Whether she’s at the Jersey Shore or having a Party Down South, reality show producer SallyAnn Salsano has her finger on the pulse of the reality TV viewer. As president of 495 Productions, Salsano has produced some of the most-watched and discussed reality series on cable in recent years, including MTV’s 2009 hit Jersey Shore, which for six seasons was the network’s most watched show and spawned several Salsano-produced spinoffs, including Snooki & JWOWW and The Show With Vinny. Most recently, Salsano has produced CMT’s most watched series ever, Party Down South, which last Thursday (Jan. 28) launched its fifth and final season. Salsano spoke about her thriving production company as well as the reality category at large with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
MCN: This must be a bittersweet week for you with the launch of the final season of CMT’s Party Down South. Did you think the show would become the big hit that it did?
SallyAnn Salsano: I would say that I’m excited. It’s great to go out on top as the No. 1 show on the channel. On the flip side, I think the party is still going to go on. These kids have so much life left in them — this particular cast is just warming up.
MCN: You’ve carved out a niche in the reality genre with shows like Party Down South and Jersey Shore. What’s behind the appeal of these shows?
SAS: I think sometimes people underestimate how much people like to see other people in situations that they’re in. Sure, maybe these are heightened situations, but if you think back to any one of our lives, we’ve all done a lot of the stuff these people have done — just not on television.
I think the shows are really a modern-day after-school special. When I was a kid, I used to run home to watch those specials and say, “Oh no, Johnny broke up with his girlfriend because he cheated and here’s what happened.” Looking back at them now, they feel a little preachy, whereas with these [reality] shows, it’s a way to get a real sense of what’s happening without someone being judgey or feeling like you’re being talked down to.
MCN: A number of Jersey Shore alumni have gone on to do other projects. When you look at producing a show, are the characters more important to the show’s success than the situations they’re put in?
SAS: I think it’s the characters for sure, then it’s the environment you create for them. I think the success comes from the group, and they become super successful because they feed off of each other. It’s so real-life, and real-life situations — you can do a show like this 500 times as long as you have a different cast. You’re going to get different stories and different things that appeal to different age groups.
MCN: Industry observers are calling this period the Golden Age of Television because of all the quality scripted series offered across multiple platforms. Can the same be said about the reality category?
SAS: I think it’s all an ebb and flow. I think the success of shows like Empire made everyone say, “Oh my God,” and flip to that side. In the end it all balances out, and I honestly think that there’s enough room for all of us.
On the flip side, the only people that talk about scripted vs. reality shows are people that work in the business. If you ask the average person what are your favorite TV shows, they’re not like, “In scripted I watch this and in reality I watch that.” They just say their favorite TV shows. It doesn’t matter to them. It’s still casting, it’s still editing — its just a different way of doing it.
MCN: So what’s next for 495 Productions?
SAS: We have [WE tv’s] Ex-Isle up now, and I love it because a lot of people in their lives are in a relationship with someone, but then you break up but you kind of keep them on the back burner as your backup plan. But sometimes that backup plan does not allow you to get on with your life. It’s the modernday booty call — when the need calls, they just call their ex. This is a show where we get people together to say, look how wrong you are for each other … why are you torturing each other?
We’re also in production on a new season of Blue Collar Millionaires on CNBC and we have a new show on Lifetime (The Mother/ Daughter Experiment: Celebrity Edition, premiering March 1).