This week HitFix is revisiting some of the key turning points in recent entertainment history and considering what would have happened if history had turned a bit differently. What if...?
In the late '90s, HBO executives had to decide what original drama series would be selected to follow the prison series "Oz." According to HBO executive Carolyn Strauss, the choice came down to two ideas: David Chase's New Jersey mob drama "The Sopranos," and a drama about a female business executive from "My So-Called Life" creator Winnie Holzman. HBO picked "The Sopranos," which became an enormous commercial and critical hit, transformed the way we watched and talked about television, and inspired a wave of classic dramas set in a criminal world and/or about middle-aged male anti-heroes.
What if HBO had chosen Winnie Holzman's idea instead of "The Sopranos"?
2. No "Sopranos" means no "The Shield" (Shawn Ryan and the executives at FX have said they were specifically inspired by that show's success), no "Mad Men" (Matthew Weiner quit writing sitcoms to take a staff job in "Sopranos" season 5) and no "Breaking Bad" (Walter White is absolutely a spiritual descendant of Tony Soprano), among others.
3. Not nearly as many thinkpieces would have been written in the last few years about why cable drama is so focused on angry middle-aged white guys and the women who stand in their way and are hated by the audience as a result.
Three things we predict might have happened:
2. If the Holzman show wasn't a hit — and if later HBO shows like "Six Feet Under" therefore didn't get any kind of halo effect from being on the same channel as a "Sopranos"-sized monster — perhaps HBO decides to abandon dramas and go back to comedies exclusively. "Arli$$" could still be on the air!
3. Without "The Sopranos" to overshadow it, the "Analyze This" franchise is at seven films and counting.
Yes. "My So-Called Life" is perhaps the best series of its type ever made, and Holzman's recent ABC Family show "Huge" had a lot to recommend it as well, but it's hard to imagine one of her shows becoming a popular success like "The Sopranos" — which attracted both highbrow viewers who were there for the psychology and others who were just there to see people get whacked — and therefore hard to imagine a similar but estrogen-driven revolution happening as a result. The rest of the industry didn't just imitate "The Sopranos" because it was great, but because it was a big damn hit. And though those imitations eventually led to too many derivative bastard sons of Tony Soprano like "Ray Donovan" and "Low Winter Sun," I wouldn't want to live in a timeline without the many great shows that directly followed.