Ask any true “Sopranos” fan and they’ll be able to tell you that the last episode of their favorite mob drama aired back on June 6, 2004. It’s a drought that hasn’t gotten any easier to bear as it approaches the one-year point.

Fortunately, relief is on the way. In a call with reporters on Tuesday, “Sopranos” co-star Michael Imperioli revealed that production on the show’s sixth season is set to begin April 29.

Before he returns to his Emmy-winning role as Christopher Moltisanti on the HBO drama, Imperioli is squeezing in a four-episode arc on NBC’s “Law & Order,” filling in for Jesse L. Martin as Nick Falco, a young detective partnered with Dennis Farina’s Joe Fontana. Imperioli’s first “L&O” appearance is scheduled for two days before lensing starts on “The Sopranos.”

Unfortunately for rabid “Sopranos” aficionados, Imperioli only knows what day he’ll be reporting for duty.

He hasn’t seen a single script and he doesn’t know when new episodes will premiere, though he hazards a guess of either January or March of next year.

All information about the fate of Johnny Sack or blowback from Adriana’s death remains locked in creator David Chase’s head, at least for the time being.

Imperioli says that while he’s looking forward to rejoining the cast, he’s never gotten antsy during the show’s extra-long hiatus.

“For me, the idea that we’re going back is enough security,” he notes. “It’s a luxury to have a sure thing in this business and have so much time in between to do other things. I knew it was coming back, so I knew I had time to do other stuff, like “Law & Order.”‘

Given that Chase only decided to extend “The Sopranos” to six seasons after deciding he was juggling too many storylines to do justice to all of them in the fifth season, the show’s admirers are resigned to the idea that the end is approaching.

Although Chase has been pretty adamant about ending “The Sopranos” after its next limited run, Imperioli remains a tiny bit skeptical that it’s about to be over.

“He said that about the fifth season as well,” he says. “They were saying the sixth would be the last and then I heard, a month ago, that we’re gonna do a seventh. Then I heard we’re not gonna do a seventh. I don’t really know what’s happening to be honest … Until I heard it out of his mouth as an official statement, I don’t know.”

It certainly sounds as if Imperioli would be open to the idea of doing a seventh season, provided his character can avoid getting clipped and Chase can keep thinking of plot twists.

“He’s the one who comes up with storylines and has the end in sight and see how much space there is between now and then,” he says. “Would I like it to go on? Yeah. As long as the stories are good, I could do it for another few years.”

In addition to his acting duties, Imperioli has been a steady contributor to the show’s writing team. Although he has yet to receive a scripting assignment for the year to come, he’s pretty sure he has some idea of how things are going to conclude.

“I’ve always thought the story’s going to end tragically – for all of us,” says Imperioli. “I don’t think it’s gonna be pretty.”

(c) 2005,

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


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Michael Imperioli

AP-NY-04-13-05 1001EDT

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