POSTED BY STUART LEVINE
No, not what came first, the chicken or the egg? Or if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The real question everyone has been asking, of course, is the one that has eluded the most elite television scholars since May 6, 2001: What happened to the Russian in the woods?
Chase, the creator and voice of "The Sopranos," spoke to a crowd of a few hundred gathered at the Writers' Guild to discuss all things "Sopranos." The event was an homage to Chase, this year's recipient of the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television.
"Should we let the cat out of the bag?" Chase asked the audience when moderator and "Simpsons" creator Matt Groenig asked about the fate of the Russian left for dead in the "Pine Barrens" episode. "OK, this is what happened. Some Boy Scouts found the Russian, who had the telephone number to his boss, Slava, in his pocket. They called Slava, who took him to the hospital where he had brain surgery. And then Slava sent him back to the Soviet Union."
Wow. With that great riddle solved, almost everything else seemed like gravy as Chase, er, cut to the chase on the creative process for the show, whether they'll be a movie, why Christopher lived as long as he did and whether he suffers from writers block like everyone else.
He said HBO was completely supportive in what he and his team of writers -- including Matt Weiner (creator of AMC's "Mad Men") and Terence Winter, who were both in the audience -- were creating and rarely offered any suggestions.
"There were only a couple of fights," Chase confessed. "One of them was, Did you really have to go to Paris?" The remark refers to when Carmela and Rosalie Aprile go to Europe and get a glimpse of life outside the Garden State.
The only thing that Chase always found confounding in his collaboration with HBO is that once a season ended, it would take weeks, if not months, for the cabler to get back to him on whether there would be a new season. And it was former HBO topper Chris Albrecht, not Chase, who suggested the series come to an end.
Other gems from Chase, who actually smiled a few times:
-- There was no relevance to the name Kevin Finnerty, the pseudonym given to Tony in the episode "Join the Club," when he's dreaming about being a businessman stranded in Costa Mesa, Calif., while lying comatose after being shot by Uncle Junior.
But according to Chase, that wasn't actually a dream. The sequence was based on director John Patterson, who, when dying of prostate cancer and in a semi-conscious state, asked, "Who am I? Where am I going?" "It was was about losing your identity," Chase said.
-- On "The Sopranos" being passed on at Fox and taking hold at HBO. The Fox exec who said no thanks finally met Chase in person for the first time years later and offered up, "See, it all worked out."
-- Straight out of college at Stanford, one of Chase's first and most memorable showbiz moments came during the writers strike in 1973, while he was picketing in front of the Paramount lot next to Steve Allen.
-- He laughed at all the mob hits and high body count seen on the series, way more than in the real-life Mafia. "I think in New York and New Jersey, there are 9 to 11 mob hits in 15 years. We would do that in one season." And the writers had no affinity for killing off characters. "What interested us was not the mob hits but the boringness in between."
-- He was mostly unaware of James Gandolfini before casting directors Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walker brought him in. About a half-dozen other actors tried out for the role, and Chase said Gandolfini brought a much more darker edge to Tony than anyone else, a much rougher character than what Chase had envisioned in the pilot.
-- Tony's mom, Livia, who was largely based on Chase's own mother, was supposed to die in the final episode in season one, but actress Nancy Marchand, who was ill from the very beginning of the show, asked Chase to keep her in. "Keep me working, David," she said, Chase recalled, and he was happy to oblige.
-- The only words Chris Albrecht gave to Chase early on was, "Don't do something just because you can, because it's on HBO. Do something smart."
-- It became a tradition that when a character was killed in the show, the cast would take out the actor for dinner before the episode aired.
-- He came up with the idea of how the show would end about 2 1/2 years before he actually shot the finale.
-- In talking about the controversial last episode, Chase says he wasn't shocked by the vocal reaction of viewers, but, rather, on how long it went on. He figured it would last for a few days but it turned into a weeks-long debate on what happened in the diner. And that so many people wanted Tony dead caught him off-guard. "What surprised me was the blood lust for Tony, that they wanted his blood all over the wall."
-- When one fan stood up and told Chase how much "Northern Exposure" had meant to him as a TV viewer and writer -- Chase was a scribe and exec producer on the seminal CBS show -- and asked to offer some insight about his experiences working on the series, Chase shot back, "I hated that show. I only did it for the money." Ouch.
-- On the move from working in broadcast to cable, Chase called it "a life saver."
-- He wouldn't rule out a "Sopranos" film, not because he has anything immediate in mind but that one day he and other writers might come up with an idea that would translate to the bigscreen. "There may be a day where we all come up with something."
-- He has no interest in writing another television show. He's looking at movies and, possibly, a miniseries, as his next venture.
-- On Tony's relationship with Christopher, Chase said there's no way that a real mob boss would've put up with Moltisanti's behavior for as long as Tony did. "In reality, Tony would've gotten rid of that guy a long time ago. We just couldn't do it because Michael (Imperioli) was so good."
-- Chase said he doesn't suffer from traditional writers block but he's a terrible procrastinator, often wandering aimlessly to pick up the mail, talk on the phone or do anything to avoid sitting down and focus at his computer. He also confessed to feeling a great post-"Sopranos" weight, wondering if he'll ever write anything as good.
-- Elvis Costello's "Complicated Shadows" was considered for the theme song, as was something from the Kinks. Chase chose A3's "Woke Up This Morning" after hearing it on radio station KCRW in Los Angeles.
-- There will be a giant DVD package of "The Sopranos," with every episode, and will most likely be available late this year. Extras will include an Italian feast featuring all the writers talking about the show, a Q&A with Chase moderated by Alec Baldwin and interviews with the cast.