Jamie-Lynn Sigler had been keeping a secret for weeks. On Sunday, it finally came out.
Sigler, who played the Meadow Soprano for more than eight years on the iconic HBO series “The Sopranos,” returned to the role on Sunday for the Chevrolet commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LVI broadcast on NBC. The ad is updated, shot to shot, show’s opening montage, which features Tony Soprano James Gandolfini driving a Chevy truck. On Sunday night, it was the Meadow Soprano driving — in an electric Chevrolet Silverado, billed as the vehicle for the “new generation.”
Sigler has vowed silence since getting a call in mid-December about the plans, which also include Robert Iler, the actor who plays his older brother, AJ Soprano. There, the two meet at a restaurant – a callback to the much-discussed ending of the original series – after Meadow starts charging his vehicle. The commercial was shot over four days in mid-January in New York and New Jersey, with “Sopranos” creator and showrunner David Chase at the helm and some of the original crew members tackling the work behind the scenes. Sigler says he hasn’t even told his friends about it.
“Nobody knows,” Sigler said in an interview. “You hear that ‘Sopranos’ music, I feel like it’s going to push everyone’s heads to quickly turn to the screen and try to figure out what’s going on. I think that’s what everyone expects.”
However, bringing “The Sopranos” – or at least part of it – back to the screen is as difficult as killing Christopher Moltisanti or Sal Bonpensiero.
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General Motors has big plans for the 2022 Super Bowl and its executives have been discussing the possibility for months. The giant American automaker has pledged to build a fleet of electric vehicles as part of its mandate to fight climate change. But getting Americans to adopt electric Chevys and Cadillacs will require savvy marketing that makes potential buyers view new cars and trucks as attractive, useful, and easy to buy and understand. Last year, GM used the Super Bowl to reveal an ad with Will Ferrell that showed the comedian angry at how many electric vehicles were being sold in Norway compared to the US.
Now all GM has to do is continue the conversation.
On the one hand, GM asked Mike Myers to bring back the cast of the hit series “Austin Powers” in an advert showing Dr. Evil and his family take over GM and save the environment. It’s not easy getting all the actors involved in a given time frame, said Julian Jacobs, managing director of the entertainment and cultural marketing division of MediaLink, the United Talent Agency division that helps General Motors negotiate deals with celebrities and influencers.
“Things fall apart five different times,” he notes, but eventually come together, with Myers taking a pivotal role in writing the scene. GM is happy to divulge the venue ahead of the Big Game. But the Chevrolet “Sopranos” advert remains a secret; all the better to surprise Super Bowl viewers who have come to expect online “teasers” for most of the pre-event commercials.
Companies may need that element. Other automakers are also heading to the Super Bowl, including Toyota and Nissan, which have listed Eugene Levy for his Big Game spot, along with Marvel actors Brie Larson, Danai Gurira and Dave Bautista. Polestar, an electric vehicle start-up, is also planning to present the Super Bowl.
“The Super Bowl is really a place where competitive battles are played out,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who has long studied Super Bowl advertising strategy. “There’s a crazy rush to carve out a position.”
The idea to revive “The Sopranos” came about half a year ago, when executives at Commonwealth/McCann, the Interpublic Group agency that works for GM, started thinking about the Super Bowl concept. The show has enjoyed a recent increase among a younger audience, who may have used the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue properties they’ve only heard about from other people. Some of that interest may have been fueled by the release of last year’s “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark.” Still, even Chase was shocked. “I can’t think of another show that has had a revival like this, maybe ‘The Honeymooners’”’ he said by email. “And they definitely deserve it.”
Others are trying to capitalize on the popularity of their favorite pop culture with new ads. Comcast in 2019 secured director Steven Spielberg’s approval for an ad extending the story of “ET,” the 1982 blockbuster hit by the company Universal Pictures. The venue, which aired during the NBC broadcast of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, asked actor Henry Thomas to reprise his role as Elliott, the little boy who befriends ET. The ad – over four minutes in some versions – shows an alien returning to Earth and interacting with his now grown friend. And peddles Comcast’s Xfinity service too.
