Does a roundtable with Kathy Griffin and Dr. Drew even need a moderator? We prepared tons of questions for this year’s reality group but barely asked any of them, as the panel was busy quizzing each other about drug testing and offering candid admissions.
The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the toughest part of your job?
Kathy Griffin: It’s a lot of being “on.” When I do a show at (Madison Square) Garden or at Universal, it’s a two-hour show. But on “My Life on the D-List,” it’s 12 hours a day of being “on” — because if I’m not “on,” there’s no scene. I don’t have the luxury to be like, “Hmm, what should I say?” I’ve got to be bringing it all the time.
Drew Pinsky: The part that pops into my mind is the fighting I have to do to protect the patients that go on a reality television show. I have to fight to protect that their care is good and that nothing happens to them. Because television doesn’t care about anything except getting eyes. Which is great and I understand that, and I have to capitulate to that because nobody learns anything if nobody watches. But I’m the one that’s responsible to make sure that people get good care.
Randy Jackson: People say it all the time, especially on “Idol”: “Oh, Simon doesn’t really care about the contestants.” But actually, we really do care. We have souls? What a concept!
SallyAnn Salsano: I do a lot of crazy shows, but every single cast member and their family has my direct cell phone. When someone has a particularly difficult episode (about to air), I always call and say, “This is what’s coming up; you know what happened that night. It’s going down just like it did. I probably wouldn’t watch this episode with your grandmother.”
Jackson: So you care about Snooki?
Salsano: I do care about Snooki! You can look at my cell phone right now. I’ve got Papa Snooki, Mama Snooki. All of them.
Griffin: Do you live in the house during taping?
Salsano: With “Tool Academy,” I actually enroll. I live 35 days on the set with the kids. On “Jersey Shore,” right now I live with the kids on-site. I leave four hours a day, so I work 20-hour days, seven days a week. And in my room, because I’m sort of psychotic, I have three flat screens. I have a 12-camera feed and a touch pad for everyone’s mikes.
Jackson: Wow, there was a movie about this. (Laughs.)
Salsano: Some might call me a stalker.
Griffin: What’s the budget on that show? (Silence)
Craig Piligian: What’s the budget on “D-List”?
Griffin: The budget on “D-List” is $300,000 an episode and we try everything to stretch it. We don’t have a video village with monitors. We have my house and two dudes with a camcorder. I want to get on your show. That sounds great.
Salsano: I’m working 24 hours a day and I’m running a company.
Pinsky: Hearing $300,000 an episode, sounds like “Oh my God!” But it goes fast.
Salsano: You got to make it stretch.
Piligian: Because we do so much volume, it’s so different. We go from “Ultimate Fighting” to wedding shows to “Dirty Jobs” to “American Chopper.” So at any one point we’re doing many different things. (The challenge is) managing the expectations of the talent.
Salsano: And the buyer. When they give you 300, they’re gettin’ 300!
Piligian: It’s juggling. And I can’t live like you do. I can’t live with the “Ultimate Fighting” guys, nor would I want to. Nor do I want to live with brides getting married!
Salsano: See, I love that.
Phil Keoghan: When you go on “Race,” it’s the same kind of thing: We’re living with it 24 hours a day. When you’re at a pit stop for 19 hours in Poland and the first team has arrived and already left and we’re still waiting for the last team, all the logistics are thrown out the window. I come back and people see me and say, “Phil, you look like crap.” I lose 12 pounds each season.
Salsano: I’ll go on that diet!
Piligian: I did the first three seasons of “Survivor” and that’s what we did. We lived on location — for (the) first season it was almost four months.
Pinsky: This is what’s interesting about this conversation: You’re serving different gods. I’ve heard at least three different motivational priorities that each of us spontaneously started talking about without even realizing it. We started with the participants; we want them to do well, we want to have a good experience. And then all of a sudden we started talking about the buyers. Then we started talking about the audience, then our production schedule. These are gods that have to get served because everyone signs up to do a television show. So the reality is, you do live a schizophrenic life and it’s dishonest to say otherwise.
