A&E Television Network will begin airing "Growing Up Gotti," a reality-based documentary series that follows Victoria Gotti - a divorced mother of three, newspaper columnist, magazine editor and author - and her sons, Carmine, John and Frank.
"There aren't many other shows that focus on a working, single mother with three teenage boys," said Nancy Dubuc, the show's executive producer and vice president for nonfiction programming at A&E. The show is about Gotti's "social life, her kids, her home - all on the air at once."
The show, which is still in production, has already drawn criticism from Italian-American rights groups who think it will serve to link Italian-Americans and organized crime in the public's eye.
John Gotti, known as the Dapper Don for his elegantly tailored suits, ran an extensive Queens-based crime network out of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club on 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, where he was also known for throwing lavish July 4 parties.
In 1992, he was sentenced to life in prison on racketeering charges. The mob boss who had beaten several previous raps to earn himself the alternate moniker "Teflon Don," died of throat cancer in a Colorado jail in June 2002.
"There are a plethora of Italian Americans who are single mothers, raising children, accomplished in their own right who have been trailblazers and nobody is making documentary series about them," said Dona De Sanctis, the deputy executive director of the Order Sons of Italy, an Italian-American rights group in Washington. "The real reason that we're learning about Victoria Gotti is not that she is a heroic woman making her way in the world, (it is because) she is the daughter of a man who disgraced his name and heritage."
Not so, said Dubuc, who sees the show as an opportunity for Gotti to shed light on a lifestyle that few people have access to but about which many people speculate.
"If anything, the show is born out of Victoria's desire to show what life is really like," Dubuc said. "Every once in a while (Gotti) drops the ball," but that is what makes her approachable and allows the audience to identify with her.
Gotti divorced her former husband, Gambino family capo Carmine Agnello, after reports of his infidelity. She had initially supported Agnello, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for racketeering, extortion and arson in his scrap metal business at Willets Point.
Gotti's brother, John Gotti Jr., has been in jail on racketeering charges since 1999.
Victoria and other family members have taken out yearly "in memoriam" ads in the Daily News to mark the anniversary of her father's birthday.
Dubuc said Gotti had been approached a number of different times by different groups looking to collaborate with her.
A&E, a collaborative venture among Hearst, ABC and NBC that reaches 88 million homes, has worked with Gotti from the beginning to offer her a platform she felt comfortable with, Dubuc said.
"We had expressed interest in working with Victoria," Dubuc said. "We got in very early and did a lot of development work with her."
Filming is underway at an undisclosed location in the New York area, said Vicky Kahn, of A&E's department of public affairs.
De Sanctis, of the Order Sons of Italy, said her organization sent a letter to A&E's president in March, when it first got wind of the network's plans.
In the letter, dated March 29, OSIA National President Albert De Napoli urged A&E not to air the series. "If the show is pulled, I promise we will widely broadcast your responsiveness to our concerns," De Napoli wrote.
De Sanctis said OSIA thought the choice of Victoria Gotti as a subject for a documentary would focus too much attention on "the .0025 percent of men and women who have chosen to live a life of crime."
"I am actually going to be looking into that," said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who protested a recent PBS series that compared the Medici family with the Mafia. "Obviously, it depends upon how they approach the subject."
Dubuc urged viewers to withhold judgment until they actually see the program.
"People are tuning in for one thing and they're going to be very pleasantly surprised to find something else," Dubuc said. "Stay tuned. It's a great show."
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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