As the rest of us anxiously await the next explosive season of VH1's mega hit, "Mob Wives", the show's creator and producer, Jennifer Graziano, has been busy building an empire that will stretch well beyond reality television land.
In short, the T.V. mogul is working hard to take her already impressive career to the next level through scripted T.V., feature films and food and wine business ventures. Earlier today she spoke exclusively with Examiner about how she got where she is now and what's ahead.
Jennifer, who was interviewed at her New York office via phone, said she's always been about going after opportunities and becoming successful and independent.
"I knew from a young girl that I did not want to marry a man and stay at home and take care of the family," Jennifer tells us - something that would be expected in a traditional Italian family and from someone with her background. Jennifer's sister is "Mob Wives" star Renee Graziano and their father is Anthony Graziano, consigliere of the Bonanno crime family who was recently returned to prison with the help of turncoat and Renee's ex, Hector "Junior" Pagan.
But Jennifer says she didn't fit the traditional Italian mold in any way. She was book smart as well as street smart and was more interested in going to college someday than being married to the mob.
"Starting from kindergarten I was up (and ready to go to school) before my mother and my sister (Renee)," Jennifer says. "In high school I always maintained like a 99 average. I applied to 20 schools and got accepted to 19." Cornell University was the only one to turn her down. "I was extremely shy so I bombed in that interview," Jennifer added. She ended up going to New York University where she earned a BA in psychology and her masters in psychology and business.
After college Jennifer worked in the A & R department of Sony Urban Music for about five years and then went into consumer marketing, handling clients including Nikon and Samsung. Afterwards came an exclusive deal with The Weinstein Company to create reality and scripted television shows.
"I was working on a scripted show about my life growing up with Karen Gravano early on," Jennifer says. Karen, another "Mob Wives" star, is the daughter of former Gambino family crime boss, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. "As I noticed the success of the housewives franchise and the explosion of reality TV I realized I could do the same. And I had the entire cast right under my nose my entire life. I met with TWC after creating a sizzle reel. "They were in love with the 'Mob Wives' project," Jennifer adds. She also presented several of her other reality and scripted show ideas.
"I've always been in love with writing," Jennifer notes. There was always a television or movie script she was working on and she loved T.V. Growing up her must-see shows centered around people who were the polar opposite of many of those she knew from mob life - the very wholesome "Silver Spoons," "Who's the Boss?" "The Facts of Life" and "Different Strokes." Today among her faves are "Homeland," "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Good Wife."
Getting the show on the road when you have a production company doesn't hurt either when you've got an empire to build. Jennifer founded JustJenn Productions and Maniac Management - a full service talent management company that handles development, endorsements, licensing, partnerships, and bookings for music artists, song writers, TV talent, and more. She also provides services for cast members from her shows as needed.
One of the cast members she is closest to is Angela "Big Ang" Raiola, the breakout star of "Mob Wives" who became the star of two spinoffs, "Big Ang" and "Miami Monkey." This is "Miami Monkey's" first season and it will be aired at a new time beginning this week -Thursdays at 10 p.m. This Thursday starting at 5 p.m. you can watch the first five episodes in a mini marathon then catch an all-new sixth episode immediately following at the new time.
Miami Monkey is part of Big Ang's bar franchise that started with the Drunken Monkey on Staten Island.
"'Big Ang' was an amazing show to make," Jennifer says, but she adds that Big Ang always wanted to grow her Drunken Monkey business and giving the show a new spin was a way to do it. She notes she and Big Ang have been talking about other possible locations for her bars including Las Vegas and Arizona. "Anyplace that makes sense."
"We always wanted her daughter (Raquel) to be on television but she was never sold on the 'Mob Wives' concept," Jennifer explains. Raquel did buy into the idea of "Miami Monkey" and is now on that show.
A lot of other things are on Jennifer's plate. We can look forward to a family cookbook coming out in February. What's the name? "How to Use a Meat Cleaver" of course.
"It's a very tongue-in-cheek look into the Graziano kitchen," Jennifer says. She adds sister, Lara, is a restauranteur and an "amazing cook" and that the family involvement in the restaurant business dates back decades.
Supreme Macaroni (in Manhattan) was started by Jennifer's grandmother's family and it has a special place in the family's hearts. "My parents fell in love there," Jennifer notes. "My father worked there at 19 and my mother was a waitress at 15."
Among the cookbook recipes will be traditional staples - meatballs and Sunday Gravy, as well as stuffed filet mignon and shrimp oreganata..the whole Italian nine. A Graziano food line and wine company is also on Jennifer's menu.
"It stems from looking to make an extension of the cookbook brand, delicious sauce, pasta and oils...and what goes best with food is wine," Jennifer says. "Restaurants are in our family for years so you can kind of say that's our legacy and we're expanding upon that."
Other things are cooking that Jennifer isn't ready to talk about just yet - including what we'll be seeing next on "Mob Wives" - but she said there will be the usual juggling of the cast. She adds that although she's getting deeper into her scripted T.V. and film pursuits, she's going to continue to focus on her biggest success for at least a couple of seasons more, the "Mob Wives" franchise.
"We're thinking Philadelphia, Miami, Vegas" for new "Mob Wives" spinoffs, Jennifer adds. "But my bigger goal now is to concentrate on the Mother Ship (the original). Asked about the Chicago spinoff not working out so well, Jennifer says she learned from that experience to look carefully before taking the next step.
"I think the Chicago women had a high bar to meet and I think they came out of the gate trying to prove themselves against the New York women," Jennifer explains. She adds, "It may have been too early to expand the franchise," and notes New York viewers may have had problems adapting to Chicago's accents and comparatively slower lifestyle. "I think they built their loyalty to New York."
However Jennifer says the day will come when it's time to move on from the New York-based "Mob Wives" too. "Nothing lasts forever - not even 'The Sopranos,'" she adds, chuckling. "I would like to go out in the same way - on top. I don't want to overplay the stories and go too far."