The award-winning writer and producer, 78, was the mastermind behind one of the most acclaimed and influential shows, which starred the late James Gandolfini as New Jersey mafia boss Tony Soprano.
In a new interview with The Times to commemorate the show’s 25th anniversary, Chase spoke about what he sees as the death of quality TV, pointing to risk-averse executives and distracted audiences as the cause.
Chase claimed that the so-called golden era of TV is now over, recalling how he had recently been told to “dumb down” a production and was warned against making series that would “require an audience to focus”.
He went on to deem The Sopranos 25-year anniversary a “funeral” for the industry instead of a celebration.
“We’re going back to where I was,” he said, referring to the state of TV back when he was trying to get The Sopranos greenlit. “They’re going to have commercials [on streamers like Prime Video]... and I’ve already been told to dumb it down.”
Chase explained that he is in the process of trying to get a show made, which he wrote together with screenwriter Hannah Fidell, about a high-end sex worker forced into witness protection.
During their fifth meeting with studio executives, however, the pair were told “the unfortunate truth” that the series is apparently “too complex” for a distracted audience.
“As the human race goes on, we are more into multitasking,” Chase continued. “We seem to be confused and audiences can’t keep their minds on things, so we can’t make anything that makes too much sense, takes our attention and requires an audience to focus. And as for streaming executives? It is getting worse. We’re going back to where we were.”
He added: “This is the 25th anniversary, so of course it’s a celebration. But perhaps we shouldn’t look at it like that. Maybe we should look at it like a funeral.”
Chase referred to the post-Sopranos golden era of TV as a “25-year blip”, stating that he believes the type of shows that are synonymous with Sopranos, such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, would not be commissioned now.
“And to be clear, I’m not talking only about The Sopranos, but a lot of other hugely talented people out there who I feel increasingly bad for,” he continued.
When the interviewer pointed to the HBO series Succession, which came to an end last year after four seasons, as an example of recent stellar TV, Chase countered that Succession had been greenlit many years ago.
“So it is a funeral,” Chase concluded. “Something is dying.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Chase recalled how The Sopranos had been commissioned by HBO after being turned down by several other networks, including Fox.
“Back then the networks were in an artistic pit. A s***hole,” he said. “The process was repulsive. In meetings these people would always ask to take out the one thing that made an episode worth doing. I should have quit.”
The Sopranos ran for six seasons (a total of 86 episodes) from 1999 to 2007, and starred Gandolfini opposite Edie Falco, Lorraine Braco, and Michael Imperioli.