Doing a documentary series on the rise of the mob was a task so enormous that executive producer Stephen David admits he had to break it down into parts.
“I realized the history of the mob is a massive amount of history,” he tells Zap2it, “so we really ended up looking at one city at a time to narrow it down because the amount of characters would be just a giant tree. So we were focused on New York.”
The first foray, “The Making of the Mob: New York,” an eight-part, eight-hour series premiering Monday (June 15), on AMC, focuses on the Big Apple from 1910 to 1963.
Narrated by Ray Liotta (“GoodFellas”), it tells the story of the rise of the New York mob headed by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Vito Genovese, Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Frank Costello, from its beginnings as a neighborhood gang of teens to their reign as brutal entrepreneurs and bootleggers who organized a criminal empire.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, actors Chazz Palminteri, Joe Mantegna and Drea de Matteo, Meyer Lansky II and former mob attorney Oscar Goodman are among those offering commentary.
Heading the New York mob was the Sicilian-born Luciano, recognized as the father of organized crime in the U.S. and the first boss of the Genovese crime family. Vito Genovese was his second in command but when he proved to be incompetent during his stint as acting boss when Luciano went to prison on prostitution charges in 1936, Luciano made Costello — a man with superb business smarts and an ability to make friends in high places — the capo.
But in the 1950s, Costello started to buckle under the pressure of the job, so he sought professional help.
“You know how in ‘The Sopranos,’ [Tony] saw a psychiatrist?” David says. “That was actually taken from this real story of Costello seeing a psychiatrist. … And for some reason, Costello invited the psychiatrist to one of his parties, and the people in the mob are like, ‘Who are you?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I’m his psychiatrist.’ So all the other five families found out and they actually allowed him to retire.”
What comes through in this series is that these men were for the most part brutal but also possessed exceptional business sense and the skills of a seasoned CEO. Some stories are stranger than fiction, and as David says, “It was like stranger and better. I would just go through and I’d be like, ‘I cannot believe this is the history, how it relates up and down to the mob and America.’ “