BET Explores Crime and Consequences in AMERICAN GANGSTER, a New Original Series Narrated by Film Star Ving Rhames

November 16, 2006: 05:12 PM EST
Captivating Six-Part Docu-Drama Series Premieres Tuesday, November 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 16 /PRNewswire/ — Stanley “Tookie” Williams, a former gang leader, made headlines last year when several celebrities tried to prevent his execution at San Quentin. While “Tookie” Williams fame reached national levels, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, “Freeway Ricky” Ross, Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, Troy and Dino Smith, and the Chambers Brothers also made history, affected changes in the legal system and altered the state of black communities across the nation. AMERICAN GANGSTER, BET’s riveting new primetime series, profiles these notorious figures and explores the impact of their crimes premiering Tuesday, November 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Narrated by critically-acclaimed film star Ving Rhames, the show will explore without glorifying and investigate without celebrating, these criminal-minded personalities. In the course of each episode, their wrongdoing will be put in the context of Black history as we see how their actions both reflected and corrupted the values of their community.

“Crime is a cancer that eats away at our communities,” said Reginald Hudlin, BET President of Entertainment. “But for a generation that grew up thinking greed is good — whether on Wall Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard — they’re not quite so sure whether crime pays or not. We wanted to take an honest look at the criminal life, demystify that world and show what it does to our community.”

Executive produced by Nelson George and Frank Sinton (Asylum Entertainment), along with Mark Rowland and BET, the series will profile an infamous crime figure each week through the use of archival footage, photographs and interviews with people familiar with the various cases. Featured experts include ex-members of these polarizing criminals’ organizations, police officials from the time period, attorneys that represented the criminals and crime historians.

George, one of the top cultural critics in the country, is a successful author and filmmaker whose most recent credits include consulting/executive producer on BET’s RICHARD PRYOR: THE FUNNIEST MAN DEAD OR ALIVE, co-executive producer of the 3rd Annual VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and the forthcoming HBO film, ‘Life Support’ that stars Queen Latifah. George is also the author of numerous non-fiction books, including “Hip Hop America” and “Post-Soul Nation.” Frank Sinton is a seasoned television veteran, whose credits include Fox Sports Net’s Emmy-nominated series “Beyond the Glory,” and “The Last Word with Jim Rome.” Mark Rowland is a documentary filmmaker and writer, who has produced dozens of one hour programs for such popular and critically acclaimed television series as Fox Sports ‘Beyond the Glory,’ History Channel’s “Modern Marvels,” ESPN’s ‘SportsCentury’ and VH1’s “Behind the Music.”

“Crime is an unfortunate part of African-American history and this series looks at its effects on us through the lives of some very infamous men,” said executive producer George. “We picked figures whose crimes were legendary in their cities and had national, and in some cases, an international dimension. U.S. presidents play a key role in four of the six episodes, which shows you these criminals were not just purse snatchers. Having Ving on board, bringing his voice and persona to the show, enriches already great material.”

But the stories won’t stop there. The societal impact of criminal activity is devastating and the biggest losers are the people and communities adversely affected by the misdeeds of those who perpetrate it. This hour-long weekly program takes a hard look at the crimes, punishment and lasting legacy of the men profiled below:

STANLEY “TOOKIE” WILLIAMS (premieres Nov. 28, 2006)

At the time of his execution in 2005 some regarded Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams as a martyr. The co-founder of the Crips, Tookie had been a big part of the negotiations to bring about a truce between L.A.’s two legendary gangs — the Crips and the Bloods. But before he turned that page, Williams had been convicted of the brutal murders of a convenience store clerk and three Korean family members. Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee whose ashes were recently scattered in South Africa, was a complex man who worked with troubled youth, dabbled in PCP and founded a gang that continues to terrorize the black community nationwide.

RICKY ROSS (premieres Dec. 5, 2006)

‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross was the first crack king of Los Angeles, a hustler whose product fed the violent streets of his city. Ross didn’t start out bad — he was a charming and athletic kid who was once an all-city tennis champ. But when his dreams of earning a tennis scholarship evaporated, Ross took to the streets and began to sell drugs. But his life was truly changed when he got involved with the ’80s fastest growing product — crack cocaine. At the height of his career, Ross was selling $2 to $3 million of coke a day. Ross’s dealings not only impacted the local community, but the international drug trade as well. This episode will chronicle Ross’ rise and fall in narcotics distribution, as well as discuss his unwitting connection to the infamous Reagan-era CIA/Iran-Contras scandal.

