At first, Tony Soprano s counterparts were big-screen mobsters from Martin Scorsese s Goodfellas — with which the series shared 27 actors — and the Harold Ramis–directed Analyze This. But while the HBO drama and the Billy Crystal–Robert De Niro comedy both featured a mob boss seeking psychiatric help, Gandolfini s exploration of Tony s crumbling interior was anything but funny. It not only helped change the way mental illness was portrayed in popular culture, his performance showed how deep and raw the actor was willing to go to tell this complex man s story.The role put Gandolfini s brilliance as an actor on full display, and in the process, inspired cinematic performers from the big screen to make the jump to television — a move that was unheard of prior to The Sopranos premiere — as a new influx of long-form narrative programming began to surface.It wasn t an immediate shift, though, as change can be slow in Hollywood. After the pilot for the series was finished, Chase shopped The Sopranos around to the big four broadcast networks.“Nobody went to cable, certainly not to pay cable. At that time ER was selling for an extraordinary amount of money in syndication, and I wanted to make a lot of money,” Chase explained to Vanity Fair. As he attempted to follow in the medical drama s footsteps, he was rejected every step of the way as execs continually complained that the series was too dark and too risky. “Television is really an outgrowth of radio, the creator told the publication, further explaining his negative perspective of the medium. And radio is just all yak-yak-yak-yak. And that’s what television is: yak-yak-yak-yak. It’s a prisoner of dialogue, film of people talking. Flashy words.”Thankfully, HBO was down to change all that.(Photo by HBO)The network originally began dipping its toes in the world of edgy scripted drama with 1997 s prison drama, Oz. But as morally ambiguous as that show was, its late-night time-slot and mature themes kept it firmly stuck under the radar of the masses. The show was chock full of antiheroes, but none of them really struck an empathetic chord with audiences. The Sopranos, however, took the baton from the prison drama and ran with it.Gandolfini, who was best known for his role as mafia tough guy Virgil in True Romance, set the standard for the way antiheroes would work on TV moving forward. With every dastardly deed Tony committed on screen, Gandolfini offset his evil with a flawed sense of hopeful humanity that audiences could relate to. His performance, as villainous as it was empathetic, flipped the script on the small-screen formula of how dramas could work.Sure, The Sopranos was a program about a mob boss — who came from a mob family and was embedded in a mob world of crime and murder — but taking a step back to view the bigger picture revealed many facets of the character and story in which audiences could see themselves. This was a story about your average, run-of-the-mill American man, doing his best to keep his business successful while struggling to keep his fracturing family life intact.Former head of original programming at HBO Chris Albrecht saw the relatability in Chase s program.“I said to myself, this show is about a guy who’s turning 40, Albrecht said, according to The Independent. He’s inherited a business from his dad. he’s got an overbearing mom. Although he loves his wife, he’s had an affair. He’s got two teenage kids he’s anxious; he’s depressed; he’s searching for the meaning of his own life. I thought: the only difference between him and everybody I know is he’s the don of New Jersey.