The Sopranos spoiling really began when Lorraine Bracco gabbed that, due to a planned “major plot development” in the Season 6 opener, HBO this month would not be having its usual huge premiere advance screening bash at Radio City Music Hall. Way worse was when, yesterday, the HBO website mistakenly posted a long summary of Season 6’s first episode, “Members Only.” Needless to say, it was yanked. But the truth is it’s not hard to find Sopranos spoilers out there for Season 6 after its insanely long 21-month layoff. There will be a total of 12 episodes airing this year and another 8 episodes – said to be “the final eight” by HBO – airing in 2007. Guest stars include Jerry Adler (In Her Shoes), Tim Daly (Wings), Frankie Valli (Four Seasons lead singer), Hal Holbrook (Men of Honor) as a scientist, Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog) as himself (?), Julianna Margulies (ER) as a real estate agent, Treach (HBO’s First Time Felon), Ron Leibman (Garden State), Elizabeth Bracco (Analyze This) and Lord Jamar (HBO’s Oz). Lots of TV industry spoiling-for-a-fight speculation about whether James Gandolfini can knock off Teri Hatcher Sunday night. I say, nah. Look, Desperate Housewives wasn’t on the air when The Sopranos beat all the broadcast networks and scored the highest ratings in HBO’s three-decade history when 13.4 mil viewers tuned in for the one-hour premiere of Season 5. The girls get almost twice that. Meanwhile, for upcoming Season 6, the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (the official magazine of receptionists which, with sister company HBO, is owned by parent Time Warner) packages a titillating look, guru David Chase gives interviews, the NY Times and the LA Times had early but still cagey reviews, offers some info, and individual websites glean a few more clues. So stop reading now if you don’t want to know what happens. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboutit:

That “major plot development”? Sorry, not going to say. Too good. But this sets up the usual tensions and retributions that keep The Sopranos so compelling. This time around, it’s the last chapter of the life and times of a New Jersey crime boss. Season 6 opens, amid bohemian music choices like William S. Burrough’s “Seven Souls” spoken-word piece, with a montage showing the two-year real-time gap between the end of the last season and the start of this one. (For those of you who’ve seen The Sopranos teaser, this make that whole thing clearer.) Tony, his gangstas and even Carmela worry about Johnny Sack in prison orange waiting for that RICO trial and the effect that’s having on both the New York and New Jersey crime families. In his personal life, Tony’s very prosperous. Now that he and Carmela are back together, they must face the reality that their kids are no longer children, but not yet grown. And with Johnny Sack in prison, all hell could break loose any moment between the two crime families, fulfilling Tony’s and Carmela’s worst fears. Phil Leotardo will take over the New York crew temporarily while Johnny is being held by the feds. In (S6: Ep1), “Members Only”, Tony shares a recent windfall with Carmela, buying her a new Porsche Cayenne. There’s been a period of relative calm, almost ordinariness. He’s still seeing Dr. Melfi not only about his life but also because of his concerns about AJ. Work-wise, Tony ponders an associate’s request to retire to Florida. “What are you, a hockey player?” Tony retorts. “You took an oath. There’s no retiring from this.” Junior takes Tony on a backyard treasure hunt. Hesh seeks restitution for a wrong perpetrated on his son-in-law. But the last three minutes offer “a Sopranos shocker for the ages,” EW says. Next, in (S6:Ep2) “Join the Club”, Tony suffers from a case of mistaken identity during a west coast business trip. In (S6:Ep3), “Mayham,” Silvio divides the spoils from Paulie’s latest score, and heads off a territorial impasse between Bobby and Vito. Carmela turns to an unexpected source for help with AJ; Christopher turns to an old writing acquaintance, JT Dolan, for help in a new venture.

What else to expect: A nervous Carmela, “concerned about where this will all end,” says Chase. “And once in a while, she asks herself about Adriana.” (There’s an early-on dream sequence where Carmela gives Adriana a tour of her spec house located not far from where Adriana was whacked.) AJ’s in a third-rate junior college. He wants to go into the club business, and to do that he’s going to clubs and drinking. Meadow has graduated, is taking a year off, and is interested in either law or medicine. She’s after a law-firm internship. As for her fiance Finn, he’s back in California at dental school. The two are carrying on a long-distance relationship that probably won’t last. Junior Soprano’s retrial is still pending. The feds are trying to sort out the jury-tampering. But his mental state continues to deteriorate so he may not even be competent when his next trial convenes. Christopher, minus Adriana, is sober and dating but foul-tempered. He’s been promoted to captain but he’s still pursuing a movie career, this time a mob-themed slasher film based on Saw. Janice and husband Bobby Baccalieri have a baby girl, Dominica, which changes everything. Janice pushes for Junior to go into a retirement community, but Tony disagrees. Bad for Janice. Johnny Sack is in prison on those RICO counts and preparing his defense. Somehow, he has to keep his own family and his crime family together financially and emotionally. Phil Leotardo has a big role this season as the acting boss to Johnny’s crime family. He’s ”not as amenable to working with Tony as Johnny was,” says Chase. ”Those guys have a toxic relationship. But Phil is an old-school guy and tries to put business ahead of his personal feelings.” There’s a lot of chatter that Johnny is flipped by the feds. Phil, obviously still raging about the Blundetto situation, will snub Tony’s peace offering (the one he discussed with Johnny at the end of Season 5) and put a massive financial squeeze on Tony. This will be to a similar, and most likely larger, extent than the Port Newark/Vespa Scooters situation. Tony will persist in trying to find a peaceful solution to these problems until Phil whacks one of his N.J. crew. That explains the on-location scene EW writes about: The Sopranos cast congregating outside the real-life Irvine Cozzarelli Memorial Home in Belleville, N.J.. (According to chatter, Christopher seems the most appropriate although it could be Paulie or Silvio. But on location at a funeral scene, Michael Imperioli told EW: “Somebody is dead. And it’s not me!”) Tony loses his resolve and probably his marbles, launching a full-scale war against NY. Characters like Benny Fazio, Eugene Pontecorvo, Vito Spatafore and Little Paulie will become more involved at this stage, carrying out Tony’s orders…

MESS O' SOPRANOS From left: Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow), Robert Iler (AJ), Edie Falco (Carmela), Imperioli (Christopher), Gandolfini (Tony), and Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Melfi)