Think Sopranos creator David Chase feels guilty about making America wait more than a year for new episodes of his HBO mob hit? Fuhgetaboutit! At the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., reporters grilled Chase about the long gap between the show's third and fourth seasons — and he was having none of it.

"Your questions are like this all of the time. It surprises me," he said. "It's like we have to sort of apologize because we take the time and spend the money and the effort to do a really good job. I don't get it."

Chase — who earlier admitted to being a "miserable s--thead" — wasn't the only Soprano miffed over the fuss being made about the delayed fourth season, which premieres Sept. 15. Co-star Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony's shrink Dr. Melfi, said she can't go out in public without getting harassed by fans. "There's not a day that's gone by where I haven't had 10 people come up to me and say, 'What the hell is going on? Where is the show?'"

Good question. As HBO's senior VP of original programming Carolyn Strauss explains, Chase was ready to deliver fresh episodes of his mob hit as early as this summer. Of course, that would have meant moving the fifth season of Sex and the City (bowing July 21) to a different night, and that just wasn't gonna happen. "We felt that Sex and the City was great where it was," she said, "and The Sopranos would do great in September.

"The wait was a risk we took," added Strauss. "And one of the reasons that we took it [was] because we really believe in the show. And we knew that a couple of extra months waiting might only build anticipation. But it was worth waiting to preserve the integrity of our schedule."

The Sopranos' unusually long sabbatical poses another risk: disrupting the show's Emmy momentum. The extended break makes it ineligible for TV's highest honor this year — which means James Gandolfini and Co. can make other plans come Sept. 22. "We're going to be happy in our own houses, in front of our own televisions having pizza and a beer, cheering on all the others," confesses Bracco, a perennial nominee. "It'll be a nice change."