When you know you are good at something, you persevere and get something out of it no matter what it takes. In this episode, Mob Wives creator/producer, Jennifer Graziano of Just Jenn Productions talks about what sparked her idea on creating the hit show. Having parlayed her success into the world of unscripted television, she shares why she decided to turn parts of her life into a reality show despite being embarrassed about her family background. Learn more about Jennifer’s transition from mob life to successful Hollywood producer on today’s show.
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Mob Wives: From Mob Life To Hollywood Glamour With Jennifer Graziano
We are focusing on Hollywood, but we have somebody that we feel as a special guest to Hollywood. She’s an East Coaster, but she brings a little extra something, some East Coast flavor. She brings not your typical Hollywood type of person that you usually get here. She’s about as real as it gets. Who do we have, Tara?
Wonder Woman is an understatement for our guest. With her own production company, JustJenn Productions founded on the success of her hit show, Mob Wives, there’s not much that this woman can’t do. Let’s welcome to the show the incredible, Jennifer Graziano. How are you? Where are you joining us from?
I am very good. I’m in New York temporarily because I cannot wait to get back to La La Land.
We miss you. We love it when you come back to town. You founded JustJenn Productions off the back of your success of Mob Wives, which is not the usual way of doing things. Let’s get back to basics. How did you get into TV to start with? What made you think about writing a TV show and maybe tell the audience a bit about who you are and your background?
I’ve always been a writer. Back when I was in grade school, I wrote poems and scripts. Ultimately, I ended up in the entertainment business in music. I wrote a number one hit song that was an international hit back in 2005.
What was that? I didn’t know you did that. You kept this from us.
You learn something every day with the Jennifer Graziano.
Dani is so right. Every time we see Jenn, some new thing comes out.
We’re like, “When did this happen? How come we didn’t know about this? We’ve now known you for how many years.”
Tell us your number one.
I will definitely not sing it. However, going back to that little New York flair you were talking about, my song was called F**k You Right Back. It was a responsorial song called F**k It by Eamon. I was working at Sony Music at the time. I wanted to sign him and I brought him in Sony and the powers that be ended up, although they loved the song, they ended up passing on him. I came in the next day and I went up to my boss and I said, “If we’re not going to sign him, we’re going to sign the girl that’s singing the comeback records to his song.” My boss was like, “Who’s that?” I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll find her. I already wrote the record.” He didn’t believe me until I started to very horrendously senior for him. From there, he loved it. We signed the girl.
What was her name?
Her name was Frankie. I managed her and we toured the world together. The record was number one, I don’t remember, but maybe 5 or 6 weeks international.
You’re a true artist, Jenn, because you can write anything.
People used to tell me I look like Wonder Woman back in the day.
Going for music and those industries for people that have never been in the music or entertainment industry, it is about being at the right time, at the right place. That’s what happened to me and my career. Sometimes you don’t plan these things. They happen to you. Do you feel like there’s an element of that in your life?
It was serendipitous, but it was also hard work and persistence. Going back to me being a writer, I was writing one thing or another at any given time. My boss at Sony at the time when I was working there and wrote that record, he ended up going over to the Weinstein Company.
Who was that out of interest?
His name is Marvin Peart. He was my boss. He became my partner. He will always be my best friend and angel.
Talking of age, you won in the music industry before that. You were in this phase of your life where, “I need a job.” He was like, “Come on in.” That doesn’t happen to everyone.There is a certain amount of luck that goes into developing shows for TV. Click To Tweet
Getting that job alone was a big feeling. Marvin feels that he’s been put on this Earth to help people. I’ve seen it happen several times. I was one of his subjects. Moving forward, he was at the Weinstein Company. I was doing consumer marketing and music brand marketing at the time. I wrote a script based on my life. As I was writing it, I started to see the Housewives of New York and the Housewives of Orange County. All of reality TV was exploding. I looked around at my life and the script that I was writing. I realized that reality TV might’ve been the easier way into TV. I took a page of my script and turned it into real life.
Tell the audience what your life is because maybe they’ve heard of your name, but they don’t know how Mob Wives came about.
I come from a family of alleged mobsters. My father passed, but he was allegedly a high-ranking mobster. I grew up in that lifestyle and scripted series was about my life growing up with my father. I had everyone for an unscripted show right under my nose. I quickly gathered all of my friends who were all mob kids. Some girls that I knew who were married into the mob. My sister was the last person I cast. The entire time I was torturing her by telling her that she was not going to be on the show.
Did she want to be on the show?
Yeah, desperately. She drives me crazy and I wanted to save all her craziness for the last and it worked out great.
For our audience, your sister is the infamous Renee Graziano.
Renee Graziano, one of the leading stars of Mob Wives.
