‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini Saved the Show By Solving the Biggest Behind-the-Scene Dispute

In the world of crime drama television shows, none are more influential or more beloved than The Sopranos. One of HBO’s biggest shows, the series ran for six seasons before ultimately going off the air. It has managed to live on through an expanded universe of material, including an upcoming prequel movie, comic books, a video game, and much more. Sadly, the original star, James Gandolfini, passed away several years ago — but the character that he made so famous has gone down in television history. Not only did Gandolfini love the character of Tony Soprano, but he was dedicated to making the series work, as evidenced by a story that details just how much of a good guy Gandolfini really was. 

James Gandolfini with his arms folded across his chest
James Gandolfini | Anthony Neste/Getty Images

When did ‘The Sopranos’ debut on HBO?

Developed in the mid-nineties, The Sopranos premiered on television in 1999. It quickly gained popularity and in short order was one of HBO’s top shows. The series detailed the life of Tony Soprano, a mobster living in New Jersey. Soprano is as deep as he can be in the world of organized crime but still has to balance his personal relationships, including his marriage to his wife Carmela, and his ongoing therapy sessions with a skilled psychiatrist.

As the years went on, The Sopranos continued to earn recognition from critics for the brilliant writing and insightful acting. It won over twenty Primetime Emmy Awards and five Golden Globe Awards, as well as a slew of other nominations. These days, the show is considered to be one of the greatest of all time — thanks in large part to the contributions of James Gandolfini, who inhabited the role of Tony Soprano. 

James Gandolfini is best known for his role as Tony Soprano

RELATED: ‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini’s Secret for Nailing the Part of Tony

James Gandolfini was born in 1961, and just like his character of Tony Soprano, was raised primarily in the New Jersey area. Raised in an Italian-American family, Gandolfini excelled in sports in high school, but showed the greatest affinity for acting and entertaining others, according to IMDb. After moving to New York City, Gandolfini began acting in a variety of independent films and Broadway productions.

He quickly began getting typecast as mobster-type characters and appeared in movies such as Terminal Velocity and The Juror. He got his first big break in the 1995 film Get Shorty, which was based on a popular book. Shortly after his appearance in the film, Gandolfini was cast in the brand-new series The Sopranos. Not only would the show make him a superstar, but it would earn him the critical recognition that he so richly deserved. 

How did James Gandolfini save ‘The Sopranos’?

During his time starring in The Sopranos, James Gandolfini continued to act in other movies, including 8mm, Surviving Christmas, Lonely Hearts, and All the King’s Men. Still, he remained best known for his work in the hit HBO show, and he won multiple awards for his role as Tony Soprano. Gandolfini was not shy about professing his love for the show and it remained his top professional priority.

Around the time of season four, Gandolfini, along with the rest of the cast, began a notorious pay dispute with HBO. The dispute was regarding the issue of DVD sales, and while Gandolfini was able to resolve his case with HBO fairly quickly, the rest of the cast was not so lucky, according to Screenrant. In fact, the fifth season was delayed due to the ongoing dispute. Gandolfini swept in, and proving his loyalty to the series as well as the cast, offered up $33,333 of his bonus to each one of the main series actors, Mental Floss reports. This effectively ended the dispute and allowed the series to resume as normal.