Advertising executives saw a direct relationship between “The Sopranos” and Chevrolet that they thought would appeal to consumers. “We talked about Chevy and pop culture. After all, Chevrolet vehicles have appeared in hundreds of tv shows and movies. As we started brainstorming with other American icons who had chosen Chevrolet, we realized that Tony Soprano was driving a 1999 Chevy Suburban in the opening title sequence ‘The Sopranos,’” said Gary Pascoe, the agency’s chief creative officer. “It really appealed to us — the idea that Chevy has always been a big part of American culture in the past and with the introduction of the all-electric Silverado pickup truck, the brand will also be a big part of America’s future. ”
But the to-do list is daunting, according to the executives involved in the process. Will fans old and new find the presentation authentic? Will the creators of Chase come out? Even the use of the series’ theme song, “Woke Up This Morning,” by British group Alabama 3, is not guaranteed.
GM asked UTA to help engage David Chase. Executives know that they must approach the task with care.
“David is very – as he should be – valuable and subtle and sensitive about how ‘The Sopranos’ is and how that IP is exploited,” explains Jacobs. The team asked Peter Benedek, a longtime UTA cofounder who represented Chase, to guide him through the project parameters and asked him to take part.
One thing Chase wanted was the participation of Phil Abraham, the series’ director of photography, who shot the original opening montage. Doing so is critical to the authenticity of the new video, says Chase, “and it’s the best move I’ve ever made.” UTA should also remove the song, which has multiple rights holders, Jacobs said, and discussed the Super Bowl “Sopranos” concept with HBO. As important as Chase is in the series, Jacobs adds, “That’s their baby too.”
Chase and the ad executive got to work. “We had some creative meetings where we talked about different ending options, so many different ideas. It was David’s idea to have Meadow and AJ meet at the restaurant — he thought it added another element of intrigue, which was Who else was there? Why that restaurant? There’s a marina behind it, so what does that mean? He was really focused on the end and got it right,” Pascoe said. “So, on set, we talked about the ending until the time we filmed. Literally. It changes from minute to minute, which is a little stressful but, when he shoots it, we all know we have it.”
The Chevrolet ad has a lot to offer the “Sopranos”, who will no doubt compare it to the original. The car dashboard in the serial opener, for example, shows a clock showing 10:22. In the ad, viewers see the infotainment screen in the vehicle at the same time. In the original, Tony Soprano stopped to pick up a ticket at the toll booth. In the ad, the Meadow Soprano goes fast thanks to the EZ-Pass. Tony smokes a cigar while driving his Suburban. The meadow has lollipops.
There is another difference. The cemetery in the original has been replaced with a playground shot. As Meadow passes the Satriele Pork Shop, a new sign says it now serves meat without antibiotics. And there’s even a nod to the problems Meadow has with parallel parking. Silverado makes the task easier.
“There’s no Hollywood backlot, no CGI locations in this place—it’s Jersey in 2022 in January. We even shot film, not digital, to match the look and feel of the original 1999,” Pascoe said. “Authenticity can’t be faked, so we didn’t try it.”
Chevrolet’s “Sopranos” journey isn’t over yet. UTA has asked a group of influencers — some of whom have important ties to the show — to talk about advertising on social media. Fans may have seen posts from Drea de Matteo, Steve Schirripa, Leslie Odom Jr., Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperoli, Justine Ezarik, Jenna Ezarkik, Nick Cho, and Judner Aur reacting to the Super Bowl scene.
As popular as the HBO series was when it aired on TV, Chase said he’s glad the series still seems to have a connection in 2022. Getting the details right may be difficult, but all the effort seems worth it. “That’s one of those things where you think it’s really crazy, it might work,” Chase said.