Pimping Out the Jersey Shore
Jersey Shore kids now command upward of $25,000 even to consider showing up at a Sweet 16 party. Anna David talks to the agents who set the prices for their appearances
• Central Entertainment Group, the booking agents for the male cast members of Jersey Shore, only considers offers that start at $25,000 ($30,000-$50,000 if it’s corporate)
• Pauly D doesn’t do personal appearances, just deejay gigs
• The agents limit Sweet 16 appearances to every six to eight weeks because “clubs will stop booking you if you’re a Sweet 16 person.”
• CEG denies being the source of the leaks to TMZ about the Jersey Shore contract negotiations.
• CEG’s Michael Schweiger says about Tila Tequila: “We never repped her—thank God. Now you couldn’t give her away.
“Before anything had aired and I just heard it was a show about guidos, I said ‘No way,’” says Sal Bonaventura, one half of Central Entertainment Group, the personal-appearance booking agency that now reps all the men of MTV’s Jersey Shore. Bonaventura—who is bedecked with tattoos and hails from Staten Island (with the accent to prove it)—revised his opinion once he met DJ Pauly D and “realized what a good kid he was.”
Bonaventura’s partner Michael Schweiger—a soft-spoken, balding, goateed Australian who went to acting school with Judi Dench and Mel Gibson—may joke that Bonaventura is probably a relative of Pauly’s since “all guidos are related,” but he’s clearly grateful that his partner is now so deeply entrenched in the Jersey Shore world that he’s actually earned the nickname of “Papa Guido” from TMZ.
The two are hardly new to the business, having booked nightclub appearances for nearly three decades. But whereas their work used to revolve around dance-music artists, the focus switched when club mentalities changed and reality-TV stars sprang up. “Our clients used to be 90 percent music people but now it’s 70 percent reality stars,” says Bonaventura, who joined forces with Schweiger in 2005 (they’d been “very cordial competitors” for years).
While the club appearances, Sweet 16 parties, and deejay gigs CEG books for the Jersey Shore men—Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Ronnie Magro, Vinny Guadagnino, and, of course, the aforementioned Paul "DJ Pauly D" DelVecchio—keep Bonaventura and Schweiger fairly busy, the company’s client list is full of plenty of other reality castmembers that also cater to the 18-to-24 year-old demo: Tool Academy guys, Bad Girls Club girls, and assorted Ray J ladies, as well as Shanna Moakler and Dave Navarro. But CEG doesn’t just focus on the club kids: Photos of Real Housewives clients Caroline Manzo (New Jersey) and Alex McCord (New York) are right there on the CEG site, although their images are nestled among so many decked in hair gel, saline, and silicone that you might miss them.
The aforementioned saline and silicone aren’t only decorating the bodies of the Bad Girls and Ray J candidates. Take away the Jersey Shore kids, in fact, and you could say that CEG’s business model is centered on lots and lots of lady skin. “That’s the mentality of the buyer,” Schweiger says during an interview in CEG’s Manhattan office, not sounding remotely defensive, before uttering a sentence that’s both a sure sign of our upcoming cultural apocalypse and all too true. “We’re in the American pop-culture business so it’s tits and ass that sells.”
Schweiger seems more resigned than cheerful about having cornered the T&A market, and good-naturedly mentions that his 15-year-old daughter told him that the company website looks like a “porn site.” Yet CEG’s only porn client is Sasha Grey, and both men are quick to point out that they don’t book her porn, that she’s a legitimate actress who’s going to be playing Vinnie Chase’s girlfriend on Entourage, and that they’re “converting” her into a deejay.
But all the ladies may be taking a bit of a backseat these days as offers for the GTL crew pile up. Some are as high as $50,000 (a figure Pauly D was offered—and turned down—to walk a bride down the aisle) and right now the company is only considering ones that start at $25,000 ($30,000-$50,000 if it’s corporate). Also: Pauly D doesn’t do personal appearances, just deejay gigs.
