March 4, 2008

A Farewell to 'R's

The Sopranos (1999)Ten years ago, HBO was worrying about a new crime drama series they had in the works called The Sopranos. The cable channel was afraid the name would give potential viewers the wrong impression. People might expect a show about singers or musicians, rather than a New Jersey mob boss and his family. In the wake of media saturation by popular Classical music acts like the Three Tenors and their numerous knock-offs (the Irish Tenors, Three Mo' Tenors, the Three Sopranos, the Three Cantors, etc.), such trepidation from the network was certainly understandable.

Alternate titles that made implicit references to mafia culture—Made in New Jersey and Family Guy—were briefly considered, but an elegant touch in the show's logo design solved the problem completely. Graphic designer Corey Holms simply substituted a pistol for the letter 'R' and created what quickly became a cultural icon.

The upturned gun is so equated with the show's brand identity, that HBO often didn't even include the name of the program in their media campaigns. A promotional poster for the sixth season depicted no one from the cast, but merely had an anonymous hand gripping a pistol. In a clever nod to the show's logo, the weapon is tinted red and doubles for the third letter in 'March.' This subtle reference, paired with the network's own logo, removes any doubt about which TV series is being advertised.

Unsuprisingly, Holms's typographic twist has since been mimicked several times. The 1998 hitman comedy Jerry and Tom references the HBO show with a pair of letterform guns in 'Jerry.' The DVD packaging even has a tagline that boasts "these guys make the Sopranos sing!" The pistol trick was borrowed again for the DVD of The Pleasure Drivers, except the designer opted for a realistically detailed firearm.

Jerry and Tom (1998)
Jerry and Tom

The Pleasure Drivers (2005)
The Pleasure Drivers

Mike Marino - New Jersey's Bad Boy of Comedy (2006)
Mike Marino
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003)
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Garden state comic Mike Marino employed not one, but two famous mafia fonts on the cover for New Jersey's Bad Boy of Comedy, while the American DVD artwork for the British thriller I'll Sleep When I'm Dead flips the pistol around and puts it to work as a capital 'L'.

Thieves and Liars (2006)
Thieves and Liars
Pistol Whipped (2008)
Pistol Whipped

The Puerto Rican drama Ladrones y Mentirosos (Thieves and Liars) uses both gun letterforms on its American home video release. Upping the ante, Steven Seagal's latest direct-to-video effort Pistol Whipped stuck a silencer on the barrel of the titular weapon and used it to represent the letter 'i' in both words.

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