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The Sopranos takeaway

Posted by: Helen Walters on June 12, 2007

Everyone’s still banging on about The Sopranos finale, and I must say I’m finding the ‘furore’ about how the final-ever-episode ‘cheated’ its fans both laughable and a bit pathetic. I think I might be the only person in the whole world to say this, but I thought it was perfect (and let me be clear, I wasn’t all over some of the previous series, so I’m not just being a total fangirl). I watched with sweaty palms, one eye on the clock at all times, counting down the minutes til it was over, with my heart in my mouth, terrified/convinced that Tony was going to eat it. Turned out all he ate was an onion ring. And that final, dramatic fade-to-black? Perfect. (And for all the people who “thought their cable went out” – oh puh-lease.) But now everyone’s all aggrieved that creator David Chase (who’s gone to France and isn’t talking to the press) phoned in the finale and everyone’s over-thinking the whole thing wildly.

But… there are lessons to be learned here.

Seth Godin, for instance, makes a good point, warning of the perils of overpromising and under-delivering -- building up hype without following through with the goods. That’s a completely valid idea, but I honestly think that had The Sopranos gone out with the apparently required big bang and main character massacre, it’d have been much less satisfying in the long run. The equivalent of a fast food meal – that fills you up but leaves you hungry at the end of the day. Allowing The Sopranos to drift gently into the abyss of distant memory is, I think, perfectly appropriate (although nothing will beat the finale of Six Feet Under for perfect resolution -- but they obviously weren't even considering the possibility of heading to Hollywood).

Marketers and innovators alike would do well to remember that really, the “big event” is not what anything is about any more. Think about it. Innovation in any field shouldn’t, can’t be about the big “wham bam” moment but about the entire world in which that innovation exists. It’s about creating relationships, and you can see from the frenzy surrounding Sunday’s finale, that’s exactly what the fans had with the Sopranos.

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

June 13, 2007 1:11 PM

Hit it on the head, Helen. As a co-worker of mine always says "Ta-da!" usually means "Ta-Dull!" in actual implementation. In terms of innovation, that means you're way better off bringing in people early to look at your solutions than you are whisking a velvet cloth off the table to reveal your masterpiece.

Steve Jobs is really the only person who's got at that nowadays, and the risk is immense. It's a lesson that you wish Jeff Hawkins of Palm had taken under consideration as he introduced the stunningly underwhelming Palm Foleo a few weeks ago. It might well be a fine product in practice, but under the bright lights of a Wall Street Journal conference, it had about as much oomph as a prototype made of tinker toys.

With something as big as The Sopranos or Seinfeld (another beloved series with a "disappointing" finale in the eyes of long-time fans), I don't know if it's possible to downplay hype. From my perspective, that's exactly what David Chase did, but it still happened. Six Feet Under is an interesting model, since the shocking twist didn't happen in the finale, it came a few episodes early. Maybe that's the only way to really set expectations appropriately -- under-promise on an early episode that really brings the shock and resolve in a reflective finale that reminds you why you fell in love with it in the first place.

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