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When Vagabonds Film Cable News Shows

A little about the cable news show that I film.

Wise Guys Newsmax
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MANHATTAN, NYC- “We’ve come along way since we randomly met at Mac’s. There’s a memoir in there somewhere,” the host of the show said after filming a couple of weeks ago. He was right. It was a bit of a strange journey.

I first met him when filming some stuff about the Covid lockdowns in New York City. A bar in Staten Island refused to close their doors and go quietly out of business. They defied the lockdown orders, served an undercover agent a sandwich, and the bartenders were taken out in handcuffs (seriously). Then all hell broke loose. There were massive protests, arrests, and national news coverage. The bar became a nationwide symbol of resistance to the lockdowns and Covid mandates.

At some point, a Staten Islander with a colorful history on Wall Street jumped into the fray. This dude decided to open a TV studio in the previously empty shop next to the bar to exploit a loophole in NYC’s Covid regime: protected by the first amendment, media were allowed to operate freely.

If you remember, this was the reason why I was able to travel throughout the pandemic without having to be quarantined. Whenever I was asked for my quarantine papers at the airport, I just said, “That doesn’t apply to me, I’m media” and walked away.

So this guy opened the shop next to the bar — which he appropriately called Speakeasy Studios — at the height of the lockdowns and began shooting a comedy show there … a comedy show that had a live studio audience … a live studio audience who were encouraged to drink, eat, and be merry together mask-free and without any social distancing. You see where this was going. It was basically a big middle finger pointed at the mayor and the authorities, who couldn’t do anything about it.

I would go down there and film sometimes, and it was a good taste of normalcy in a city that had otherwise lost its mind.

I didn’t have much to do in the early days of the pandemic, so I just went around and filmed things related to the lockdowns. What was happening had never been done before, and I wanted to document as much of it as possible for posterity … or perhaps a film.

One day I was in Speakeasy Studio filming an interview with one of the owners of Mac’s, and when I was finished turned my camera on the guy who opened the place. We snuck into the bar next door through the basement. The police had previously shut down this place down and nobody was allowed in there. I shot an interview of him standing behind the bar. I didn’t know it at the time but I would be filming this guy for the next three years …

He’s a character. I’ll put it like that. He’s as NYC-Italian as it gets. With his slicked back hair and pinstripe suits and two inch thick wads of cash in his pocket he’s a throwback to another era. Ever see an old gangster film? Well, that’s this guy. He is a jukebox of stories — good ones — and oddly seems to know everyone, regardless of tribe, in the city.He’s also as loyal as they get — almost to a fault — and if he considers you a friend he will go through a wall for you.

I don’t write people’s names in posts like this, so you will have to put the pieces together yourself (which will be easy to do if you keep reading).

Anyway, he decided he wanted to run for comptroller of NYC so he could cancel and refund everybody’s Covid fines. The city had deputized a mafia of dorks to go around in the streets extracting tribute from small business owners. They’d peak into private establishments trying to spot someone who didn’t have a mask pulled up all the way over their nose or would barge into a restaurant and find someone eating a taco in a back corner and then fine them into oblivion. So this guy was like, someone could just become comptroller and cancel all of this … and he went for it.

And hired me to film him doing it.

So I followed him around for the next year. But his comptroller bid failed on a technicality and he was kicked out of the race.

After that fiasco he reset his sights on what could be called his prime directive: being on TV. He was previously a regular guest on multiple big financial programs and even had his own show a couple of times. Now, he wanted to get back on air and wrote a treatment for a new show.

He showed it to me.

I told him what I thought.

He submitted it to a network.

They said they wanted to see a pilot.

We filmed a pilot.

They accepted the show.

Two years and 84 episodes later it’s bringing in 200,000 viewers per show and is one of the highest rated news programs in the country for its time slot.

Wise Guys Newsmax

The show is rather unique. The first part of it the host and co-host walk around in the streets of New York or some other city talking with people about what they think about current issues in politics, economics, or society and the second part is a sit-down discussion with the host, two cast members, and a guest. The diversity of opinions is what is really interesting about it. The host is basically a libertarian and the guests have ranged from Joe Lieberman to Rudy Giuliani to Barney Frank to former government agents, various political activists, authors, journalists, politicians, a trans-woman, a gay hairdresser, a Donald Trump impersonator, the drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s a free for all of different types of people with different ideas and opinions. They sit around a table and hash out their arguments, yell, laugh, and, oddly, by the time it’s over everyone is usually laughing and getting along. You could say that the main theme of the show is finding common ground in a rolling sea of contending opinions, and humor is the adhesive that holds it all together.

It’s called Wise Guys. It’s on Newsmax at 10 pm Saturday Night.

Wise Guys Newsmax Wise Guys Newsmax Wise Guys Newsmax


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Filed under: Filmmaking, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Jack April 30, 2023, 5:24 pm

    This is awesome!

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 30, 2023, 7:01 pm

      Thank you!

      Link Reply