Money

07.20.10

Payday for the Jersey Shore Cast

After the extremely unlikely success of MTV's "guido" docusoap, the cast has cashed in on its outsized newfound fame—"Let's just say it's a situation," says the show's creator.

"I'll be honest, man, right here, this is just the beginning for me," said Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino. "I want it all. I want it all. Right now I'm one of the biggest names in the country and once I, you know, exhaust the options in reality, which could be another year or two maybe, maybe, maybe. If not, you know, then like I said, there's so many people calling for sitcoms, 'Will you have your own sitcom, we want you to do'—this is nothing crazy—but 'Can you do Dancing With the Stars?' I couldn't do that last year because I had a contract. And movies—and Fast and Furious's and meetings with studios."

"I do think—the kids who drink their own Kool-Aid—they'll be very thirsty very soon," said SallyAnn Salsano, the show’s creator.

The Season 2 Jersey Shore Trailer: Same Drama, Different Shore.

The Situation's show, Jersey Shore, a docusoap reality show about eight horny, oiled-up party animals that call themselves guidos, begins airing its second season—set entirely in Miami Beach—next Thursday at 10 p.m. The show is currently filming in New Jersey what was to be the ending of Season 2 but is now officially Season 3.

This distinction between seasons is where the recent, ugly labor unrest, pitting the cast against the show—which MTV announced Tuesday night has been resolved—began.

After the runaway success of Season 1—all of nine episodes, which premiered in December 2009—producers quickly reupped the original cast, at a rate of $10,000 an episode. While in the two-month isolation chamber of Season 2's shooting (no phones, no TV), they had been in contact with their growing teams of managers, agents, and lawyers. These were professionals who knew to take advantage of MTV's sudden recategorization of the current New Jersey shoot as Season 3. New contracts for everyone! The pros were prepared to do whatever—stuff like leak contract offers to TMZ, for instance—to get more cash for the stars.

The Situation, for instance, had hooked up with Mike Petolino, a casting director who went to Rutgers and does a lot of work for MTV and VH1, who is now his manager. The Situation had already been working with Michael Schweiger at CEG Talent, an outfit that represented at least 50% of the Jersey Shore cast at one point, and who took credit for the Season 2 bump in pay. (CEG also represents the likes of Obama Girl, Patti Stanger, and some Real Housewives.) Petolino was already busy setting up deals—like the just-announced Situation "lifestyle" book.

Both MTV and Jersey Shore's producers, 495 Productions, knew in early summer what was coming—this isn't their first time dealing with the newly famous, after all. But everyone who wasn't insanely hungover at the end of the Miami shoot, when these interviews were conducted, was a little antsy.

"It's a situation," said 495 honcho SallyAnn Salsano, the show's creator and executive producer. "Let's just say it's a situation."

"Right now everyone wants you," said Salsano of her cast, "everyone wants you to go to their nightclubs and everyone will take your calls. I just want you to think about who are the people who'll do that later on."

The cast of Jersey Shore, like pretty much every reality show cast before them, actually don't bargain collectively, so it's funny that TMZ declared there was a contract "strike" by the cast this past Sunday.

But, despite overlaps in representation, negotiations at the show aren't actually "collective" in any sense. "It's pretty much one on one," said Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio. "We all have agents now and managers and they all handle that. We don't come together as a group."

"I have like lawyers and agents and managers for when the contract is up or if there's any renewing. I don't even know," said The Situation.

"This stuff is all new to me," said Pauly. "I don't know the right way or wrong way to go about it. It's tough to trust people in this business. I like to think I got a good team of people now."

The shooting on Season 2 was about twice as long as that of Season 1. They were burnt-out, homesick, and apparently herpetic. Some blanched just thinking about another shooting cycle.

"I dunno," said Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. "I'm down for a couple more seasons. But my future goal is to get my own show. That's what I would love to have. Typically the dating shows—like 'Snooki for Love"! And a lot of my fans are begging for that. Hopefully I can set up that." Obviously, there will be a clothing line. And what else? "And trying to get whatever I can out of this—take advantage of it," she said.

And competition undermines collective action. In reality, someone always "wins" and someone just lose. "But I've done so good my first year, I can sit back and point out and make the right decisions," said The Situation.

They also know, in the immortal words of Showgirls, that "There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you."

"Hey, you know what I always hear people say? 'I'm the situation.' Hey, listen, you think you can do it better? Go ahead and try," The Situation said. "And in this business it's hard—roll up on a Leno, roll up on an Ellen, a Lopez—and kill them all? It's not easy to party, like party, like, very, very hard, look good 24/7, you know, lead a group of 7 or 8 people and cook for them?"

Adding to the inflated egos? It doesn't help that MTV made an offer this month to augment The Situation's last deal with some seriously enhanced pay, in the form of ratings bonuses for performance in the 12-to-34-year-old demo.

