‘The Sopranos,’ launched 20 years ago, made TV hip and New Jersey cool

It was 20 years ago Jan. 10 that the world got its first glimpse of Tony Soprano.

Or rather – since they didn’t yet know his name – they got a glimpse of a gangster, cigar in mouth, cruising down the New Jersey Turnpike as toll booths, refineries, swamps, freight yards, and pizza joints rolled past.

You might say the opening of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” repeated at the top of each episode for six seasons, was the ultimate Jersey joke – a thumbnail sketch of the Garden State, as a snarky outsider might see it. The only thing missing was a mosquito landing on James Gandolfini’s nose.

Yet the joke was not on New Jersey.It was on everyone else.

Not only did “The Sopranos” rack up 21 Primetime Emmys, five Golden Globes, critical hosannas, and a worldwide fan base, not only did it transform a cast of mostly unknowns into stars and launch a new golden age of television, it had the accidental side effect of putting New Jersey on the map as an unlikely capital of cool.

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