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The Sopranos: Happiness ain't a warm gun

Cut off by his shrink and from his family, Tony Soprano went to bed Sunday night with an automatic weapon the size of a King Cobra.

And no wonder. The penultimate episode of The Sopranos put Bobby Baccalieri permanently out of commission and left Silvio Dante all but dead in a hospital bed. So now it's Tony, fellow old-liner Paulie Walnuts and a handful of relative nonentities facing the wrath of Phil "The Shah of Iran" Leotardo's hit squad.

Wearing black leather in a makeshift hideaway, Tony and his remaining boys seemed like New Jersey's branch of the James Gang. On the lam but always ready for a fight.

We begin our countdown to Sunday's grand finale with a Back Channels rewind to The Sopranos' first big national media event in July 1999. Series star James Gandolfini was decidedly uncomfortable amid a gang of TV critics. But co-stars Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco made the best of it on a night when their show received four awards from the Television Critics Association. Check out this first-hand account and look for more Sopranos-themed material throughout the week.

Is The Sopranos the most influential TV drama series ever? Is Tony Soprano the all-time greatest TV drama character? We'll be taking our stabs and inviting your comments. Bada Bing.
Ed Bark