LEROY “NICKY” BARNES (premieres Dec. 12, 2006)

Leroy “Nicky” Barnes is still name checked in rap records, despite having been out of the drug game since the late ’70s. Known as Mr. Untouchable by Harlem residents and the police, Barnes was the first black heroin kingpin in history. Barnes was addicted to heroin in the 1950s and was arrested for drug possession into the ’60s. After kicking the habit Barnes went on to organize the Council, a group of major black drug distributors modeled after the Mafia. Barnes was sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for drug trafficking, but got his sentence reduced to 35 years after testifying against 109 other dealers. He was released in 1998 after serving 21 years and is now in the Witness Protection Program. Once admired by many in the street, Barnes has become known as the most notorious snitch in African-American criminal history.

TROY & DINO SMITH (premieres Dec. 19, 2006)

In the wee hours of the morning on April 6, 2003, four men drilled a hole through the wall of a vacant restaurant in San Francisco’s Union Square district that would eventually gain them entry into Lang Estate Jewelers. They spent the night there and when the store’s employees arrived for work that morning, they were ambushed by the armed robbers.

After forcing the store’s manager to open the safe, the crooks escaped with an estimated $6 million in jewels — the largest haul in San Francisco history. Among the four stick-up men pulling off this successful heist were brothers Troy and Dino Smith, a pair of career criminals who had padded police reports with a slew of robberies during the ’80s. When they stole, they stole everything. They even robbed drug dealers. This episode will explore the Smiths’ rise from teen crooks to architects of some of the most sophisticated crimes in Bay Area history.

THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS (premieres Dec. 26, 2006)

Four brothers from Arkansas, the sons of sharecroppers, grew up to become some of the most notorious drug lords in America. In the 80s — Billy Joe, Willie, Larry and Otis Chambers — were running a crack enterprise that netted them more than $50 million a year in Detroit. Although crack houses were popular, the brothers considered them to be an organizational nightmare and created Marlowe’s One Stop in a dilapidated apartment building. They were flying high until Larry’s ego got the best of him and he began videotaping drug deals. His home movies were found during a raid of his home and the brothers were convicted in 1988.

LORENZO “FAT CAT” NICHOLS (premieres Jan. 2, 2007)

It’s one thing to sell drugs and get caught up in all of the violence surrounding that particular occupation. But it’s quite another to kill a cop. That proved to be the undoing of Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols, a Queens, N.Y. native who had gotten involved with the Seven Crowns gang as a young teen and who had already served five years in prison for armed robbery by the time he started dealing drugs at 22.

Although Nichols didn’t pull the trigger that killed NYPD officer Edward Byrne in 1988, his organization was held accountable. Those gunshots were heard around the world and the ensuing backlash would ultimately affect drug trafficking nationwide. This story reveals what was really going down in Southeast Queens during the days when Fat Cats loomed large and lawlessness was rampant.

This groundbreaking series offers rare insight into the back stories and motivations of some of crime’s most notorious Black figures. Are the lives of Ricky Ross, Fat Cat Nichols, The Chambers Brothers, Troy & Dino Smith, Tookie Williams and Nicky Barnes cautionary tales that illustrate what can happen when dreams are deferred and opportunities limited, or were they simply lawless miscreants who got what they deserved in the end?

Rhames invites viewers to watch and decide for themselves. “I was born and raised in Harlem. I grew up around a lot of criminals, thugs, dope dealers gangbangers, whatever you want to call it. What I like about AMERICAN GANGSTER is it reveals the true side and future of this sort of lifestyle if one chooses to go down that road,” said Ving. “One of the things that we have in our show is basically that with ‘hood gangster,’ ‘hood legend’ or what have you, something turns out negative. Whenever you do something that is destructive to your community, to your people, to mankind, it will come back on you and you eventually wind up to destroying yourself. Be it Tookie Williams, be it Freeway Ricky Ross. I think this program will enlighten today’s youth and hopefully cause them to think about things before they actively do something criminal.”

AMERICAN GANGSTER premieres on Tuesday, November 28 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. BET will air encore episodes of AMERICAN GANGSTER on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

About BET Networks

BET Networks, a subsidiary of Viacom, Inc. , is the nation’s leading provider of quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs television programming for the African-American audience. The primary BET channel reaches more than 83 million households according to Nielsen media research, and can be seen in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. BET is the dominant African-American consumer brand with a diverse group of businesses extensions:, the Number 1 Internet portal for African Americans; BET Digital Networks – BET J, BET Gospel and BET Hip Hop, attractive alternatives for cutting-edge entertainment tastes; BET Event Productions, a full-scale event management and production company; BET Home Entertainment, a collection of BET-branded offerings for the home environment including DVDs and video-on-demand; BET Mobile, a service venture into the lucrative world of ring tones, games and video content for wireless devices; and BET International, an extension of BET network programming for global distribution.

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