Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New TV series on Nat Geo explores the mob's mentality

If timing is everything, Nat Geo’s new series, “Inside the American Mob,” is a ticking metronome.

Over the past month, the death of James Gandolfini, who played North Jersey mobster Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” — coupled with the ongoing, headline-grabbing trial of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger — has brewed a perfect storm of interest for Nat Geo’s six-part series (premiering Sunday night).

“I think it’s probably both of those things,” says series executive producer Banks Tarver. “People are interested in this world, and even the passing of [Gandolfini] may register in their minds. And the Whitey Bulger trial has certainly taken on a life of its own — and people are talking about it.”

POINT AND SHOOT: “Inside the American Mob” features re-enactments of gunfights between mobsters and cops.

Bulger, though, isn’t the focus of “Inside the American Mob,” which documents the criminal history of New York’s infamous “Five Families” (Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, Genovese and Colombo), with 1974 as its jumping-off point.

“It’s not a deep, long look back at the far past, although we do reference people like Lucky Luciano when introducing the concept of ‘The Commission’ and how it operated in the early ’70s,” Tarver says. “The mid-’70s are often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of the American mob, which was extraordinarily successful in making lots of money with little obvious concern about law enforcement getting in its way.

“They felt they could do almost anything, and the idea of ‘Omerta’ [a code of honor] and keeping quiet was a very effective tool,” he says. “Law enforcement didn’t know as much [then] about how the mob worked, and with ‘The Godfather’ movies coming out around that time, there was a sense that the mob was untouchable.

“I think it was such a big, dramatic story in New York that it made sense to set [the series] there,” he says. It felt like a grand, sweeping narrative, starting with the ‘Golden Age’ to the present — and that saga happens most dramatically in New York.

“Each episode tells part of a bigger story. People tend to talk about the ‘Five Families’ like a monolith but, in fact, they’re very different,” Tarver says. “We gave special attention to each ‘family’ and focus on their histories; each of them have moments when they’re more in a ‘command’ role. When one family gets beaten up by law enforcement that, in turn, gives another family the chance to do well — while giving that first family a chance to recover and get stronger.

“So you’re able to see the ups and downs of the mob in New York.”

Tarver also describes the series as having an “Upstairs, Downstairs”-type feel since both real-life mobsters and the FBI agents who busted them — in addition to informants — share their on-camera recollections.

“We found key people to put on camera, focusing on very personal and intimate stories,” he says. “We’re able to tell the Big Picture from key moments . . . where, in each instance, we can step inside the bigger stories and get a very personal point-of-view.”

And, Tarver says, “Inside the American Mob” will track organized crime’s ultimate decline. “Law enforcement was more clued-in and did a better job of tackling the mob. They were armed with better technology and laws and there was a willingness on the part of high command to go after the mob in a serious way,” he says. “And the traditions within the mob started to break down over time, including ‘Omerta’ and the idea of not ‘flipping.’”

(Think Sammy “The Bull” Gravano ratting on John Gotti.)

“People started stepping away from that code — which made it easier for law enforcement to infiltrate and attack the mob.”



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