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Vulture Exclusive: CBS Finds Itself in the Middle of an Old Sopranos Family Feud

Tom Selleck's Blue Bloods Has Surfaced Some Bad Blood

When CBS started promoting their upcoming fall Tom Selleck cop drama Blue Bloods, the first seven words on the show's web page were, "From the executive producers of The Sopranos," a phrase sure to quicken the pulse of any self-respecting TV fan. While CBS was happy to tout that connection — the creators, Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green, are indeed former EPs of the series — it made HBO and several former Sopranos writers, including creator David Chase, very unhappy. So much so, Vulture has learned, that HBO lawyers sent CBS a letter requesting they stop using the Sopranos credit, and CBS has removed it from some of their materials. But why all the family drama?

Burgess and Green (who go way back with Chase, having all worked together on Northern Exposure) wrote for The Sopranos for most of its run, and even won two Emmys, for the beloved episodes "Employee of the Month" and "Whitecaps." But the husband and wife duo abruptly left the show in 2005, just before filming began on the show's final season. At the time, reps for Burgess and Green told Daily Variety their parting was "amicable." Subsequently, however, the writers hinted in at least one interview that they had left of their own volition due to creative differences with Chase. Chase and other writers have never publicly countered that claim, but people familiar with the situation told Vulture that it was Chase who wanted Burgess and Green off his show.

Bad blood would explain why the promotion is so bothersome to Chase et al: While on its face it is technically accurate, the phrase "from the executive producers" implies that they were the main creative forces. While this line was removed (interestingly, it happened soon after Vulture called CBS about this story), an equally brazen tout still appears in a teaser video for the show that was widely distributed after upfronts and remains on the site. In the clip, actress Dylan Moore raves about how good the Blue Bloods script is: "When I first read it, I was like, 'This kind of feels like The Sopranos. I wonder why that is?' And then I found out who wrote it." The trailer then cuts to Burgess and Green being interviewed about their creation. "We did The Sopranos for a long time, and that's a family drama," Green says. "But now, this is the other side of the law."

Claiming credit for things is virtually an Olympic sport in Hollywood, so while it may be a tad galling, it's not surprising that Burgess and Green would try to fashion themselves as the new godparents of The Sopranos. But had they and CBS been a bit more circumspect with their language, it might have been possible to subtly make a connection between The Sopranos and the new show without setting off any legal fireworks.

Consider, for example, how NBC is marketing a tie between one of its new shows and another signature HBO series. Love Bites is from long-time Sex and the City scribe Cindy Chupack, who's associated with some of that show's best seasons and episodes. But rather than hype Love Bites as being "from the executive producer of SATC," NBC's website discretely describes Chupack as an Emmy-winner and simply puts her Sex credit next to her name, in parentheses. The official trailer, meanwhile, refers only to "one of the writers" from SATC. (Incidentally, all bets are off when it's an HBO show: the pay network is marketing its own upcoming series Boardwalk Empire as coming from alum Terrence Winter, "the Emmy-award winning writer of The Sopranos.")

And really, when it comes to older CBS viewers, what's your bigger sell: The Sopranos or Tom Selleck? Just keep zooming in on that mustache and watch the boomers tune in.

Photo: CBS