'Jersey Shore' Boss: The MTV Hit 'Is the Best and Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me' (Q&A)

SallyAnn Salsano dishes on her new TV Guide Network series, "Nail Files."
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
"Nail Files" Creator SallyAnn Salsano

Jersey Shore producer SallyAnn Salsano has shifted her focus from the night club to the nail salon with her latest entry, Nail Files. The reality series, which centers on Hollywood nail salon owen Katie Cazorla, premiered Tuesday to 1.1 million viewers, TV Guide Network's highest-rated original series premiere in the cable net's history.

On the phone from Italy, where she's shooting Shore, Salsano reveals the key ingredient to a hit show, the show she wishes was hers and why Jersey Shore has been a blessing and a curse.

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THR: What makes a great reality show?

Salsano: To me, it's all about characters. It almost doesn't matter where the show as set, as long as you have interesting people doing interesting things. Look at some of the shows that have popped, like Rachel Zoe's show [on Bravo]. She would've been great if she were opening a restaurant. Now, personally, I'm partial to a mani-pedi -- I happen to love them. [laughs]

THR: What's makes a great character in a crowded landscape filled with larger than life characters?

Salsano: I think a big part of it is just straight up honesty, not apologizing for what you're doing. I think that's the most important thing in a reality show.

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THR: As the genre has exploded, how has the casting process changed?

Salsano: I think it's all different types of people now. I mean, if you would have said, like, 'Kelsey Grammer's wife is going to be on a Bravo show about rich people,' I probably would have said, 'No, thank you.' I think it's always set up like, 'Is reality here to stay?' I think that's such an industry thing. I don't think the viewer cares whether it's scripted or reality. They're watching CSIGrey's Anatomy, Jersey Shore or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition because they like the shows. I don't think the viewer is saying, 'I prefer a scripted show versus a reality show.' I just think its, 'I like this show.'

THR: On some level, you have a lot more freedom in reality. Perhaps ironically, your characters and stories can go to places that scripted fare cannot because it would seem unbelievable...

Salsano: Right. With most scripted characters, the writers are somehow pulling from someone that they know or a real life scenario. You have to. You have to be able to write about what you know -- something that you're curious about or someone that you've met. But then you're putting what you think that person would do on paper and crafting the perfect arc. Guess what? Life is not perfect, and that's why in a scripted show, you'll be like, 'Oh my god, that feels so far-fetched. How did they get there? That's so weird.' On a reality show, it's the opposite. You're like, 'Can you believe she did that?' There are plenty of times where if you ask me what's going to happen, I'll tell you one thing and then the complete opposite will happen. That's how you know it's good.

THR: With Nail Files, why was the TV Guide Channel the right choice?

Salsano: Here's the thing: I've been the big show on a little network before, and I've got to tell you it's kind of fun. You're really a part of it and you take ownership in it. We all have so much to lose or gain by it. For them, they're taking a big swing, and for me that's very exciting.  

THR: What kind of pressure is on you?  

Salsano: Listen, I'm always my own worst enemy. I'm like, 'Every show's my last.' I'm a lunatic, but that's my own issue. If I had time, I'd spend it in therapy, let's be honest. But I don't, so I'll remain crazy. But the truth is, you want it to be good for them, TV Guide. Because a lot of times as a producer you put so much into your shows and when you see the network putting stuff into it too, it gets exciting.   

THR: Every show that you'll put out for the foreseeable future will say 'From the producer of hit Jersey Shore.' How much more pressure is that?  

Salsano: I always say, 'Jersey Shore is the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me rolled up in one. Look, it's so exciting, and if you asked me to trade it, 'I'd say, not happening, not interested in that conversation.' But you put so much pressure on yourself, like, 'What's next? What's next? What's next?' You feel that, even if other people don't. And if we all knew what show was going be the big hit, we'd make only hits.

THR: What show out there is one you wish was yours but isn't?  

Salsano: I love Sister Wives. It's not even healthy how much I love that show. I'm watching Mob Wives like crazy, and I've always loved Bad Girls Club. Really, I'm such a fan of reality TV. You'll hear a lot of reality TV producers who are like, 'I only really watch it for research.' I'm not that girl. If I didn't have to go to work, I would be at home watching reality TV all day. On the cable channels, I could catch re-runs all day, every day -- and of everything. Doesn't that sound like such a good life? 

THR: What's the biggest challenge facing the genre?

Salsano: I would say the biggest challenge is always what's next? It's about paying enough attention to all of your shows, and then trying to figure out what's next. And unscripted moves at such a rapid pace. 

THR: What differentiates Nail Files from the abundance of other reality show's out there?  

Salsano: I think it's Katie. She's real and raw, and I think that she will tap into a lot of women watching at home. She is an every woman who comes from a regular working class family who had a dream and was just like, 'Screw it, I'm going to try it.' It does not go smoothly all the time. The truth is a lot of these shows are about people who are already established. They're like, "Look at this fancy business I run. Look at how great it is." This is more about a woman trying to do it. Will she succeed? We're still not sure. It's looking good, but she's still got to figure out the simple things about running a business. She's not a business person; she went to nail school. But now she's trying to do both. Does she pay her bills? Well, not always. And it's a problem when you're trying to do a manicure with no light. But she has all the pretty polishes. It's kind of similar, I would say, to [my production company] 495 when we started. I remember being like, 'I knew how to produce TV, but I may have signed a lease for far too long and did some other stuff like that because I didn't know how to run a business but I could produce a great TV show.'  

THR: What lessons from your previous shows where you able to apply here?

Salsano: I would say first and foremost, you have to trust your gut. As a producer, the only thing you have is an opinion --and if you don't trust your own opinion, then everything becomes vanilla. And the other thing is, for me, I always say this to my producers, 'If you're not sure what to do, just ask me.' I'm not smarter and it's not that I know better, but I've probably already made that mistake. As far as TV goes, a lot of it is just troubleshooting and dealing with problems and issues that come up. And the longer you've been doing it, the more you've dealt with so many of the issues before. So that's the message for the younger kids coming up: don't be afraid to say, 'I don't know,' because that's the smartest thing you can say.