Reality TV execs: It's all about the casting
With reality TV becoming increasingly competitive, if you're lucky enough to cast Snooki on one of your shows you need to be prepared to cough up some serious change to get her locked in for more seasons, former MTV programming president Tony DiSanto acknowledged during a reality-TV conference in Washington, while Hollywood talent agents in the room licked their lips.
"Casting" is the new "format," according to DiSanto and the other panelists on the "Let's Make a Talent Deal" panel, who were all in agreement in re how crucial "multi-dimensional" cast members have become to the success of the docu-soap genre that's super-hot these days.
"Casting in reality shows is akin to screenwriting in films," said DiSanto, said during the panel, at the RealScreen Summit. "There are kids living on the Jersey Shore and in Laguna Beach, but it's almost meaningless if the cast isn't multi-dimensional."
Speaking of MTV's once-popular reality series "Laguna Beach," which tracked the daily love triangles and drama of wealthy high schoolers in southern California, DiSanto acknowledged the franchise went toes up in the fourth season. That's because the original stars graduated high school and headed for their own spin-offs, such as "The Hills," so MTV set up an entirely new cast.
The result? Ratings death.
"They were a great group, but for various reasons, just didn't work as reality TV stars," DiSanto said, adding, the "execution [of a show] can be awesome, but if the cast is not stellar, it's not going to work out."
MTV did not repeat the mistake when the "Jersey Shore" cast came looking for a salary bump after the show became a hit. They're now each making a reported $30,000 per episode.
MTV suits having worked, as DiSanto said, "really hard" not to re-cast "Jersey Shore," it's had only had minor casting bumps: Angelina left in the middle of Season 1, came back for Season 2, and then left again, replaced by Snooki's far more entertaining friend Deena in Season 3.
Also weighing in on the panel was Kelly Cutrone, a familiar face for fans of "The Hills" and MTV's "The City." She's the no-nonsense expletive-dropping boss of a fashion PR firm who refused to care about the daily drama of her interns/employees/cast members.
Cutrone loves, loves, loves MTV because, she explained, early on she had to trust network suits not to make her next week's storyline roadkill, or, as she put it, "Is the Wizard going to kill you on The Yellow Brick Road tomorrow?"
Instead, she said, they treated her like a long-term franchise they could grow and nurture -- a hothouse flower. Now, Cutrone says, she's also blossomed into a correspondent on Dr. Phil's show, and has a syndicated talk show in the works. But back in the day when she was a budding reality-TV star, "every day I felt really safe...I have a multi-million-dollar business on the line."
Cutrone, the sage of the panel, talked about having a conversation with MTV suits when "Jersey Shore" broke out and the press got all knicker-knotted about them using words like "Guido."
"There was a lot of uproar..you really went to bat for that show when the media was all, 'this is not ok'," she reminded DiSanto.
"That is another really good example of how executives and talent work together," she explained to attendees.
Cutrone does, however, seem to think the whole docu-soap fame-seeking thing is getting out of hand.
"I'm not going to... punch someone in the face," she said (You know, like "Jersey Shore" cast member Sammi did to castmate Ronnie on last week's episode).
"They're controlling everyone on the Internet...everyone else is being called into action through other people's anonymity," she scoffed disdainfully.
"It's a very fine line between entertainment and debauchery," Cutrone summed up.
Lisa de Moraes
| February 2, 2011; 6:01 PM ET
Categories: TV News
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