Game of Thrones vs. The Sopranos: Is Popularity Indicative of Quality?

The inevitable news that Game of Thrones surpassed The Sopranos as HBO’s most ‘popular’ show arrived, rather pertinently, via a Tweet. "Raise a glass of Arbor gold. #GameofThrones is the most popular series in @HBO history. Thanks to the worldwide realm for all your support," it read. 

The SopranosJames Gandolfini died in 2013

The Tweet is pertinent because it neatly frames Game of Thrones in history. HBO’s epic, multifaceted fantasy drama has thrived in a culture of sharing, spoiler warnings and episode discussion. As an online entertainment writer, I hear about GoT probably 8 million times a day. Those not involved in the industry will only see it cross their radar a few thousand times. 

It was the same for Breaking Bad, at least for the last 2 seasons anyway. Sunday night/Monday morning became a veritable minefield for those who simply hadn’t the time to catch up on the latest piece of high quality programming. And spare a thought for the Brits, waiting until Monday evening for their Atlantic fill.

The Sopranos has long been the jewel in HBO’s ostentatiously decorated crown; while hugely entertaining shows keep funnelling through the popular cable channel, Tony’ New Jersey life, his inner turmoil, the day-to-day running of a mafia syndicate and the machismo-fuelled rivalries that punctuated the late James Gandolfini’s tenure as the boss remain intrinsic to the capitalised acronym of Home Box Office.

Game of ThronesPhoto: HBO

But The Sopranos is still the show behind the channel, despite Game of Thrones’ huge success. The average series four audience has increased from 18m to 18.4m, beating the crime drama’s all-time high of 18.2m. 

We all know The Sopranos set the baseline for American TV. And as Kevin Spacey recently said – and I’ll paraphrase – cinema has become a place for tentpole movies, for super heroes and comic book characters. TV is where creative people can run brilliantly directed, written and acted character dramas. And The Sopranos helped to create that place. 

After Game of Thrones, another show will come along and some new-fangled social networking platform, or innovative media-streaming device will allow us to make that the new most popular show of all time ever. But it’s likely that The Sopranos will never be beaten for sheer quality, no matter how many people watched it or will one day watch it for the first time. 


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Tags: James Gandolfini - HBO

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