Last week Renee, Carla, Karen, Ang and Drita said goodbye to Mob Wives after six dramatic, and often hilarious seasons. VH1 caught up with series creator (and Renee’s sister) Jenn Graziano about the show’s final chapter and moving on.
Jenn gave details on managing her close friendships with both Drita and Karen while being a producer on the reality show, as well, as behind-the-scenes secrets and stories about Big Ang, Love Majewski, Alicia DiMichele and more!
Can you explain how the women are actually connected in real life? Who had relationships coming into the show?
Jenn Graziano: So, Carla and Renee were friends since Renee was 16 and Carla was 19. They had a ton of mutual friends including some of the street guys and wise guys from that era that they all hung around with. Carla was dating one, Renee was dating one [and] they all hung out at the club where all the guys were. They really spent a lot of time growing up with each other and also within the world.
Karen was actually my friend, Karen and Ramona, we grew up together since we were like 15 years old. So, me, Karen, Ramona, and Ramona’s sister [Roxeanne] who you don’t see on the show, [were friends]. That was our crew. We were all born into this lifestyle. We were in it from the family perspective, but then the guys we were growing up with were sorta like mobsters in training. A lot of them wanted to be close to us and our friends because of who our fathers were and so we all formed this kind of clique, and that included Drita’s husband Lee and a few other guys, my boyfriend, Ramona’s boyfriend at the time. The guys were like their own clique.
When we were about 19 or 20, Karen had met Drita and Drita was actually dating this guy that we all kinda knew. So Karen and Drita used to double date. Karen was with Lee and Drita was with this other guy and Karen and Drita became really close, and then through her, Drita started hanging around with our little girl crew. We’d go to clubs, we hung out, and then Drita moved in with Karen. Karen moved to Brooklyn into her grandmother’s house, and Drita moved in with her there.
Then, Big Ang [was] actually my aunt’s Celia’s best friend. So Big Ang, we would see all the time at Aunt Celia’s: every Sunday dinner, pool parties that she would have, her daughter’s christening, her daughter’s communion. Throughout my entire life, anything to do with my aunt, Big Ang was there. Then she became close with my older sister Lana and she would start to come to our family parties. Her and my father were close too because Ang used to have bars and hang around with all the wise guys so she knew my father from the street life as well. Ang became like part of our family.
Love was one of Karen’s friends. Actually they were enemies at first, Love and Karen had a big fight on Bay Street, I remember when we were like 18 years old and Karen actually bit Love’s hand and paralyzed it for like two weeks. Love was a nail technician and couldn’t go to work because of Karen. After that, I don’t know, they became friends.
Renee grew up with Alicia ’s boyfriend. Renee was very close, almost best friends with Alicia’s boyfriend [and eventual husband] throughout the years. When I was actually trying to cast the Philly Mob Wives the first person I looked at was Alicia because of our connection to Edward, who was Renee’s friend. Natalie [Guercio] wasn’t as organic as the rest, but me and Renee met her through a family friend of ours. We were friendly but it wasn’t a lifelong connection like the rest of the women.
Who else was on?
Natalie DiDonato and the girls from the final season Brittany and Marissa.
Oh, yeah, I forgot about them. The other Natalie was actually really happenstance. She really was in Philly doing makeup and really came to us knowing Natalie Guercio and having a bone to pick with her. She came on and we interviewed her to see if she would fit in but she wasn’t deeply entrenched with any of us at the time.
Marissa’s boyfriend actually went to kindergarten with me and lives up the block from me. His first cousin was my first boyfriend, so then I would go eat over their house like everyday. His older cousins were- my older sister babysat for him and his older cousin. It’s all an intertwined world.
Did it become harder over the years to find people that were organically connected?
I would say 95% of it was organic. It started to become harder towards the end because although there were a boatload of women that we could have picked from, not everyone was allowed to do it, not everyone wanted to do it. So in that sense, yes, but if this was an open forum, I could’ve cast Mob Wives for days.
You and Karen have remained real-life friends throughout the years?
Has it been hard maintaining your friendship with her and wearing a hat as producer with all the drama that she and Drita have had on the show?
