Viacom-owned youth net MTV’s How Far Is Tattoo Far? premieres tonight (Oct. 11), bringing pairs of guests on to choose tattoo designs for each other — neither knowing what the other has chosen until it’s permanently inked on their body.
The series is produced by New York-based Big Fish Entertainment and is one of the first projects to premiere since the prodco was acquired by MGM in June.
Each episode sees pairs of guests, whether romantic partners, siblings or friends, who test their relationships by trusting in one another to choose their new ink, often as they work through some kind of shared conflict.
“The British version is an hour-long show,” says executive producer and Big Fish founder Dan Cesareo, in an interview with realscreen. “We adapted the format to a half-hour. We think it works better as a great, snackable format at a half-hour, versus the investment that a viewer needs to make to watch an hour-long show. Each episode is really jam packed with content and is in-your-face.”
The more condensed episodes are hosted by reality TV mainstay Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi (pictured) and actor/model Nico Tortorella.
“They were very much yin and yang,” says Cesareo, of the hosts. “Nico’s sober. Nicole likes to party. Nico is very off-the-cuff, emotions on his sleeve. Nicole has such a huge cult following and her remarks are sharp and cutting and hilarious. They really balance each other out.”
One of the big challenges in producing the series, beyond managing the hosts’ busy schedules, was handling the delicate subject matter in a way that invited participants to open up for the camera, says Cesareo.
“I would describe the show as intimate ink therapy. It’s two people coming on the show that are harboring a secret, or it’s the conversation they’ve never had, so there’s a lot of big personalities and big moments, and all those variables you need to manage,” he says.
Despite the sensational sounding premise, Cesareo is confident the series delivers something much more profound than wacky antics and regrettable ink.
“On its surface, it just sounds like people tattooing crazy things on each other,” he says. “But I think the thing that really impressed me and really surprised me is these duos, whether they’re brother/sister or girlfriend/boyfriend or fiances or best friends, they had some of the most honest conversations about real things, or issues, or things they were struggling with, or concerns they had for one another that they probably ever had in their lives.”
The duos end up tackling deep-rooted issues from sometimes wildly different angles and perspectives, addressing certain behaviors, memories or transgressions that have left their own lasting imprints.
Big Fish isn’t new to tattoo formats, and Cesareo sees How Far Is Tattoo Far? as a great compliment to series like the Black Ink Crew franchise and Tattoo Girls.
“Clearly unscripted shows about tattoos have drawn on a broad demographic over the years and have performed really well, because people come back and enjoy the quality of the storytelling and enjoy seeing the premium artwork,” he says. “I think where this format and this show really succeeds is it cuts through in such a loud way.
“It was amazing how many people we found that had these funny or crazy or incredible stories that they want to tell and didn’t mind sharing it through tattoos with a national audience.”
How Far Is Tattoo Far? is executive produced by Cesareo with Lucilla D’Agostino, Arthur Borman and Shelley Sinha for Big Fish Entertainment. Fernando Mills and John Varela are executive producers for MTV.
The series premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.