At the end of a story, you’ll find it’s all been told.
—Earl Grant, “The End,” 1958
The Non-sense of an Ending
In the days immediately following June 10, 2007, the date on which
the last episode of HBO’s hit show The Sopranos was aired, the word
“Sopranos” itself was the most frequent search term on Internet search
engines.1 And in the first few minutes after the episode finished, the
HBO Web site crashed and remained down for several hours due to the
volume of people trying to log into it.
There are several lessons to be drawn from this. One is about the
increased role of new media—such as the Web—in extending and am-
plifying the life cycle of any particular cultural product, of which this
television series is an example. Even as it finished out its first run on
HBO, the Sopranos phenomenon would spill beyond the discrete object
that was the show itself and find additional vitality in multiple sites of
media and of everyday culture. Later, in Part II, this book will deal with
the ways The Sopranos came to be appropriated and reappropriated to
diverse ends in the larger context of media entertainment and sales-
manship. This increasingly can be the fate of any cultural work today:
its meanings and its effects go beyond its initial manifestation to be
reworked and repurposed for new audiences and new profit elsewhere
in the social landscape.
But there is also a lesson here about The Sopranos in particular, and
my goal in Part I will be to describe and analyze those specific and even
unique features of the series that both fostered intense audience in-
volvement in its original unfolding, episode after episode, and, by those
means, contributed to the series’ extended role in a vaster media land-
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