So after Karen brought Drita into the fold, I then became super close with Drita and when Karen moved to Arizona, she and I remained friends, but Drita was here every day. Me and Drita became super, super close. We used to take her daughter and my son, I have pictures of them when they were one years old of my son kissing her daughter’s face. We used to go to the zoo together, everything. So me and Drita became close as well. So it became very difficult for me, when the two of them went into this all out war, so to speak.
You have to understand, I was both the producer while we’re filming but then when we’re not, I was both of their friends. When the cameras are off, I’m going to clubs and dinner with Drita. The next night I’m out with Karen and, she’s telling me this, and Drita’s telling me this and they’re both trying to make me pick a side, not only as the producer but as the friend. [Over the years] I’m doing my absolute best to remain neutral on both levels. And at times, they have both accused me of taking one over the other. Drita swears I favor Karen, Karen swears I favor Drita. Even my sister Renee swears, for years [that] I favored Drita. Then it was Big Ang. It’s just difficult, everyone wants to be the center of attention and everyone wants to be the star. I guess they all at one point or another looked at me as favoring one over the other.
When Karen and Drita had an all out war, there was a time where I just had to step back, and be like okay, Drita you’re acting ridiculous, Karen you’re acting ridiculous. [The show] took a huge toll on mine and Drita’s friendship because I guess she got to a point where she felt because I was friends with Karen longer, we had more family history, whatever the reason may be, she felt that I chose Karen over her. So we had a huge falling out and then there were contract issues. I think all [the women of the cast] didn’t understand the business of it and I think they all, especially Drita, felt that I could whip out the VH1 checkbook out of my back pocket and write them a check for whatever they wanted. When they didn’t get what they wanted, they blamed me. Everyone was forgetting, that after season one, I’m the one that helped negotiate them a 50% increase, so everything, when it was good I was the best, when it was bad, I was the worst.
What is the status of your friendship with Drita now that your professional relationship is done for now?
Well, to be honest, a lot of things transpired over the years that I’m not happy about. I think she could have and should have handled things a lot differently, and better. I’m sure she thinks the same about me. I think on a professional level, obviously, we worked together throughout the entire life of the show, so professionally I’m able to maintain that but I don’t think we have a friendship any longer.
Over the years, women have come and gone on the show, who do you think was the biggest loss when they left the series?
The biggest loss to me was Karen, which is why she came back. For many reasons, one, because of the authenticity of her family name, and if you know anything about New York history, whether you find it to have a negative or a positive connotation, her father’s name rings bells. That was one reason, the second reason is because of the deep-rooted history she has with all of the cast members and obviously that manifests itself in fun times and contentious times, and it brings drama and adds to everything you’re looking for in reality TV.
The second biggest loss, and Karen’s probably not gonna like that I said this, but I think Alicia. I think that Alicia brought something that we didn’t have. Not only did Alicia have a history as a true mob wife but she had her own legal case going on which I thought brought a fresh dynamic. Like okay, not only do you suffer maybe emotionally or have to worry about sending your husband commissary but Alicia had to worry about somebody sending her commissary. She had to worry about leaving her children. I think that was a fresh look at what could really happen if you really marry a guy like this.
Plus, I like the way she argued because it was never like, “I’m gonna punch you in the face.” It was always, “I’m gonna tell you exactly how I feel and I don’t care if you like it, and you can tell me how you feel. We’re never gonna get physical but I’m never gonna back down either.” I liked that because some reality shows, they want you to fight and hit. That’s never what I wanted, especially between my friends. I liked the fact that Alicia was able to bring the drama without taking it too far. And she had a great sense of style, so, I think she added a lot to the show.
What is something that happened that you really can’t believe happened?
I would have to say, the first thing that comes to mind is when my ex-brother-in-law turned himself in, and then the same day, my father was arrested. We learned along side the entire world that my ex-brother-in-law was wearing a wire, and ratting on my father. I mean that was the hardest to watch, especially the downfall and the effect that it had on my sister, as well as my father obviously, and what happened to my family. That was the most difficult to live through while filming. The most unexpected I would have to say is probably the 127 person mob bust that happened because we couldn’t have even scripted that on a show like this!
