Decades removed from the Golden Age of the American mafia, public interest in organized crime is still as piqued as ever.
In the new National Geographic mini-series “Inside the American Mob,” which debuts Sunday, July 28 at 9 p.m. ET, audiences will get an unprecedented look inside the Five Families of the New York City-based mafia: Colombo, Bonanno, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese. The six-part series recounts the mob’s reign of terror through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and features real-life stories told by the mobsters who lived the life, as well as the government officials who sought to take them down.
According to former Colombo family capo Michael Franzese, who lends the unbelievable tales of his life to the Nat Geo series, not all mafia-themed TV programming accurately portrays the life of a wiseguy or his family.
“What’s very offensive to me – very offensive – is that show ‘Mob Wives,’” Franzese told me during a recent interview. “First of all, they’re not mob wives. I don’t know who they are. Not one of them is married to a mob guy. That’s number one. Number two, they believe that they’re the mobsters. Number three, the wives that I knew – they had dignity. Alright, look, they were married to the guys, but they raised the kids, they kept their mouths shut, I never heard any of them cuss or do anything like that. [‘Mob Wives’] makes the wives out to be trash. It’s horrible.”
The son of mafia icon and Colombo underboss John “Sonny” Franzese, Michael was one of the most powerful men in organized crime during the early ’80s, and raked in $5 to $8 million a week in legal and illegal businesses – most notably, gasoline bootlegging. When it comes to the inner workings of a real mob family, few men know better than Franzese, and even fewer are alive to talk about it.
In February, Michael had a chance encounter with “Mob Wives” star Karen Gravano, daughter of notorious Gambino turncoat “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, during an appearance on “The Ricki Lake Show.”
“I told her, ‘What the heck are you doing?’” Franzese recalled. “She said, ‘I gotta earn a living, what am I gonna do?’ That was her attitude. I said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed for yourself? The way you talk – you have no class, no dignity, nothing.’ She said, ‘Well, you know, it’s only television.’ I said, ‘But, hey, the whole world is watching.’”
Far fewer people are watching Franzese these days. After spending several years in prison, Michael decided to clean up his life and became the only high-ranking mob official to publically walk away from organized crime, refuse protective custody, and survive. Now a motivational speaker and author, Franzese has chronicled his story in several books (including “Blood Covenant”) and lends his voice to the “American Mob” series, which he calls “the best piece that you’re gonna see, to this point, on that life.”
But, what about “The Sopranos”?
“If a mob boss was ever visiting a psychiatrist, he’d be in the trunk of a car by the end of the week,” Franzese quipped. “Along with the psychiatrist.”
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.