You could not have done that show without your sister. You do realize that.
It’s 100%. I have to tell her I ever said that out loud and hopefully she never listens to this podcast.
Hopefully, she’s coming on the podcast soon.
We won’t tell her then. We won’t tell her you picked her up like that.
She’s older than you, Jenn?
How was it growing up with her? Was she quite motherly, maternal towards you or she like annoying big sister, sibling getting on your nerves?
She’s none of the above. She’s definitely not mothering to me. I’m the youngest of all three of my sisters, but I might as well have been the parent. Renee never paid attention to me growing up. She was too busy with her boys and her mob guys. She never wanted to take me out with her anywhere. My cousin, Alexis, who’s also like a sister to me, she took me everywhere. Me and Renee, we grew up together. We shared a bedroom, which was torture in and of itself, but she didn’t want me to hang out with them. We went our separate ways and I didn’t like subscribed to the lifestyle the way that she did. We were completely different growing up.
How about your other sister? Was she involved in any capacity?
She is thirteen years older than I am. She was already into boys in high school by the time I was even walking. She was more of the mother than Renee was. As we got older, I became Renee’s mother.
When you say mobster, mafioso or wise guy, what is the differences between those three things or was it all much of the same?
It’s all the same. It’s all lingo.
As the child of a mobster, what does that look like?
How was that life for you? Is that something you’re embarrassed about? Is that something that you wear with pride? You don’t know any other way. It’s like Tara don’t know any other ways to how we grew up. For you, it must’ve been the norm even though it’s very glamorized now in Hollywood. Did you like local celebrities?
Yes. My sister is best in that attention. I didn’t like it at all. I grew up not wanting to be noticed for seeing somebody’s daughter. I wanted to be noticed from myself and my own accomplishments. The lifestyle was very embarrassing to me for a long time. I shied away from it, whereas Renee loved it. Both my sisters married into it and perpetuated the life.
Why were you embarrassed?
I don’t even know.
You live this life. You were embarrassed by this life, yet you decided to make a reality show featuring all of the people that have played a part in your life. How did that feel putting it all together and it became hugely successful? Does that not push you further into something that was difficult for you to be a part of? You created Mob Wives, but at the same time you were embarrassed and running away from it. How did the success of the show not bring you further back into what you’re trying to escape from?
As a child it was something that was embarrassing to me. I ran far enough away from it and formulated an identity of my own. I went to college. I graduated. I got a Master’s degree. I’ve made my own way and my old friends. It didn’t matter to me anymore by the time I became an adult. I learned to accept it more. I learned to accept myself as nobody outside of it. When it came time to do the show, I was so far removed from it already. It didn’t mean anything to me. I also think that the mob itself was a little bit less potent than it was when I was growing up.
I was going to ask you, were you not a little bit afraid of putting all these people, exposing the mob, the people in the mob and all their relations? Was there a little bit of cautiousness of, “Am I doing the right thing?” Part of the whole being in the mafia is nobody talks and that’s one of the whole rules.
There were tons of caution. I’ve always been one though to take chances, break the rules. I’m definitely a rebel, but I also have a huge set of core values and a loyalty that sometimes is my gift and my curse. I knew while I was breaking the big rule, I would never be exposing anything that would get anybody in trouble.
You didn’t get any threats or anything?
No. There were a lot of people that weren’t talking to me, including my own father. There were a lot of guys and women that were pointing their fingers out. This was all before the show came out. Once it came out, everyone realized, “It’s entertainment.” You’re not exposing anyone’s secrets. They’re only talking about things that have already been reported in the news. That’s public domain. Not once did we ever give away or hurt anybody by anything that we put on. It took time for people to understand and realize that, but before it aired, everybody’s tongues were wagging all over town.
I’d love to hear your dad’s reaction. What did your mama and dad think of what you were doing before and after it came out?
To be honest, I lied to my father the entire time. I told him it was something totally different. He didn’t even know what it was until it came out a little bit before maybe when all his friends were talking and people were telling him things. He was furious once you found out what I was doing. He was mad that I lied. He was also furious. In his mind, he was like, “This is my life, not yours. How dare you.” He got mad. It took him a few years to get over it. He also was in prison at the time and he didn’t have the VH1, so he couldn’t even see me.
He came back and his daughter, Renee was famous and you were a successful TV producer taking over Hollywood.
It was all happening while he was there. My point was he never saw for himself that it was innocuous. The entire time he thought we were doing something crazy.
It’s like a big expose or something.
By the time he did get back or by the time people told him, “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad,” eventually, he realized that on his own and we started to talk.
Are we going to see Mob Wives back again?
I believe wholeheartedly that you will.
