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The Soprano Family Gets a Reprieve as Creator Agrees to a Sixth Season

June 18, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

"The Sopranos" will keep firing into a sixth season.

David Chase, the creator of HBO's popular drama about an organized crime family, has agreed to go beyond the planned fifth season and do an additional round, HBO executives announced Tuesday.

Chase previously had said he would step away from the drama after its upcoming fifth season, and star James Gandolfini and other key players had said that if Chase left, so would they.

The entire cast -- including Gandolfini, who a few months ago was embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with the cable network -- is expected to return for the sixth season, which is scheduled to be 10 episodes, three installments fewer than the usual "Sopranos" season.

"I'm delighted that David Chase has decided to give us another chapter in the great Sopranos saga," said HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht in a statement.

Brad Grey, one of the series' executive producers, added: "The decision by David was purely a creative one. Once he decided that there were more stories to tell, ... it took five minutes to work out the business deal."

Neither Grey nor HBO would discuss the specifics of the deal. The network reportedly is paying about $4 million per episode for the fifth season, well above the average for most hourlong dramas.

A ratings and critical success, "The Sopranos" has become arguably HBO's most valuable series. With the episodes from the sixth season, there will be a total of 75 produced, fewer than the usual 100 needed for a series to succeed in off-network syndication. But "The Sopranos" has always defied TV conventions.

Contributing to Chase's decision was his satisfaction with the progress of the current production, Grey said.

"The shows we've shot to date on the fifth season are so strong, it was clear that the series is continuing to evolve," Grey said. "We're thrilled to be continuing."

Chase could not be reached for comment.

Fans of the series -- who already have had to hold out for 18 months between seasons -- will be in for another long wait.

The fifth season, currently in production, won't debut until March, and the sixth season won't begin production until early 2005. Episodes for that season aren't likely to appear before late 2005.

The announcement of the sixth season comes less than three months after the settlement of a contract dispute between Gandolfini and HBO.

The actor charged in a lawsuit filed in March that HBO violated a clause in his contract when it failed to notify him of a $20-million deal that it had struck with Chase for the fifth season. The cable network countersued, calling Gandolfini's lawsuit "frivolous and without merit."

He is reportedly earning upward of $11 million for the fifth season.

Gandolfini and Edie Falco, who plays his wife, Carmela, have both twice won the top acting Emmy awards for a drama. "The Sopranos" has been nominated three times for best drama series but has never won the award.

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