, at 23, he was sort of 23 going on 45.”
Jim was a truly special man. So kind, so intelligent, so humble. Never nasty, never short. Jim never looked down on anyone in the cast or crew, even after his immediate rocket to stardom. He never took his talent—or his position—for granted. Jim was a true actor in the “old” sense. Always probing for more Read More
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has ordered flags to be at half-mast on Monday, in honor of the late actor James Gandolfini, who died on Wednesday at age 51.
“All the people in the state really felt a connection to him, not just to his character, but to him,” Mr. Christie said in Read More
I found out James Gandolfini died while I was commuting home on NJTransit from New York to Asbury Park. When I got off the train, I heard more than one person greet their ride with, “Did you hear? Tony Soprano died.”
Later, flying down the Parkway, I saw a photo of Mr. Gandolfini on the Asbury boardwalk. It was sunny and he was smiling, right down the street from my house, with Convention Hall in the background.
death and commerce
Toeing that queasy line between memorial and merchandising, yesterday’s devastating news about the death of actor James Gandolfini has prompted a swift outpouring to the media from several New Jersey businesses that had a tertiary relationship to The Sopranos or its star.
Ten years ago, it wasn’t hard to decide what to do on a Sunday night. Everyone watched HBO. The programming on the premium cable network was like nothing else on the tube.
But then, Carrie Bradshaw finally landed Mr. Big, the entire Fisher family died, Tony Soprano stopped believin’ in a New Jersey diner, and Tommy Carcetti became governor of Maryland.
By the time Sue Naegle arrived from United Talent Agency to take the network’s top job in 2008 (alongside co-president Richard Plepler and president of programming Michael Lombardo), the programming larder was looking bare. “We walked into a schedule that was mostly empty,” she told The Observer. And what could be better? “From a development and programming perspective, that’s the dream.”
Crime paid for Chris Albrecht once before, and clearly he’s hoping it does once again. The former head of HBO — who was the executive that put The Sopranos on the air — is planning a remake of the Australian crime drama Underbelly for his new network, Starz. The series — which centers Read More
Sometimes we actually find ourselves wondering what we’re going to needlessly obsess over once Lost shuffles off this mortal coil in May of next year. Case in point: We used the end-of-the-world thunderstorms yesterday afternoon as an excuse to spend hours catching up on Saturday’s Lost panel at Comic-Con, which featured things both Read More
“I’ve got bigger tits than the broads in here!” quipped the jovial Steve Schirripa.
The Brooklyn-born actor perhaps best known for his role as Bobby Baccalieri on HBO’s The Sopranos had just arrived at the boozy grand-opening party for the newly rebranded Sapphire New York strip club on Monday, April 27, looking very “legitimate businessman” Read More