Ralph Macchio takes a cue from his kids when it comes to eco-awareness. "I always feel that I should be more conscious and I try to throw that on my kids. But they're taught [in school] to care about the planet. It's in their consciousness now, where we were just self-entitled." The actor and Season 12 "Dancing with the Stars" alum has gone behind the camera for his latest project, executive producing "American Gypsies" for National Geographic Channel. Premiering July 17, the reality series revolves around the Johns, a prominent New York City family and their customs and culture.

 

Macchio had seen footage of a documentary that a friend's son, a film student, was working on about the Johns, and he "was fascinated by the fact that the subculture existed." He and producer Steve Cantor had been developing projects together, and both agreed that the story needed to be told. "Storytelling is storytelling, whether you're producing, directing or writing," he says. "I was fascinated and compelled by it and the fact that it's in New York.

 

"It's an untapped culture. This family is at the point where they want to preserve their culture yet embrace the American dream of the younger generation. Their father, who is ailing and knows the years are waning, does not want this culture to be lost. The sense of family for them is paramount, the respect for elders and family, and that foundation is really what's a very rich part of the show," he adds. "I don't agree with all their cultures and customs necessarily, but you don't need to do that to be passionate about telling a story, and this show will hopefully educate and entertain. They really want to be recognized as a minority, not as the stereotype we know them as with the curses and scamming and all the other stuff. It's tradition and customs versus the American dream and we're capturing that."

 

Although Macchio, who appeared in the season finale of "Happily Divorced," will star in the Lifetime Movie Network "Holiday Spin" in November, and is in the cast of the Alfred Hitchcock bio starring Anthony Hopkins due out next year, says that "acting is home" for him, he enjoys producing and would like to write and direct films. He has fond memories of his time on "Dancing with the Stars," even though he still can't understand why he didn't make it to the finals. "It provides a platform like none other, and I'm so thrilled I did it," says Macchio, who has remained good friends with pro partner Karina Smirnoff. "We had such a good bond, like a brother and sister. She pushed me further than I thought I could go. We inspired each other," he says. No word yet on whether he'll be in the cast of the Season 15 all-star edition this fall.

 

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Tune in: renowned wildlife filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert follow a young feline's coming of age in the Nat Geo Wild Big Cat Special "The Unlikely Leopard," narrated by Jeremy Irons and airing July 15. Wild's three-part special "Freaks & Creeps with Lucy Cooke" kicks of July 17 with a trip to Tasmania to explore odd wildlife like the duckbill platypus, the echidna, and the Tasmanian devil, whose populations are declining due to a contagious cancer. Subsequent episodes take Cooke to Borneo in search of proboscis monkeys, flying frogs and dung beetles, and to Africa to find Cape vultures, dragon-like sungazer girdled lizards, ground pangolins and chacma baboons.

 

Photos courtesy NatGeo Wild

 

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