There’s something to be said for humble beginnings.
SallyAnn Salsano, the mastermind behind some of the most popular unscripted shows in the past decade – Jersey Shore, Party Down South and Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party – got her start in television working as an intern on the daytime talk show The Sally Jesse Raphael Show in New York City.
“Back in the day, there were so many talk shows, I think that’s when everyone became more interested in regular people, ” Salsano tells realscreen from Los Angeles.
After relocating to the City of Angels, Salsano went on to showrun various shows, including ABC’s smash dating competition series The Bachelor.
Since forming her own prodco, 495 Productions in 2007, Salsano has been a creative force behind dozens of shows across multiple networks, from Viceland’s The Untitled Action Bronson Show to a new dating show, Hear Me, Love Me, See Me premiering on TLC March 3. Her body of work has earned her multiple awards including being named on The Hollywood Reporter‘s “Reality TV: Most Powerful” list for three years in a row.
Here, Salsano chats with realscreen about the return of the cast of Jersey Shore in Jersey Shore: Family Vacation – which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its April 5 premiere on MTV – the current state of reality television and what motivates her to keep making unscripted TV.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has youth culture television evolved since Jersey Shore?
When we did Jersey Shore we would bring the kids in and [say]: “This is a confessional. You hit this button and you’re going to tell us your inner thoughts…”
When I came back and did Winter Break: Hunter Mountain and then Floribama Shore the kids were like: “Yeah, it’s like our own Snap[chat] stories. We go in there and talk shit about our lives and tell people our innermost thoughts.”
It’s almost like people are producing their own lives right now in such a crazy way… If you go back and check their profiles all that stuff is out there so getting to know [them] is much deeper.
Did this shift in how people present themselves make you change your approach to production and storytelling?
No, I think it effects casting more than anything. I think people are more comfortable in front of the camera. Even if it’s on their iPhone, they’ve had experience. In the casting process, you have to make sure you are getting to the heart of who the person is.
Why did you decide to bring Jersey Shore back?
I don’t think they [the cast] were done, but I think they were done at that time. They all started when they were so young and were like, “What’s next? What’s my life?”
When we stepped away everyone missed each other and the process. People tell me that about our shows. Some of the kids have gone onto different things – clearly. But they always say there is something different about how we do it.
People say the most important ingredient in making a great reality show is a cast – which is true, I can’t do it without a great cast. But I think trust is actually the ingredient you need the most. They have to trust that I’m going to tell a true story about their lives and what happened and I have to trust they are being completely open, honest and raw in any scenario. I believe without that it’s nothing.
What made you take the plunge to start your own production company in 2007?
To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily a plan, it just kind of happened and then I went with it. I was so young and I had no idea what I was getting into that it seemed like a great idea. The more info you have the scarier it is. The fact that I was young and not super-evolved at the start of it helped me focus on the creative. That is the thing I knew more than anything.
When the opportunity presented itself to join forces with FremantleMedia it was super appealing to me because at the end of the day I would rather have a job at the table that works for me sometimes.
We did one show then it worked and the next thing you knew, you were doing this, and now it’s 11 years later. It evolved into something bigger than I think I even knew was possible.
What do you think of the current state of reality television?
There was a little bit of a lull because everyone got nervous with all the platforms coming out. At the end of the day, you still need content. Everyone needs content. It’s harder to break through the clutter but networks are taking bigger chances.
What is driving you at this point in your career?
I don’t know. I just think I like making TV. I think that if you are in this business to just get a check you might get it and if that’s what you are after – fine.
But for me, it’s my life. I feel so lucky — I feel like there are so few people who get the opportunity to do what I’m doing and I don’t take that lightly.
Every show is a swing and you need a swing to get a hit.
People now say, “I could do this and put it on the Internet.” Yes, you can. I hope everyone can make it – but I think there is still a skill and art to it. Without getting too heavy, hard work makes a difference.