The Sopranos was the first big hit of the “anti-hero”movement, and even rule-breaking TV takes inspiration from those who came before. (As I note in The Sopranos chapter, HBO’s choice to follow Oz came down to Sopranos vs. a Winnie Holzman show about a female business exec at a toy company, which would have made the next decade in TV very different, whether it succeeded or failed.) But I think the anti-hero thing also comes out of a sense of collective frustration most of these [show] creators had with the traditional rules of TV drama (where the worst any protagonist could be was “crusty but benign”) and then the sense of freedom they had during this Wild West period. When there are no laws for a while, suddenly everyone’s an outlaw, which translates not just into shows about criminals, but shows that don’t behave the way we’d been conditioned to expect from decades of TV before it. …. You could have both an action show (24) and a space opera (Battlestar Galactica) dealing with hot-button political issues like religious fundamentalism and torture, or even a high school drama like Friday Night Lights that was matter-of-fact in its depiction of teen drinking and sexuality, which had previously required Very Special Episodes to deal with.
James Poniewozik highlights one of the book’s Sopranos backstories, which is illustrated in the above video:
[In the book] we hear about one of the rare creative run-ins David Chase had with HBO in making The Sopranos, as former exec Chris Albrecht recalls recoiling at having Tony Soprano murder a mafia rat with his bare hands in the show’s fifth episode. “And David said to me,” Albrecht remembers, “‘If Tony Soprano were to find this guy and doesn’t kill him, he’s full of shit, and therefore the show’s full of shit.’”
Grantland excerpts Sepinwall’s chapter on Lost.