When it comes to reality television, much of what is shown in episodes has happened and been reported on months prior. In the case of Mob Wives, this couldn't be more true. And, considering the subject matter, news related to the show's going-ons isn't always the most pleasant, and often hits extremely close to home for cast members. Case in point: The recent news that main cast member Renee Graziano's ex-husband, Hector "Junior" Pagan, had given information about Renee's father to the FBI after he became a criminal informant.
Series creator Jennifer Graziano is arguably the closest to it all. In addition to her professional attachment to Mob Wives, she's also the sister of aforementioned cast member Renee, and has known the women in the cast for years, dating back to before the series was ever in development. Though she admits that making the decision of whether or not to keep filming when something so personal happens is incredibly difficult, she eventually decides to let the cameras roll. In her eyes, the bottom line of the series is simple: Tell the story of women who have forge ahead alone and grapple with a difficult-to-handle lifestyle.
Decisions such as that one are what Jennifer has to make on a daily basis, and the popularity of Mob Wives certainly attests that she's been making the right ones; in addition to bringing solid ratings to network VH1, the series has also become so popular that a spinoff has been green-lit and is currently filming in Chicago.
Complex spoke to Jennifer about how she came up with the concept for the series, what she thinks makes Mob Wives all so popular, and what she's got planned for its future. Here's a hint: We could soon be seeing Mob Wives in other major cities sooner than you think.
Interview by Tanya Ghahremani (@tanyaghahremani)
Where did the inpiration for this show's concept come from?
A while back, I started to write a scripted show based on my life growing up, and I started to realize and look at the scope of television; seeing how the reality shows were really becoming popular, and, in particular how the Housewives franchise was taking off, I realized maybe I want to do both versions, actually. Let me turn this concept into a reality show, which is honestly an easier way for me to get into TV, and then ultimately do the scripted show after. Second to that, I realized I had the cast under my nose the whole entire time.
Was it easy to sell this show to a network?
Actually, it was very easy. The first network I brought it to made an offer, and then from there I actually realized I should shop it around and see what else I can get. In the interim, I ended up bringing the show to Harvey Weinstein, at The Weinstein Company, who absolutely loved it, and wanted it from the very beginning.
We did a field based on this show and the scripted show that I was writing, and a couple of other ideas I had, and Harvey gave me an overall deal with his company to partner up on Mob Wives and a couple of other shows and take them out together. From there, we brought in Ben Silverman and Electus, based on his TV career and his international prowess, and I went from having one offer to five offers. I call that the Harvey-Ben factor.
So you’re working on other scripted shows right now?
Yes, I have one in development right now. I have a couple of shows in development, both scripted an unscripted.
Can you tell us anything about them?
Well, I don’t want to give it away yet, but… I have one that’s definitely not in the same genre of the Mob Wives. The unscripted shows, they cover a vast array of topics, from competition shows to other Housewives-esque formatted shows. There’s a potential spin-off to Mob Wives that I’m working on as well; we’re filming in Chicago now, so that franchise is expanding.
Chicago is greenlit, filming, and set to air in June, and then I’m also testing out the waters and casting in Florida, Boston, Philly, and Vegas. I’m taking a page out of the Housewives book; like I said, that was kind of my quote-unquote inspiration to turn this show into a reality show.
When it comes to this show, the original Mob Wives, you’ve known the women for years, and obviously Renee’s your sister. But how did the casting process go. How did you settle on exactly who was going to star?
Well, I’ve gotta be honest: I cast Renee last. Truthfully, I always knew that she would be on the cast, but based on all the torture she put me through over my life, I decided to play with her a little bit. She would come to me, like, “Can I at least just do the wardrobe? I’m a stylist, can I at least just do the styling for the show? Like, do the make-up?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll think about it, don’t worry,” ultimately knowing that she was going to be a star of the show.
And Drita, I’ve been quote-unquote Drita’s manager since we were about 20-years-old, and I’ve always said to her, “I’m going to put you on TV one day,” never knowing that I myself would be a producer or a creator, just knowing and thinking that she had TV potential and qualities. So she was definitely one of the first people I had in mind for this. Karen, of course, the huge background and the family name, a friend of mine since I’m 13. Actually, I had Ramona in mind for Season One, but she couldn’t do the show because she had some personal and legal issues precluding her from participation, so I said to her let me know when that’s all cleared away and we’ll think about it for another season.
And then Carla, I was looking for that kind of quiet to the storm. She’s a little bit more laidback than the rest of the girls, that kind of person that balances out the rest of the cast, that’s not exactly the same but a little different, with a sexy look, and I remembered Carla who was actually Renee’s friend throughout the years because they grew up together since I think 17 years old. I ran into Carla at a family member’s party and I approached her about it and thought she’d be perfect. That perfect calm to the storm.