Piligian: The other thing is, I make people’s businesses. I build brands; UFC gave me a billion-dollar business to manage.
Pinsky: That’s another god you’re serving.
Piligian: We partner with businesses and we can’t screw that up.
Jackson: It’s all sort of brand building, because even if it’s Snooki — Snooki is now a brand.
Salsano: The Situation is a brand.
THR: SallyAnn, you might be very close to the cast, but ultimately if Snooki is about to get punched in the face, you don’t step in and stop it before it happens.
Salsano: Well, aside from Trina (on “Tool Academy”), who is a real therapist, I also have on all of my shows — and a lot of producers don’t do this — I have a full-time therapist that works for my production company.
Griffin: Your shows have therapists? Are you s***ting me? I’m doing this all wrong. (Laughs.)
Salsano: I do it for all my shows.
Jackson: You have to have it, because you deal with people where this is not the world that they come from. They don’t understand.
Salsano: And when they’re eliminated, you can’t just be like, “Hey thanks for playing.”
Keoghan: It depends on the experience they go through.
Griffin: Do you guys have it on “Race”?
Keoghan: At the beginning, we have an evaluation of everyone that comes on the race. But you also have to look at what the experience is like for the person. We don’t have people who go through the race who come out saying, “Man, I wish I hadn’t done that, I hated that experience.”
Griffin: Do you have a physician?
Keoghan: Yes, we have medical staff, they go everywhere.
Salsano: I did so many seasons of “The Bachelor” — like eight of those. Those girls just don’t want to leave. They feel like, “Oh my God, I thought I had him.”
Jackson: What you’re really trying to do is offset what those feelings are so that they can go back into normal life. Because what we’re giving them is a heightened sense of reality.
Keoghan: It’s manufactured reality.
Griffin: Because mine is comedically driven — unlike where someone wins or someone gets therapy — my goal is always to bring the funny, no matter what. But my situation is unique, because when I do my semi-serious episodes, I can’t get people to go on camera. We just did one in (Washington) D.C. to help repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I was fortunate to get majority whip Jim Clayburn to go on camera, (Democratic congressman) Barney Frank (to say) what it’s like to be openly gay, etc. And then I got some of my friends in the media to get me into off-camera events. Because our show is so little and so ghetto, we can barely clear —
Salsano: With all your “ghetto” Emmys! (Laughs.)
Griffin: When I watch “Race” — you know, we have never been cleared to fly on a plane. In six seasons, no airline has ever said, “Sure.” We can’t clear s*** on my show. So I’m always doing the stuff off-camera. We did a spoof on Thank God It’s Friday’s (commercials), and the day before, (Friday’s) pulled out. So we’re dressing some bar somewhere that’s nameless. A big part of it is getting people to sign off on trusting that the show’s going to be funny.
Salsano: It’s hard for us, too. Part of it is, people don’t realize what goes into the preproduction. Like casting: No cast ever goes on my show unless I personally do an interview. I interview every person.
Pinsky: Let me just say, the psych testing that is done routinely on reality TV is worthless. They are worthless. They’re good tests, done by good people, but we don’t even know what we need to measure to put people on a reality show.
Salsano: I actually find it helpful.
Pinsky: From a medical standpoint: worthless. I got a profile of (“Rehab”participant) Steven Adler and they’re like, “You cannot deal with this man, it’s impossible, he’s going to kill himself.” But I’ve already got him at the hospital, he’s my patient, what are you talking about? I take care of him everyday. It’s not a problem. Give me something useful about what’s likely to happen with cameras (around). But no one knows.
Griffin: I’m curious, on your shows do you guys drug test?
Jackson: I think everyone does.
Salsano: I do a full medical but I also do a lot of STD stuff.
Pinsky: The network requires me to do stuff with my patients that has no relevance to anything. Like everyone on the set has to take (herpes medication) Valtrex.
Salsano: We hand it out like M&Ms! “Hey kids, it’s time for Valtrex!” It’s like a herpes nest. They’re all in there mixing it up.
THR: What’s your reaction when people criticize your shows as being exploitive?
