Without A Hail Mary Phone Call From Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos Might Not Have Been Made

"The Sopranos" was instrumental in bringing about a new Golden Age of Television, and it remains one of the most critically well-regarded shows of all time, with a bundle of Emmy Awards to its name (among numerous other accolades). However, the show's success wasn't always guaranteed. Back in 1997, after the actors shot the series pilot, they were kept in suspense about whether HBO would even pick up "The Sopranos" and give it an order for a full first season.

One of those actors was Lorraine Bracco, who was already mob movie royalty thanks to her Oscar-nominated performance in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." In the book "Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos" by series actors Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa (with Philip Lerman), Bracco recalls how she was left in the dark for months after shooting the "Sopranos" pilot:

"I called up ['Sopranos' creator] David [Chase] eight, nine, ten months after we did the pilot, and I said, 'What's going on? Don't they have to pick us up or let us go or whatever?' He said, 'Yes.' He goes, 'You know, it's very expensive, the show. But why don't you call [HBO network executive] Chris Albrecht?'

"I said, 'All right. You have his number?' He gave me his number. I was walking around my house. I'd never called an executive before. I don't know, who am I? Nobody. I called up, 'May I please speak to Chris Albrecht?' He gets on the phone right away. I was sweating. I said, 'Hi, Chris.' 'Hey, Lorraine, how are you?' I said, 'Chris, what's going on? We all need to know.' He goes, 'It's very expensive.' I said, 'Okay.' I said, 'Can I see it? Will you send me a copy of it?'"

'This is the best thing I've seen in ten years'

As an actress on set, Bracco would have been focused on her own performance, so she had no way of knowing how the overall "Sopranos" pilot had turned out until she got a copy of it and saw how all the other performances and show elements had come together. She continued in "Woke Up This Morning":

"Right away, I get the copy, I watch the show, and I find myself screaming, jumping up and down on my bed. I was beyond thrilled. I called back Chris Albrecht, I said, "Are you kidding me? This is the best. This is unbelievable. I've never seen anything so good. Pick it up. Pick it up. Do it."

Bracco is an essential part of the "Sopranos" pilot, written and directed by David Chase. Her performance as Dr. Jennifer Melfi really helps sell the concept of a mobster going in for therapy sessions. Just two months after "The Sopranos" made its January 1999 premiere, Bracco's "Goodfellas" costar, Robert De Niro, would appear opposite Billy Crystal in the movie comedy "Analyze This," which played the same concept for laughs.

Bracco was so convinced of the greatness of "The Sopranos" that she told Albrecht, "This is the best thing I've seen in ten years. No movie touches this." This apparently gave him and HBO the push it needed to commit to "The Sopranos" despite the expense.

The result was a show with a cinematic quality that helped HBO live up to its name of the "Home Box Network" and became a water cooler sensation, influencing a whole generation of prestige TV centered on antiheroes cut from the cloth of Tony Soprano.