You may not recognize the name, but SallyAnn Salsano has made a deep impact on your life—unless you've never turned on a television. The 41-year-old from Long Island, N.Y. and her production company, 495 Productions, are responsible for gifting the world with Jersey Shore—only one of the most iconic reality shows ever made—and then following that up with Jersey's twanged-out cousin, Party Down South. But even before Salsano was making bread showcasing the wild lives of Coors Light-fueled twenty-somethings, she was the mind behind other memorable shows like Disaster Date and A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila. From fist-pumping to hair-pulling to beer-funneling, Salsano has been behind the scenes—your guide to guilty pleasure for years.
Now, with Party Down South bidding farewell after one more season (which starts tonight at 9 p.m. ET on CMT), Salsano is entering yet another phase of her career. Will this one have a man nicknamed "Daddy" drinking beer out of a cowboy boot? Maybe not. Will it have drama? Oh hell yes. Taking a break from a busy day at a conference in Miami, Salsano hopped on the phone with us to chat about Party Down South, building casts for these highly entertaining shows, and what's coming next.
How do you feel about Party Down South coming to an end?
Sometimes when you shoot a show it ends and you're like, "OK." Or you can see people running out of gas. In this scenario that's not the case. I think this season is one of our best seasons ever. The whole cast is single now. It's like, "No! We can't be done! How can this happen!?"
Has it been hard to top every season of Party Down South with the next? You've been setting the bar pretty high.
It kind of just happens. When you're doing a docuseries, unless you're totally faking it—which is not my style—it happens or it doesn't happen. In the case of this cast, the smartest person in the world couldn't predict what happens on this show. It's always crazy in the best possible sense. There's something to a Southern group of people with Southern values.
Are you more connected to this cast than casts of previous shows?
I think this cast, overall, is probably the most grateful group of people I’ve ever met in my life. I think that’s the Southern hospitality. I have to tell you, there is a little something to the Southern charm.
They do bring a certain chivalry to debauchery.
One hundred percent. They say, "Bless her heart," which is actually the nicest way ever to say, "Go fuck yourself."
What do you look for when you're casting a show like this?
You can't just put up a website and call it a casting. You have to delve in. I look for people that are authentic, real, and good. And honest.
Good in the sense of good-natured?
Yeah. They have to be a good person—they have to be redeeming. You don't go in going, "That's going to be my villain," or, "This person is a dirtbag." People don't want to see that—you need to have a story arc. That's the way it is in real life—sometimes you're the bad guy and sometimes you're the good guy.
So now what are you working on?
I love [my new show] Ex Isle. I think it’s actually really good in terms of what we all deal with and what we all go through, which is a breakup. Nothing is worse than a breakup, right? Now doing it on TV is not so much fun, but I may be like, "Andrew, I broke up with you and I don’t want to be with you anymore." That is until you kiss someone else, and then I’m like, "Wait a minute, that’s my bad." We all want to move on until the other person does. This show flaunts that entire system. It’s one of those shows that’s so interesting to watch because you’re like, "I was that person. Oh my god. I dated that person. Oh my god. That was my sister." You see that scenario happening time and time again.
Is it fun to have such a diverse set of shows? Ex Isle and Party Down South are pretty different from each other.
I think it’s great. We also do Blue Collar Millionaires, which is on CNBC. Then we have a new show coming out on Lifetime. But that’s how I watch TV. I’m just interested in good characters and good people. That’s how I roll. I feel like, if something interests me it is good. For me, working on CNBC was kind of a big deal. I respect the brand. I love it. Something like Blue Collar Millionaires—listen, my dad was a sanitation worker. He always said, "I don’t care what you do for a living, just love it." I was like, no one ever celebrates that guy. If that guy wins the lottery they will celebrate him because he spent a buck and it was a weird. But what about the guy who is like, "I may do X, Y, and Z for a living, and it may not sound like much to you, but I’m literally living the American Dream."
Your career is so interesting to me, because beyond Party Down South and Jersey Shore and what you're working on now, you also made A Shot at Love, which looking back, seems remarkably groundbreaking in how it featured and told the stories of queer people.
Agreed. But I will tell you that back in the day people were like, "Oh my god." It was almost salacious. Today, that is a show that could be back on TV. I feel like if we remade that show and put it back on MTV, it'd literally just be The Bachelor.
We should have a bisexual Bachelor. That would be awesome.
Why not? Like, that should be on MTV.
Do a lot of people come to you just trying to reproduce The Jersey Shore and Party Down South but for a different demographic?
Yes and no. Everybody wants the success, but not every network has the guts to double down in order to make it happen. And not only the guts, but you have to have the bandwidth. People can't believe how much VH1 put into [those shows] to make it happen. It's a big gamble, that's why you need to find a believer.
So say you do—in the future do you see yourself going down that Jersey Shore road again?
Why not? It works.