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'Sopranos' debut ends with a bang

You may have expected that Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was going to be shot at some point this season, but I doubt that you expected it to be by a relative who apparently didn't know what he was doing Sunday.

In case you missed it or haven't been near a water cooler in two days, the season premiere of "The Sopranos" ended with Tony lying in his blood after his paranoid and increasingly demented Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shot him.

It was a killer moment that forced viewers to take a stand on how they feel about Tony. If you're like me, you were oddly fearful for the mobster's life and you couldn't wait for this coming Sunday's episode to see if creator David Chase was going to do the unthinkable and kill him off.

I was fortunate. I didn't have to wait. I just watched the second of the four episodes sent by HBO. Written by Chase, the first of three episodes focusing on the family's behavior after the shooting is spellbinding. That's all I can say without ruining it for you.

One of the things that makes "The Sopranos" several cuts above almost all TV dramas is the unexpected ways Chase and his staff deal with things that aren't totally unexpected. The people who expected that someone would shoot Tony probably expected the shooter would be someone on the long list of the mobsters he has feuded with, not the uncle he was taking care of out of a combination of love and obligation.

The pace of most of the opening episode was slow, partially because all of the beatings in it seem routine by now. The leisurely pace made the shooting scene even more jolting than it would have been if earlier events had proceeded more quickly and been more compelling.

I can't believe how quickly I heard from some cast members of "The Sopranos" after my review of the first four episodes ran. Less than an hour after my Thursday column was available online, I got e-mails from two actors on the show.

Joe Gannascoli, who plays gay health-nut Vito, is selling a cookbook and is available for an interview. And the publicist for Lou Martini Jr., who plays a new character, Johnny Sack's brother-in-law, Anthony Infante, also says he's willing to sing.

More on them in the future.

The return of "The Sopranos" didn't spark record local ratings for the pay-cable show. It had a 7.7 rating here, finishing fourth in the time slot to ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (19.7), NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (13.9) and the CBS movie (8.3). Of course, HBO only enters a fraction of the homes that the broadcast networks are in and cable subscribers with OnDemand can view it anytime they wish.

* Speaking of death, many fans of the Fox thriller, "24," were sad to see poor computer geek Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi) go last week when he was unable to avoid the lethal gas that terrorists had unleashed as his fellow geek, Chloe, looked on in horror. Some viewers were so horrified that they wondered if Edgar would be saved somehow. Sadly, no. Lombardi, who is an alumnus of "The Sopranos" (he played a New York federal agent) has confirmed his death in national publications.

* Continuing on the subject of death, the shuttering of the 10 p.m. news on WB 49 by Sinclair Broadcasting should be mourned. In less than two years, WB 49's news department became a feisty bunch that was determined to make government officials accountable.

The anchors and reporters really didn't have much of a chance to succeed because Sinclair chose the wrong outlet to try local news. If it had been serious about establishing a strong news presence, Sinclair would have put the news on its stronger Fox affiliate, WUTV.

The lead-in from 9 p.m. Fox hits like "24" and two-hour versions of "American Idol" would have gotten the 10 p.m. news a much larger sampling than it did following WB shows that were aimed at young viewers who don't care as much about news as older viewers.

Sinclair's decision to drop the news in less than two years sure didn't illustrate any patience.

The job market in TV news around here is pretty tight, but you'd think WB anchor Kelly Kraft and a few WB reporters would get some consideration if anything opens up at Channel 2, Channel 4 or Channel 7.

* In case you were wondering, the Oscars recorded about a 27 rating on Channel 7, which was in line with the national average. I think I have a way of spicing things up next season: How about George Clooney as host? He's funny, he's likable, he's loved in the Hollywood community. And I'm guessing it would be an offer he couldn't refuse.


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