If you thought the Kardashians were the most outrageous reality show family on TV, think again. Tuesday night, "American Gypsies" premieres on the National Geographic Channel, giving rare insight into the Johns family, who executive producer Ralph Macchio (yes, of "wax on, wax off" fame) compares to characters in both "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos."
"This is a fascinating subculture that exists right here in New York. I was astounded by some of the customs and what I would call unorthodox choices and traditions, but [they were] kind of relatable in a way with me being from a Greek-Italian-American family," Macchio tells me. "They have strong beliefs and family comes first -- this story needed to be told."
After a long process of pitching the series to various networks, Macchio considered turning the family story into a documentary. But ultimately, the National Geographic Channel committed to the series.
"This is where television is now, it's entertainment," Macchio says. "This is 'The Sopranos' meets 'Jersey Shore,' but these are the real people. We didn’t cast Snooki and the Situation. This is the family, it's like 'The Godfather.' We have Sonny Corleone, we have Michael, we have Fredo. And that’s one of my favorite films of all time. One could agree there is very little reality in reality television. You are force-fed what you are supposed to believe is actual. That’s frustrating. In our show, the Johns family is the Johns family."
Fascinated that this culture settles their disputes in a Gypsy court, embraces homeschooling and owns their own psychic shop -- Ralph was determined to get inside the community and tell their story. However, he was nervous about being accepted.
"Fortunately they were all big 'Dancing with The Stars' fans," laughs Ralph.
"American Gypsies" premieres Tuesday, July 17, at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.
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