- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

It’s all included: martinis, steaks, poker and a bus tour to New Jersey to visit the hallowed stamping grounds of Tony and Carmella.

And the price begins at $190 a night.

So goes the big “Sopranos-themed Bada Bing Weekend,” soon to be offered at the Muse, a tony hotel in New York’s Manhattan theater district that is brazenly offering the theme packages despite the litigious atmosphere that surrounds HBO’s gangster TV series.

“The Sopranos” is either suing or being sued for one reason or another.

But Muse manager Mark Briskin doesn’t mind.

“When we offered our big ‘Sex and the City’ weekend for women last year, HBO didn’t say, ‘Boo,’” Mr. Briskin said.

Indeed, the hotel’s “Pajama Party Package,” based on HBO’s other popular series chronicling the romantic angst of four urban women, included pink-frosted chocolate cupcakes, shoe shopping and breakfast in bed.

The latest tour group, which will gather up hotel guests and motor them across the Goethals Bridge to New Jersey’s seedy “Sopranos” side, is also at ease.

“Nobody ever threw us in the East River. We have a perfectly harmonious relationship with HBO,” said Georgette Blau of On Location Tours, a local company that has offered its “Sopranos” bus tour for three years.

Still, “The Sopranos” has a touchy side — a very touchy side.

Eight cast members, for example, were awarded $1.5 million in damages from Best Buy by a federal court in late February after the electronics retailer ran an advertisement using a cast photo without permission and the jaunty motto, “What, you got a problem with that?”

Last year, principal star James Gandolfini sued HBO over a salary dispute. Producers countersued, and the actor eventually went back to work. A New Jersey municipal court judge, meanwhile, also sued HBO, claiming “The Sopranos” was based on his ideas and personal stories. He lost.

Also, the Chicago-based American Italian Defense Association — a group of 100 lawyers — sued HBO two years ago, saying the show offended “the dignity of Italian-Americans by implying most of them are mobsters.”

Their suit was based on the Illinois state constitution’s Individual Dignity Clause, which prohibits images that “incite violence, hatred, abuse or hostility” toward ethnic groups or portray them as criminals.

The hotel’s “Sopranos” weekend — billed as a “goomba’s shakedown” and ideal for “made men” — is not meant to threaten or offend, said Mr. Briskin. It’s just a getaway, he said.

“We’re making a reference to something which is almost iconic at this point. We’re just having a little fun here. We don’t pose a danger. We’re not making a rival TV show or anything,” he said.

The Muse still includes a boilerplate disclaimer with the fare just in case, however:

“The Sopranos and all related characters are the property of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, Sopranos Productions Inc., Chase Films and Home Box Office, a Division of Time Warner Entertainment Co. L.P. The Muse Hotel is in no way associated with the aforementioned companies.”

The “Sopranos” weekends will be offered from April through June.

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