Monday night’s episode of ID’s “Torn from the Headlines: New York Post Reports” gives viewers an inside look at the infamous case of “Tuxedo King” Harvey Weinstein — kidnapped in August 1993 and held hostage in a sweltering underground tomb for 13 days before being rescued by NYPD detectives.
“People are fascinated by being buried alive and bad things happening to rich people, but here was a nice guy whose employees loved him,” says “Torn from the Headlines” executive producer Tim Baney.
Weinstein, 68, was kidnapped from the parking lot of a Queens diner and entombed in a deep, underground pit alongside the West Side Drive near 158th St. His captors, who dubbed themselves the “Black Cat Organization,” demanded a $3 million cash ransom for Weinstein’s safe return. While the NYPD worked around the clock, with little to go on, the ex-Marine and World War II vet, who fought on Iwo Jima, used his wits and inner strength to stay alive. Weinstein’s kidnapping was kept hush-hush until intrepid Post reporter Larry Celona learned about it — but he, and the paper, promised not to publish the story so they wouldn’t put Weinstein’s life in jeopardy.
A break in the case led cops to an employee of Weinstein’s tuxedo company, Lord West, who planned the kidnapping, knowing that Weinstein had just secured a $3 million bank loan. He, in turn led cops to the pit, where they discovered Weinstein — emaciated, filthy and exhausted but in remarkably good spirits after his harrowing two-week ordeal.
“He got through it because he was an ex-Marine,” says Baney, “and because the kidnappers’ harebrained scheme fell apart faster than Harvey did.” (The three kidnappers served lengthy prison sentences and were eventually deported.)
Celona, who was promised an exclusive for not publishing the story, snared the first sitdown interview with Weinstein, who recounted his grueling ordeal in a riveting front-page story — the basis for Monday night’s episode, “The Tuxedo King,” airing at 10 p.m. on ID.
It details the plot to kidnap Weinstein and includes vivid, riveting reenactments showing him being taken hostage, thrown into the pit (covered with a heavy metal plate) and left to fend for himself, with little food or water, while his anxious family and loyal employees agonized over his fate.
These scenes were shot in LA by Radley, a production company that specializes in reenactments. Actors portray Weinstein, his kidnappers, Celona, and several NYPD detectives who worked the case. The attention to detail is remarkable, down to the circa-1993 fashions, phones, cars and even the computer “Larry Celona” uses.
“It’s hard to compete with Hollywood but these guys do a really nice job, especially when, until the end [of the Weinstein saga], there’s not much real footage,” Baney says of Radley. “They had to recreate the world Harvey lived in without a lot of dialogue. It’s almost like a return to the silent film era, where the pictures really have to tell the story.” Drones are used for aerial shots of New York City that are edited into the recreations. “Drones are just a godsend to nonfiction TV,” Baney says. “It used to be prohibitively expensive to hire a helicopter for aerial shots — now, a ‘drone operator’ is a new job in the industry.”
Baney says the directors and producers who shot the Weinstein reenactments “obsessed” over getting the details right. “It’s a point of pride to them,” he says. “We show these to focus groups who either don’t notice or don’t care — but if the producers get anything wrong about, say, a type of gun or a military insignia, they hear about it from their colleagues.”
The actors featured in Monday night’s episode are “like Civil War reenactors,” Baney says.
“They’re hobbyists. We pay them, but not a lot,” he says. “A lot of them have day jobs. There are some real actors in there, but nobody is making a lot of money doing this. They’re having fun; it’s weekend acting and then back to their regular jobs.
“Re-creations are not in fashion right now, with all the home video and bodycam footage available,” he says. “This show is sort of a blast from the past. It’s a throwback to our roots.”
“The story of the ‘Tuxedo King Harvey Weinstein’ was quintessential New York Post,” says Henry Schleiff, group president of Discovery. “Combining the drama and greed of this kidnapping with the twists and turns of storytelling that ID is known for, makes this one of the strongest episodes of the season.
“I am excited to see how the journalists who worked with the NYPD to crack the case, tell their story for the first time, ever, Monday night.”