Though they started getting offers from the time the first promos for the show aired, “$2,000 was normal,” Schweiger says, adding that every Monday morning, they’d re-adjust their prices.
The Jersey Shore cast on Lopez Tonight
The deejay-gigs-only rule isn’t the sole strategy CEG employs. “We get a ton of Sweet 16 requests but only do them if it makes sense,” says Schweiger. The kind that make sense are when they’re for a celebrity’s kid (they decline to name names) or at least when it’s a “well-heeled person who wants to spend the right kind of money.” But these jobs are limited to every six to eight weeks because “clubs will stop booking you if you’re a Sweet 16 person.”
It’s not only Sweet 16 offers that are getting nixed right now: As much as possible is being put off until Season 2 starts airing on Thursday and demand increases, thereby upping the numbers. Calls are starting to come in from Ireland, England, Spain, and South America, but no deals have been signed yet since the international crowd is only just now seeing the first season.
Still, the CEG guys admit that they were as surprised as everyone else when Jersey Shore launched into the stratosphere late last year. Though they started getting offers from the time the first promos for the show aired, “$2,000 was normal,” Schweiger says, adding that every Monday morning, they’d re-adjust their prices.
Since then, there have been Reebok and Vitaminwater ads among many other ventures, but as of yet, no big endorsement deals because it has to be something that sits right with the kids. They talk of different hair gel and tanning-product deals that have been in the works, the “Shoot a Guido” Pauly head that’s a game on the Seaside Heights boardwalk, bobble heads, a GTL book, even an iPhone application that tells you the closest gym, tanning salon, and laundry. While there aren’t any official product-placement deals in place, a steady stream of watches, sunglasses, and clothes are sent to the CEG offices (the kids wear some of it and ignore the rest, or give things away to their friends).
The Situation's Vitaminwater Ad
Although the CEG team advises the kids on all their business dealings, they were not, as the Hollywood Reporter wrote, the ones who told them all to stick together to negotiate their salaries for Season 2—and thus aren’t responsible for the fact that the cast members are now netting $10,000 an episode, $5,000 more than the original offer. “We talk to them all the time, tell them to discuss negotiations with their various representatives and to make their decisions together,” Schweiger says, “but the Reporter story was inaccurate.”
The fact that there have been so many leaks about the various negotiations—including a document sent to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino that offered him a $60,000-$180,000 bonus for Season 2 (the range is ratings dependent), and $27,500 to $45,000 per episode for a potential fourth season of the show (again, ratings dependent)—leaves CEG a bit defensive. “You have to remember that these guys are very green in the business,” Bonaventura says. “If TMZ calls someone they know and says, ‘Tell us something for $500,’ that might be the first $500 that kid’s going to make. You think we’re going to sell out for that?” And Schweiger speaks of the many people involved in these sorts of deals—the agents, managers, and lawyers the cast all now have, the crew, even copy companies who could have access to those papers. “It would be in our worst interest to leak anything,” he says.
For all that they’re green, the Jersey Shore cast is, both men say, savvy and intelligent. “They know how to manipulate the situation,” Schweiger says, and it’s clear that he means this as a compliment. And why shouldn’t he? Their business is built, after all, on manipulating people into paying as much as possible while the iron is hot. “The shows have a very short shelf life,” he says.
The main interest of CEG, then, is to rack up as much as can be made for the Jersey Shore crew while people still want to pay for their services. After that—well, then, it’s safe to assume CEG will be on to the next. “The reps for these people disappear as soon as the show is off the air,” says a talent agent. “They have no interest in developing sustaining careers for their clients and are just trying to squeeze as much as possible out of 15 minutes.”
Or, as Schweiger says about the once-popular Tila Tequila, “When dating shows were at their peak, she was it, but we never repped her—thank God. Now you couldn’t give her away.”
Anna David is the author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and has written for The New York Times, Playboy, Details, Cosmo, and Redbook, among other publications. Her most recent book, Reality Matters , is an anthology of essays that she edited about reality shows.