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Exclu: The most dramatic ratings success story of the year, MTV’s “Jersey Shore” concludes its Miami-set second season tonight. Love it or hate it, no one can deny that “Shore” is a smartly produced pop-culture phenomena. In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, co-creator and executive producer SallyAnn Salsano reveals that “Shore” will debut its third season sooner than you might think: The kids’ return to Seaside, N.J. will premiere Jan. 6. And with cameras rolling for 55 days for the third round (compared with the first season’s 40), Salsano assures us there’s plenty of fist-throwing and hook-ups to come.
THR: What’s it like to watch the ratings go up every week and beat broadcast shows?
Salsano: There is no better feeling than when you get the chance to make a show that you believe in, that is a gamble, and then have it pay off. And for me, this was the life I have lived. So when the show is getting all kinds of controversy, it was like, “What’s wrong? That’s how I was raised.” I’m an Italian girl from Long Island whose family worked in sanitation for the City of New York. Both my parents drive Cadillacs. I eat pasta every Sunday. It’s like, “Why is everyone so mad?”
What can viewers expect for the next cycle of Seaside episodes?
Salsano: All the relationships start taking a turn, some for the good, some for the bad. There’s plenty of drama. There are some new hook-ups both in the house and outside. The kids legitimately grow up and come into their own in front of your eyes. They’re still the same cast, but I think how they deal with situations is completely different.
Will Angelina be back?
Salsano: She is not back.
And Snooki’s friend Ryder?
Salsano: Ryder, for sure. What would a season be without Ryder visiting?
Did you add any cast members?
Salsano: Yes, Nicole (Snooki) brought one her best friends with her — Deena. She’s a good time. It was hard for her to come in because there was a pre-existing relationship between everyone. There was literally no shortage of drama.
And after Seaside, will they return to Miami?
Salsano: TBD. I can put those kids in a broken down barn and probably get very similar results. But the thing that worked for us in Miami is it’s a very similar culture to what they’re used to — the club scene, the restaurants and the beach scene. They used to go down there on their own during the winter, like all good, East Coast Italian men do.
“The Hills” got ridiculous because the cast seemed to exist in a world in which they were not famous. How do you handle that?
Salsano: We treat them like we did Season One. In fairness, they treat us the same. They’re grateful, they’re happy and they realize it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. If any one of them is like [cries a very Snooki-like “Waaa!”] — you know, giving me anything — I’m like, “Really? A year ago you were in your mother’s basement and I had to give you $4 for Gatorade and cigarettes.” So we all laugh and move on. What’s hard is the fans and paparazzi. That’s part of my job, to not interfere with the story. I can go in and clear a restaurant and stage it with people that aren’t going to bother them, but then that’s not reality. It just makes it a lot harder for us to keep somebody from coming up to them every 20 seconds, like, “Hey, can I take a picture?”
Does it make the show better or worse now that the cast has groupies instead of struggling for dates as in Season One?
Salsano: I would say they still have the same ratio of hook-ups to getting shot down. Some would say it might be harder because people are on to their shenanigans.
What’s the status of the Pauly D and Snooki spinoffs?
Salsano: We shoot with the kids all the time. We’re always constantly shooting with them in their lives. I don’t know if there is anything official.
What do you think of these other shows in development inspired by the “Jersey Shore” format?
Salsano: It comes down to the casting. If you have a great group of people, people will want to watch. There’s no telling what viewers are going to turn onto. I think it’s really your cast and how you tell your story.
Does it make things less real to have the cast incentivized to keep things dramatic?
Salsano: I don’t think they’re doing anything for the show’s sake. They aren’t saving it for me. I talk to them in between the show and there is all kinds of stuff that goes on when I’m not around. And I’m always like, “Uh, I wish I was rolling.” They just can’t shut it off. By the time I get them back, sometimes it’s like a whole lifetime has passed.
After the first season, you saved a devastating piece of video for the reunion special. Can fans expect the same this year?
Salsano: There is a never-ending supply of unbelievable Ronnie/Sammi footage. I always laugh at how “Big Brother” does “Big Brother: After Dark” where they roll 24/7. I’m a huge fan of that show [but] they don’t have anything on us. What I watch 24/7 would be … I can’t even tell you. You could watch it just raw.
What did you think of the “South Park” spoof?
Salsano: It completely felt surreal. I’m a huge fan of “South Park” and I was just watching the show going, “Is this really happening?” Where most people dream of an Emmy, for me I was like, “Shore” is on the cover on Star magazine and an episode of “South Park.” For me, there is no better. Emmy Shmemmy. Even Snooki was like — she gets the joke. She always takes it really well. She was like, “This is flattering … I mean, sort of.”
During salary renegotiations, you were quoted saying everybody on “Shore” is replaceable. Do you really believe that?
Salsano: No, I can’t replace these kids. They’re a special group and unique unto them. But there will be several incarnations of reality TV shows. This one stuck out and I say, “Buckle your seat belt and enjoy the ride and don’t take it for granted.” This is the advice I always give to them, and I take the same advice myself: “If everyone is out there drinking your Kool-Aid, that is awesome. The minute you have a sip, you are done. Just stay away from your own Kool-Aid.” Some of them are more receptive to that than others. There are so many opportunities they’re getting from being on the show. The longer the show Is on the air, the longer those opportunities will take place. So just keep the show on the air. I think sometimes that’s hard to know when you haven’t already seen it a million times in the industry.
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