Sinful Screenings: Empires of New York (CNBC)

The New York City that we know today was built on greed. And it was born in the 1980s. That’s what CNBC’s docuseries Empires of New York is based on. It tells the tale of the five people who made the city for better or for worse.

There are definitely two names that the documentary focuses on that need no introduction, Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. John Gotti might also be a name you know, as the famous mobster. There are a lot of other mobsters named dropped too. Ivan Boesky and Leona Helmsley are two other people the series centers on. Those were definitely two names I knew very little about. Leona has never been the subject of a documentary before, so there’s a good chance she’s new to you too.

Leona Helmsley grew up in Coney Island and worked her way up to be a real estate company vice president. She became a millionaire in her own right. But took that to new heights when she married real estate billionaire Harry Helmsley, who owned the Empire State Building and many of Manhattan’s prestigious hotels. Harry will find that Leona was his downfall.

Ivan Boesky could be familiar, he was infamous for insider trading. He was thought to be a magician because he would make millions from buying stocks when the price was low and then selling it when the price went up. He was no magician, his secret was insider trading.

They were all in it for power, fame, and money. And they weren’t afraid to do what it takes. Even if that meant breaking the rules and laws. And they all wanted you to know how wealthy and/or how powerful they were.


The docuseries is very well researched. It includes first-hand testimonials and commentary by journalists and artists. While it spends most of the time on the five people mentioned, they bring in Darryl McDaniels, from Run DMC to talk about what’s going on elsewhere in the city. The parts that were literally falling apart. These are the parts where hip hop was born and graffiti became not just vandalism but true art. It’s great that they take a full picture, but a documentary just on those parts of the city would also be very interesting.

Empires of New York tells the story of how Donald, Rudy, Leona, Ivan, and John gained their power, fame, and wealth and continues with the underbelly of it all. And it’s narrated by Golden and Emmy Award winner Paul Giamatti, who plays U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades on Showtime’s Billions, who is perfect for this because his character hates wealthy people.

Even Rudy was in it for power. He was taking on the mob, which was a good thing, but his motives were less than genuine. As he’s taking down current mob bosses, John took advantage of the situation and became the mobster he’s known as today.


While Empires of New York looks at how NYC became the glamorous city it is today, that’s not all the city is made up of. There are so many different cultures. And even today, when people think of NYC, they think of the rich. It’s good that the series touches on other parts, but the history of how we got here is critical. We can’t change things unless we’ve learned how we got here. How do we highlight the many intersections of the city? Maybe, Empires of New York can help us start on that path.

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