Salsano: I got a lot of heat when “Jersey Shore” came out. All the papers were pissy. But you know what? You can be as mad as you want. I was raised on Long Island, my dad is a sanitation worker, he drives a triple black Cadillac. Right now he’s sitting in his recliner chair with a Yankees symbol. Those are my people! So they’re like, “You’re being a racist.” I’m like, “F*** you guys, this is my life. I went to the Jersey shore. You know, I was Snooki. I made a ton of mistakes and got my ass kicked in a bar.” It is what it is.
Griffin: F*** them. “Jersey Shore” is great.
Salsano: If you think about it, you can (criticize) any show. If you look at TLC, why do they do all these shows about little people?
Griffin: Because I want to know that they can do chocolatiering. (Laughs.) Like I’m not gonna watch “Little Chocolatiers”? Are you s***ting me? I like “Your Kid Ate What?” (TLC). That’s a show.
Salsano: I like “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” (Discovery Health). They go and pee and then they have a kid. How does that feel? “I think I have to pee. Oh no, I have a kid.”
THR: We know why people go on the competition shows. But why do people go on “Jersey Shore.” Is it still just to get a little taste of fame?
Salsano: I really believe, in their minds they think they have a point of view that hasn’t been seen or shared.
Keoghan: Do you really think that’s what is? Or do they just like the idea of being on TV?
Salsano: It’s a combination. They think they are that fun to watch. When I call up The Situation and I’m like, “How are you?” He’s like, “How am I? Better than I was yesterday!”
Pinsky: That’s what they want.
Jackson: Everyone goes on, at least in part, because they want to be rich and famous. Face it.
Salsano: Of course. These kids think it’s going to last forever. But you never know what show is going to hit. Last summer, when I was roaming around the Jersey shore with these kids, they were like, “Do you think anyone’s going to watch this?” And I was like, “You guys have no idea.” I was in the control room (saying) “This is s***-house crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it as a producer.” But they didn’t expect how crazy it got. Nor did I, nor did the network.
Griffin: Have you had experiences where people see the episode and call you, upset?
Salsano: No, because I pre-call. But have you guys gotten the “I was edited to look a certain way?”
All: Oh yeah.
Jackson: Delusion is the heart and soul of reality TV.
Griffin: I think my show edits me to be nicer.
Salsano: I believe people learn more about who they are, character-wise — not from doing the show, but from watching the show when it airs. I can talk to someone until they’re blue in the face — “Dude, it didn’t happen that way” — and I’m like “Really?” And then they see it and they’re like, “Oh my God, I never saw myself behaving that way.”
Keoghan: But does it alter the behavior?
Salsano: Yes, it does.
Pinsky: No, it doesn’t. That’s been studied. If all you do is videotape people and then show them the videos and that changes their behavior, then that’s what (doctors) like me would do. It doesn’t sustain change.
Keoghan: It maybe changes their aspirations. Maybe at the beginning there was self doubt. “I don’t know if anyone’s going to care about this or watch this.” And then all of a sudden they’re all over the news. Surely now they’ve got a sense of, “Hey, people like me, they like what I do, they like what I say.”
Pinsky: Yeah, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Keoghan: I’m not saying it’s a good thing; I’m saying it definitely changes their mind.
Salsano: But it’s also part of our job. I still talk to my kids. Any season of any of the shows that I do, if they call me three seasons later and say, “Hey, it’s so-and-so,” I know. They call my cell. I genuinely stay in touch with them.
THR: Do you feel responsible for them?
Salsano: I do feel responsible. They’re not going to leave me any worse than they came in. I’m not going to cure them, but they’re certainly not going to be any worse when I’m done with them.
Pinsky: That’s probably true.
Griffin: Drew’s shows are unique in that people come on knowing they’re in a dark place. Do you think, during the process, their expectation is to come out looking better?
Pinsky: Some of them want treatment, most of them don’t. They need money, bad, and they’d like to get back out there and get going again. They are just desperate for some last resort. They do want to get back in the limelight, they do want t