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Exclusive clip: Content Group EPs talk “King of the Con” Discovery+ series

When hearing about Barry Minkow’s story in preparation for the upcoming King of the Con Discovery+ series, Sami Abdou says what immediately attracted him to Minkow was how he always ...
January 13, 2022

When hearing about Barry Minkow’s story in preparation for the upcoming King of the Con Discovery+ series, Sami Abdou says what immediately attracted him to Minkow was how he always acts in extremes.

“He didn’t just create a Ponzi scheme, he created one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history. He didn’t just get redeemed, he became a pastor and a media sensation in the process,” says Abdou, an executive producer for The Content Group on the upcoming series.

“Throw in the 1980s, a botched biopic that he chose to executive produce and star in, and the constant question [of] if he’s truly redeemed or not…it was just something I had to pursue.”

King of the Con is a three-part doc about the life of serial scam artist Barry Minkow that will premiere on Discovery+ on Friday (Jan. 14). The series is produced by The Content Group, with executive producers including Abdou, Jodi Flynn, Jedd Thomas, James Macnab and Steve Michaels, as well as Pamela Deutsch for Discovery+.

Minkow rose to fame in the 1980s as the entrepreneur behind the carpet-cleaning company ZZZZ Best, until it was discovered the company was an elaborate Ponzi scheme with connections to organized crime.

Minkow was indicted in 1988 on a variety of charges that included racketeering, embezzlement, money laundering and multiple counts of fraud. He received 25 years in federal prison.

After an early release in 1995, Minkow became a pastor, established a fraud detection business, and became a best-selling author who donated his profits to the victims of his original scam. However, it was revealed in 2011 that he had embezzled millions of dollars from his church congregation and engaged in insider trading.

The new series features one of the first interviews with Minkow, who reflects on his life and crimes. But the team behind the project also wanted to make sure it heard from people who knew him intimately, for both good and bad. Minkow’s wife, his sister, the woman who helped kickstart his first downfall and a pastor at his old church are among the interview subjects featured in the series.

Sami Abdou and Jodi Flynn, both executive producers on King of the Con for The Content Group, spoke with Realscreen ahead of the series premiere to discuss working with a notoriously untrustworthy subject to center their series, and telling Minkow’s story for the first time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

This is one of the first interviews Minkow has participated in to discuss his life and crimes, how was he convinced to take part? 

SA: When Barry was first approached to do this project, I told him upfront that I wanted to put it all out there, scrape all of the mud off the shoe, if you will, and tell his story in the most complete way we can. I think Barry saw that as an opportunity to really put this story to bed once and for all.

How difficult was it to acquire the rights to Minkow’s story? 

JF: Sami had built a fantastic relationship with Barry that was a huge help in acquiring these rights. This really is the key when acquiring a personal story, con man or not. The subject must have a big level of trust with the producer and the company to get deals done.

What was working with Minkow like, and how difficult was it to ensure the authenticity of his story?

SA: Barry was actually very easy to work with, which, again, given his history, always made you have to question his intentions and the authenticity of his story. If something came too easy to us, we’d challenge, push and remind Barry that we were going to get to the bottom of things one way or another.

What kind of challenges do you face in constructing an objective documentary, when the subject of the doc is a notorious con man? 

SA: It’s no easy feat, that’s for sure. You constantly have to check the intentions of everyone you’re dealing with, but also your own to ensure you maintain a balanced perspective. And because he’s so polarizing, it’s easy to get complete opposite accounts of what happened. So you just constantly have to check sources, question authenticity and maintain a certain degree of distance to be safe.

What kind of advice would you offer to others in the non-fiction production industry about working on projects where the figure at the center of the story may not be trustworthy about their own story? 

JF: My advice is to always make sure you are protecting yourself and the project. You can do this by being honest with the subjects, setting realistic expectations from the outset and making sure shopping agreements are in place as soon as possible. It’s also important to have collaborative partners that trust your vision and instincts – we are very fortunate to have wonderful longtime true-crime partners at Discovery+.

How does King of the Con fit into your slate of projects, looking ahead to 2022? 

JF: After a successful 2021, the goal for TCG in 2022 is to continue growing our slate with exciting new genres and buyers. The subject and tone of King of the Con represents an evolving version of the crime series we have produced well for many years.

Exclusive clip:

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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