'Sopranos' creator David Chase said he felt “absolutely sick” when he learned a former judge was trying to take credit for the popular mob drama which he described as “me, my mother, my uncles”.
Former New Jersey municipal court judge Robert Baer claims his ideas helped Chase create the Sopranos plot and he is seeking both credit and compensation in the five-year legal battle.
Mr Baer’s lawsuit has been dismissed twice by a federal judge, but the rulings were overturned and a new jury at the federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, began hearing the case last Wednesday.
During two hours of testimony yesterday, Chase told the jury he had always wanted to be original and now someone who he tried to help was trying to take credit.
“It made me sick, absolutely sick,” he said.
Chase said he had wanted to create a “satire of American corporate life” and wanted to learn what new techniques the mob was using.
“I never understood the money,” he said.
“Who keeps the records?”
He said he felt like crying when he learned of the lawsuit while doing post-production work on The Sopranos in Los Angeles.
“The Sopranos was me, my mother, my uncles,” he said.
“It was my life.”
Soft-spoken Chase told the court he had always been interested in the mob since watching 'The Untouchables' television series as a child.
He said it was his idea to centre the show around a man who lived in the suburbs with two troublesome children, money problems, and a mid-life crisis.
The man was seeking help in therapy and was also a mobster – a description which fits fictional mob boss Tony Soprano.
Chase said he did not ask Mr Baer for help because he acknowledged he was not a mob expert.
Instead, Chase told the jury he spoke to an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, Dan Castleman, who had just been quoted in The New York Times on how the mob was shifting crime into new industries.
He said Castleman was not paid for his services during the writing and development of the pilot.
Earlier in the case, Mr Baer told the jury he declined Chase’s offer of payment three times but said Chase agreed to “take care of him” if the show became a hit.
Mr Baer, who is also a former assistant prosecutor in Union and Hudson counties, first sued Chase in 2002, claiming he suggested a TV show about organised crime in New Jersey and gave Chase a crash course on the North Jersey mob.
The legal dispute centres on Mr Baer’s role in developing the show in 1995, when he had several conversations with Chase and gave him a three-day tour of the Garden State, years before 'The Sopranos' became a TV sensation.
Mr Baer claims Chase’s ideas came after Mr Baer arranged meetings with police detectives and other experts and escorted him around mob sites in the Newark-Elizabeth area of New Jersey.
Chase called the claims “grossly distorted, petulant and self-aggrandising”, and said Mr Baer provided a “modest service”, arranging to introduce him to individuals who were experienced in certain facets of organised crime.
In court documents, Chase has called Mr Baer “self-delusional” and said he was “keenly aware of a ’mob presence’ in New Jersey” because he grew up in the Garden State.
The case continues.