Let’s talk about some of the casts before we move on from Mob Wives. Big Ang, who tragically passed, I loved her. She’s a larger than life character in many ways. She seemed like the nicest person. How was it working with her and all the other stars on the show that are household names?
Working with Angela was an absolute pleasure. What you see is what you get. She was the nicest person on earth. She was the hardest working cast member, hands down. She’s hardest working woman in in that I know hands down. We were filming two shows with her at once. She would do Mob Wives from Monday to Thursday, hop on a plane and go down to Miami to do Miami Month from Friday to Sunday. Come back with a smile on her face. We would pull in Renee and call out of the bed to get them to work sometime. For the most part though, everyone was great. We’ve had our issues, Renee and I being sisters.Success in the entertainment industry is not just about being at the right place at the right time, but hard work and persistence as well. Click To Tweet
That must be weird because she’s not going to listen to you, the baby sister.
Yet she tried to wield my power every chance she got but never wanted to listen to me.
Mob Wives, hugely successful and what happened next? Now it seems that you have your finger in a number of different pies with other success already within your horizon and every time we speak to you or see you, something more amazing has happened from the last time. Fill us in about the big picture for JustJenn Productions.
Mob Wives was very successful. It ran for six years and four spinoffs. Since then, once the Weinstein deal unwound itself during all of the craziness, I ended up doing first look deal with Entertainment 1. With them, I sold a couple of shows, HGTV, We TV, MTV. I have about 4 or 5 still left in development coming off the tail end of that deal. I ended up selling a show with critical content. Those are all on the unscripted side of things, but I’ve been diligently developing in the scripted arena as well. I hired an amazing development executive. Her name is Devyn Fusaro. She’s also a writer. She’s writing something, which fingers cross, we believe it’s sold.
Dani and I know Devyn. She’s so young, but clearly like storming it. Are you like her mentor?
Devyn is amazing. She is an NYU graduate like myself, which immediately excited me. She’s super passionate. She’s so hard working. I’ve never like seen someone so dedicated. She and I clicked and hit the ground running. We’ve been working hard to get a script played out to the market. We have made several partnerships. I’m developing a show with Andrew Stern at ABC Studios. I’ve got things that I’ve been working on with Propagate Content, which is the amazing Ben Silverman.
Jenn is rolling these out. It’s something that happens every day in Hollywood. These things don’t happen every day. You’re saying it as if these things happened. It takes so long. It takes so much energy, so much time, and there’s a certain amount of luck that goes into it. It’s not with the timing, but with where you are in your life. It is the phenomenal success that you’ve gone and up until this point is truly quite astonishing.
I do agree with that. You guys only know me for years.
We need to say how we know you and what we’re doing with you.
I’m going to say the seven years before you knew me, I was diligently putting the pieces of this puzzle together.
It’s taken you ten years to be an overnight success.
Dani and I, as the audience know, we have our company, Dantar Productions. We’ve sat here for a few years creating away, diligently, trying to succeed within this very difficult business. Every day, some days you have days going forward, other days you feel like you’ve got to step backwards.
It’s 90% no ratio to the occasional percentage of it.
You have to keep going. It’s encouraging to us to hear that it did take a period of time for you to become what you are now.
It’s definitely hard work. It hasn’t been a true seven years, but also because I’m doing both scripted and unscripted, I go back and forth between the two. I go through a spurt of developing a bunch of unscripted ideas and the scripted suffers. I go back to scripted and the unscripted suffers, which is why I decided that I need to grow my company and hire someone, more than one. Devyn will be the first and next, we’ll look to bring in another 1 or 2 development executive to establish everything forward.
How do you find going from this mobster lifestyle in New York on the East Coast, which is truly glamorized by Hollywood to start with, but ending up in Hollywood? Your life is a complete 180 from how you grew up. What do you prefer? Do you like living in LA? Do you like being here? Do you like the industry or do you need your little New York sense of grounding and realness?
I knew that one day I would end up in LA. I love it so much more than New York.
Why is that?
Everybody wants what they don’t have. I grew up here my whole life, born and raised. In order to get things done in this industry, you have to be in LA. You meet someone in a café, at a coffee shop or a meeting down the block. It’s easier and there’s so many more people in the industry in and around you. Whereas in New York, we’ve got a few networks here and in a few production companies, but it’s not like you’re walking down the block and meeting someone totally by accident.
What advice would you give to young people trying to get into the industry because you have got experience in unscripted and scripted? What would you be your mentorship advice?
Never quit, keep on going. It will happen. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s all on the execution. A lot of people think, “Yeah, I got the best idea.” Yes, and you probably do, but you have to figure out how to take that idea from inception to execution. That’s the most important. Don’t worry, find the right partners to help you do that. Be persistent, knock down doors, be aggressive, and don’t be afraid to call somebody that you’ve never spoken to on the phone. You might get nine noes, but you’re going to get one yes.
