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MTV's Tony DiSanto defends 'Jersey Shore'

Tony_disanto Protests, punches, ads pulled, threats -- and the second episode hasn't even aired yet.

MTV programming president Tony DiSanto spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his headline-making new reality show "Jersey Shore." The series, which debuted last week, has sparked outrage from some Italian Americans for its cast of self-described "guidos." DiSanto started at MTV as an intern two decades ago, and his team is responsible for hits such as "The Hills" and "America's Best Dance Crew." Along the way he's seen the network navigate the occasional controversy. But has there been a wave of MTV criticism in recent years as big as the one hitting "Jersey Shore"?

THR: Did you think that "Jersey Shore" might cause some backlash?

DiSanto: To be 100% honest, no, even as an Italian American. I just wanted to be cautious about toning down the partying. It never crossed my mind this would be offensive. I don't look at these characters as representing an entire ethnic group. They refer to themselves as "guidos" sometimes, but it's more about the way they act, their behavior, what they're attracted to, their rituals. It's not about an entire ethnicity.

THR: So for those out there who are offended, what would you say to them?

DiSanto: Everybody is welcome to their own POV. It bums me out that some people are offended. The intention behind the show was to present an exciting group of big characters who were an interesting dynamic, having the summer of their lives, having very specific sort of rituals and vernacular. I thought it would play like a fun show with heart that also makes you laugh. I look at my job as having to deliver shows that hit at least one or two of the following categories -- entertain, engage and enlighten. And this nails the entertainment category.

THR: The use of the term "guidos" in the casting notice and trailer is a point of contention. Do you think "guido" is a derogatory term?

DiSanto: I understand that it is considered a derogatory term by certain people. I don't see it that way, since I don't think of "guido" to mean Italian Americans across the board. Not all these kids are fully Italian American; it's more about a specific character type. We actually did pull the word "guidos" from voiceover and descriptions of the show [due to the protests]. However, if they refer to themselves that way, we let that exist as is.

THR: One of the common criticisms is, "Well, if this were a castconsisting of people from certain other ethnic groups portrayed like this, there's no way MTV wouldhave done it."

DiSanto: It's a tough argument to get into because it boils down to the POV of the person making the argument. Again, I don't see this as an Italian American show; not all the cast members are fully Italian. Look at "Making the Band" -- it's a predominantly African American show, but it's not labeled as such.  

THR: Will any of this controversy change anything in the show moving forward -- in terms of content or presentation?

DiSanto: We stand by the show. We really think it delivers entertainment and balance. We're obviously sensitive to everybody's POV. That's why we made changes in the promo, but there's no intention to change anything in the show. I think that as more people check it out, they'll grow to love it more and more. Also, no show is for everybody and no show can be. If you try to make every show for everybody, you dilute the creative. If a particular person is offended, that's fine, watch something else, because MTV has a huge palate of other things to watch.

THR: What did you like about "Jersey Shore" when you were first pitched it?

DiSanto:This show was developed in a different way at a different network, andwhen 495 Productions brought the idea of doing the show that covered aspecific group of people at Jersey Shore, instead of going thecompetitive reality route -- the pulling-the-strings, formatted realityroute -- we wanted to take a hands-off approach in the vein of our"True Life" series that had two successful episodes set at the JerseyShore. We redeveloped "Jersey Shore," recast it, and went for it with a"let's observe and see what happens" approach. At a personal level, MTVis all about diversity and creativity and balance, and this brought adifferent type of character than you see on "The Hills" or "The City,"and that's part of what makes MTV fun. My intention is never to insult,stereotype or hurt. It was about capturing that sort of character andzeitgeist. I thought it would be a fun and entertaining show.

THR: A couple advertisers have bowed out. Are you concerned about that?

DiSanto: A couple have, but just like "Jersey Shore" may not be for every single viewer, it might not be for every advertiser, and we understand that. It's never a one-size-fits-all scenario. If one show doesn't sync up with what an advertiser wants, another show will. 

THR: Do you think all this attention will help or hurt the series in the ratings?

DiSanto: Some people say any attention is good attention. I don't know that that's necessarily true. What's going to help the ratings is to stay focused on making the episodes as great as they can be.