But even though they see it all around them, they still don't really believe they're replaceable.

SallyAnn Salsano really does know they're all replaceable. She'd get rid of them all in a second.

Salsano is one of the most fearsome people you could ever meet. She ended her romantic relationship, had a gastric bypass, tore up her life, and put elimination and dating reality shows on her company's side burner to make Jersey Shore, the docusoap she knew she could make.

Then Jersey Shore, which was originally meant for VH1 but got shuttled to sister-channel MTV, went gangbusters. Now she is a combination of mother, jailor, and lottery for her insane celebrity cast, while also casting, developing, shooting and editing other shows (the maybe-forthcoming Party Down South, as well as More to Love, Dance Your Ass Off, Tool Academy, and more).

In Miami Beach she had three flat screens in her room with feeds from the Jersey Shore house. There are four overlapping shooting crew shifts (and four craft services shifts too). There's constant video feed to the studio from every room in the cast house. There are seven minivans for crew and security and nearly 20 security staffers. They shoot four hundred hours for every hour of show. There are no set leaks because Salsano's company, 495 Productions, uses loyal staffers; she gave her current DP his first gig, she's worked with all the rest of them for years, she doesn't hire locals and the team speaks in code while shooting in public. They made Miami Beach itself into a set: her staff cleared at least 150 restaurants and other locations, so that when shooting began, the cast was handed a menu of bars and salons and stores—with pictures and price ranges included—where they could go with cameras in tow. Salsano is better organized than most presidential campaigns.

She's been dealing with reality show contestants for most of her career and it is clear that Jersey Shore is a star-making machine—not one dependent on the stars it makes.

"These people were well old enough to be living on their own and taking part in society but a lot of them were living at home and unemployed," she said, not without affection--she does very much like and relate to the cast, as a former Jersey-beach-house-hopping girl from Long Island. So she knows from experience to use the obvious metaphor of the real-life beach share house to describe how the show will progress in public over the seasons to come: at the end of every summer, everyone says they'll be back! But when the next summer comes, some just can't make it.

"I do think—the kids who drink their own Kool-Aid—they'll be very thirsty very soon," she said.

She's this blunt to their faces, obviously--and she does like them. ("S.A. is like my mom," Snooki said.) But she's also seen thousands of reality show performers come and go.

"Last year at this time, I had to give them four dollars for cigarettes and two dollars for Gatorade," she said. "You guys make more money today, but it's going away. Last summer you were belly-up to the bar. If you want to waste your money on bottle service, have at it. Be grateful, and make it last."

And they hear this from her enough that they sort of get it. "I'm making more money than I've ever made," said Snooki, "but I've told a million people before, if I make 3 million dollars, 4 million dollars... I'm not going to spend $600 on an outfit."

"I'm closer with some of their families than others, and you talk to their parents, some of their parents are really managing their money—like taking it away from them," Salsano said. "They're like, 'live a little--but more importantly, I want you to have a house.' One conversation I had with Snooki's dad–he'll call me and be like, 'Get her to call me, I got the credit card bill, it's only for emergencies.' In the end a lot of their parents really are helping them. I've had conversations with them: This is great, it doesn't happen all the time and it's not forever. And they're like, who wants a fancy car? I'm like, guys, knock it off. Get a safe car."

"I put it all away because I come from no money," said The Situation. "So you know like when you never had money and you get so much of it, you don't know what to do with it. So whatever, I buy some clothes here and there, but eventually for my birthday, to celebrate the last two years, I'll buy myself a really nice car.... I wanted to get a Ferrari but they told me that it's not practical to drive in like New York, New Jersey with a Ferrari. It's not. So they told me the better one would be like an Aston Martin or a like a Maserati. More practical."

So not everyone's quite getting the message. It's hard in the wind tunnel of fame and managers and fans and appearance fees.

"I go to Hollywood and get the red carpet treatment wherever I go," said The Situation. "You know I have like celebrities that I used to watch on TV that are calling me up to hang out, that are asking to take pictures with me.... I met Ashton Kutcher, Leo, you know, The Rock, on and on, I'm just like what up. These guys are like 'You're brilliant, America loves you, keep it going.' And these are some of the biggest celebrities in the world, telling me America loves me. And usually Hollywood doesn't like reality kids. And they pretty much welcomed me last year. And I got so much good press and good attention. Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, I remember The Rock, I remember I was hanging out with Leo one night, the whole night, he was so just so nice, like, 'Hey Mike, do you want to go here, do you want to go there?'"

And what about Salsano's own success?

"I didn't buy a new car," said Salsano. "I didn't buy a fancy house. I still live in the same place I lived in last year."

She does, however, wear an exquisite, enormous, absolutely blinding ring.

"I had it before the show!" she said.

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Choire Sicha is co-proprietor of The Awl and is at work on a nonfiction book for HarperStudio.