In the wake of Big Ang death, do you feel like you have any insight into where the women stand?
Well, I think too much has transpired between Karen and Drita to ever feel any type of bond for each other. [They can say,]okay, we can be in the same room to honor someone we both love, but once we leave that room, I’ll never look at you. Karen and Natalie [Guercio] hated each other, but after Big Ang’s funeral everyone went out to the Drunken Monkey to honor her and Karen and Natalie kissed each other and were like, “F–k it, Big Ang is gone.” It’s not even important what we fought about anymore. So Karen and Natalie definitely are in a better place.
I think Carla, even though she and Drita are estranged, I think she’s the type of person, maybe years from now to just get passed that. My sister Renee looks at it like, okay if we have a season seven I’ll work with all of you. I don’t gotta like you, but we can work together.
I think the only really heavy, irreparable relationship is Karen and Drita.
What’s a story about Ang, off camera, that you think really speaks to her character?
I mean, what you saw on camera was the same as off camera. When we were filming Miami Monkey, we all moved down to Florida for like three months together and you know she never lost a beat. She was filming two shows at once. I put this in my Instagram [but] Monday through Thursday she was shooting Mob Wives then got on a plane to go down to film Miami Monkey.
She never had a day where she went nuts on anyone because she was exhausted. She still fed the crew. Everyday after summer, [imitating Big Ang] “Where we gonna go? Let’s go to Mr. Chows.” Anything I wanted I could have had. If I wanted to go to Florida she’d say, “Here’s the keys to my condo, just go. You can use my car, you can wear my clothes, I don’t care.” That’s just the way she [was] and that came across on camera and off.
Did she always want to avoid drama? I remember when Carla said on camera, during her cameo on season five, that Ang told her Drita wasn’t her real friend and Ang didn’t seem to like that she said that on the show.
She got mad. I’ll be honest with you. She got a little bit, not mad, but she was like “Carla, why’d you do that?” She [was] an honest person and she’s gonna tell you what it really is but she don’t want what she’s going to say to cause a big fight. I think when she told Carla that, she was looking out [for her] and it was more like, “Keep your eyes open but don’t go saying, I said it.” She did get a little annoyed because she didn’t want to be dragged into the drama
Your family’s life played out a lot on television. How has this affected your relationship with the family we don’t see on TV?
I don’t think it changed our family dynamic much. I mean, in the beginning, my father didn’t speak to us but everybody knows that. It took a few years, when he was in jail he didn’t get VH1 so he didn’t even watch the show [but] he was furious about it, regardless of what he knew about it or not. He didn’t really talk to people who watched the show because no one in the jail was watching it. It took him a while from when he got home, and he still didn’t watch it, but at least other people on the outside were saying, “Okay, Anthony, they’re not talking about the men. They’re not telling anybody secrets.”
I think it took everyone a while, including my father, to realize alright they’re not hurting us. Their intentions are not to hurt us. [The show] was really about the women and I think people drove that home to him and then finally he was able to kinda make amends with that. He’s never fully accepted it, but he’s made amends. We still do our family dinner, every holiday we’re all together. No one treats Renee like she’s you know a celebrity. She’s still Renee. I think we’re exactly the same.
What’s next for your career? What can you tell us?
I have actually set up two scripted shows at major networks. I also have a couple of unscripted shows in development right now [and] one of them is being sought after by networks. I really do see myself doing another reality series but my goal and heart is gonna be in the scripted world. I’m very happy, one is a comedy and one is a drama.
Are your new projects about the lifestyle at all?
No, I do get the fact that that’s where I’m from but I don’t want to be pigeonholed. If there was a project I was passionate about and I really wanted to do I wouldn’t shy away from it, but it’s not something I’m looking to run after right now because I want to spread my wings a little bit. They’re completely in two different arenas. I also have have something for Renee in development. We’re hoping we’ll be able to see her again very soon. It’s definitely something, a lot lighter where you can see her funny side come through.
Relive a full-circle moment from the final season of Mob Wives below.