Talking of finding great partners, we were very lucky to have been introduced to you through our mutual agent. Seriously, I don’t know about you, Dani, but I personally feel from the time that we’ve spent from you that I’ve learnt so much from the way that you do things. It’s your knowledge on the ins and outs of the industry, your perseverance. Also, you always do it with a smile on your face and that is, you might not feel it behind the scenes, but you certainly appear that way. To our audience, we are fortunate enough to be in development with Dantar and JustJenn, fortunate enough to be developing some exciting shows together. Hopefully, this collaboration will come to fruition at some point in the near future. You’re a great partner and we love you.
You guys have amazing ideas and we have a few ideas. You keep pushing them forward. I learned a lot from years in the industry, but it’s ever changing. I’m still learning and things change every single day. We have to adapt with it.
That’s so true because every time we speak or we speak to our agent, the mandate from the networks is totally different. We’d gone off and created a show. All of a sudden, they want something different and in six months’ time, they’ll want that again. You’ve got to go with the flow. Take it all with a pinch of salt. You can’t take it all too seriously because you drive yourself insane.
Going back to what you had said during the introduction and something Dani said now, I’ve met with this one scripted executive. He was like, “I love you because you don’t give a crap. You are a breath of New York fresh air in Hollywood. You walk in here. You’re pitching your show. You could care less if I buy it. You could care less if I don’t buy it. Walk out of here the same way you came in.” At the end of the day, either you’re buying it or you’re not. If you buy it, it’s going to change my life. If you don’t buy it, it’s not going to change my life because I’m still going to do exactly what I’m doing. I’m still going to come back with another idea in three months or whatever it may be. That’s a New York attitude or maybe, I don’t know. That helps me in this industry because a lot of people would get discouraged and turned away by the amount of no’s that you do get far outnumber the yeses.
On that note, we know something good is going to happen with you. We are going to be like announcing it from the tree tops through La La Landed when it does. We’ll be asking you back to celebrate with us.
With all your projects coming on, this is an open invitation, Jen. We can’t wait for your sister to come on as well. We’ll get all the juicy gossip from her because she’ll be a bit more open about gossiping you. I can’t wait. I love Dorita. She is genius.
I have to confess something. I used to watch Mob Wives and I’d be like, “I wish I could be a mob wife.” It brings out a little something in you that is the rebel.
I have a feeling you would have been a good one.
My parents wouldn’t have represented well.
Thank you so much. You’ve been an absolute pleasure.
Thanks for coming on the show. We’ll talk to you soon. Everybody, thank you so much for tuning in to La La Landed. You know where to find us. We’ll be back soon.
About Jennifer Graziano
Jennifer Graziano founded JustJenn Productions with the launch of “Mob Wives,” VH1’s hit reality television show following the lives of four Staten Island women, each with their own “alleged” Mob connection. The show grants the public a first ever, unique look into this closed society, balancing the intrigue and allure of the “Mob” world with the real-life challenges and struggles of prison visits and the women who have to carry on. As the series Creator and Executive Producer, Graziano expanded the show into a successful franchise, adding a new group of ‘Syndicate Sisters’ with the debut of the first spin-off “Mob Wives: Chicago.” Additionally, two other shows were spawned off the success of the original series – “Big Ang” and “Miami Monkey”.
Graziano quickly parlayed her success into the world of scripted television. And, aside from having numerous unscripted and scripted shows in development, Jennifer has since added “writer” to her list of titles, as she recently wrote a pilot script for HBO for a show she created under her namesake banner. Currently, she is writing a one-hour drama to executive produce alongside Ben Silverman and Propagate Content, and just sold a one-hour dramedy to E! Network.
Her success in the unscripted space, her ability to spot talent, and tell compelling stories, coupled with her vision, creativity, and writing sensibilities landed her an exclusive six-year deal with The Weinstein Company (TWC) – in which Graziano and her JustJenn banner were based out of their New York and LA offices. Since parting ways with TWC, Graziano has signed a first look deal for unscripted television with entertainment One and has chosen to remain independent on the scripted side.
Prior to her success in television, Graziano was a Director in the consumer lifestyle marketing division of MWW Group, and also ran her own company Bounce Marketing which aligned big brands like Sony and Dodge with entertainment properties. Before this, she started her career in entertainment in the music industry working in the A&R department at Sony Music Entertainment. She worked on some of Sony’s top selling artists – and, while in the music industry, she wrote the international # 1 single “F.U.R.B (F U Right Back)” for R&B artist Frankee, who she also managed.