March 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Tony Soprano has enough agita, what with the feds constantly on his tail. Now his daughter’s videotaped confessions are popping up online. The North Jersey capo doesn’t know about it, but one of Meadow’s profs at Columbia University requires the class to record video diaries. And the tapes have been leaked to the website of Jeffrey Wernick (jeffreywernick.com), a Mob aficionado and author of such books as Are You a Jamook or a Fanook? and He’s My F**king Brother! Kinship Patterns in Mafia Life.

That’s the setup for HBO’s latest Sopranos website, which debuts with the series’ third season March 4. And it’s the most creative crossover since fans became privy to e-mail from an undercover cop on the prison drama Oz last July. The site includes original video clips of Uncle Junior talking about his father; Christopher Moltisanti taking a meeting with a Hollywood agent; and an Essex County, N.J., public-access-TV commercial for Artie Bucco’s Nuovo Vesuvio restaurant. ”The show is the filet mignon,” says The Sopranos‘ coexecutive producer Ilene Landress. ”The website is the sambuca afterwards.” But it’s not yet the whole cannoli.

Watching Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) flip on a camcorder and dig deep into her relationship with Poppa, who’s off the deep end over her African-American/Jewish boyfriend, is the biggest treat. ”Instead of a hundred dirty looks,” says Sigler, ”you really understand how she feels about her father.” The principessa‘s also a logical choice to star on the Web, since the only thing a stugots like Soprano soldier Paulie Walnuts knows about computers is how to fence them. Later in the season, Wernick.com turns up a video of Junior talking about his childhood. The biography is clandestinely caught on tape by Junior’s toadying bodyguard, a premise that works only because the absurdity of hiding the camera in a leafy plant is played for humor. These two- to five-minute sketches are solid Jersey pastorals, most of them written by Allen Rucker, author of The Sopranos: A Family History, and directed by Jerry Adler, who plays the Jewish consigliere Hesh Rabkin.

Smart as the Jeffrey Wernick website is, it lacks the bada-bing of the best DVD bonus tracks. You’ll learn something new with each week’s update; just don’t expect to gain much insight into the show’s genius. But that’s not what the website’s about — it’s to establish a ”better, deeper relationship” with viewers, says HBO’s VP of interactive ventures, Sarah Cotsen. While no one has found a way to make a buck off that bond yet, says former TV exec-turned-IFILM CEO Kevin Wendle, ”once you understand your customer better you can sell them more products.”

Not the warmest, fuzziest concept — but remember, The Sopranos is a family business.

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