'Sopranos' Star Has Business to Take Care Of on HBO

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, June 19, 2007

While scary fans of "The Sopranos" continue their raging debate over the Final Scene as Last Supper/Onion Rings as Eucharist theory in an effort to make peace with the finale's on-screen non-death of mob boss Tony Soprano, HBO put out word that the show's star, James Gandolfini, will return to the premium-cable network on Sept. 9.

But not in the special " 'The Sopranos' Finale: World's Biggest Hoax Revealed," as the premium-cable network ought. Instead Gandolfini has executive-produced a documentary about U.S. troops who narrowly escaped death in Iraq.

It will be Gandolfini's first project after "The Sopranos" and the first production for his Attaboy Films, HBO said.

Gandolfini, who has been to Iraq on behalf of the USO, interviewed 10 GIs about "their feelings on their future, their severe disabilities and their devotion to America" for the documentary, "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq."

"Alive Day" is an expression used by service members wounded in Iraq, referring to the day they were nearly killed. According to HBO, 90 percent of the wounded survive their injuries, but a great percentage of Iraq casualties return with amputations, traumatic brain injuries and severe post-traumatic stress.

"Alive Day Memories" is the third docu HBO has telecast about the war. Sadly, it will not be seen by nearly as many viewers as watched the final episode of "The Sopranos" -- unless some "Sopranos" maniac puts out word on the Internet that clues as to Tony's fate are embedded in the film, which may sound loopy to you and me, but maybe not so much to someone debating Onion Rings as Eucharist.

When one of HBO's other Iraq documentaries, "Baghdad ER," premiered in May '06, it was watched by about 1.6 million viewers, though, of course, it garnered more in its rerun telecasts. The unveiling of the "Sopranos" finale clocked 12 million viewers.

After six seasons, "The Sopranos" called it a day a week ago Sunday. The finale's drawn-out last scene -- Tony, Carmela and deadbeat son A.J. eat onion rings at Holsten's diner while daughter Meadow masters the art of parallel parking out front and creepy guy at counter heads to men's room, presumably to pick up a gat -- was all set up for Tony to get whacked. But then the camera cut from Gandolfini's face to a black screen. Hence raging debate.

So passionate is Gandolfini about this documentary, he's agreed to plug it next month during HBO's day at Summer TV Press Tour 2007, where he will face the TV Critics Association -- some members of whom are part of the Inner Circle of Onion Rings as Eucharist movement.

* * *

Speaking of navel-gazing, the blather-osphere was humming yesterday with word that NBC Universal President/CEO Jeff Zucker and NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Marc Graboff had taken Jon Stewart out for an actual meal, along with his agent.

The dinner was described as "exploratory" by the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable, which broke word of the meal.

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