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The state of reality TV

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 12:00am

Every year the brains behind your favorite reality TV shows flock to Santa Monica, California, to talk shop and honor the best in nonfiction TV.

This year's Realscreen West: The Factual Entertainment Forum took place recently over two days; reality TV darling Kim Kardashian was awarded the Hall of Fame Personality of the Year award, while producer Thom Beers, producer of the über hit "Deadliest Catch," was inducted into the Hall of Fame and took home three trophies -- most original concept, best docu-reality programming and the 2012 Award of Excellence.

At the forum, CNN's KJ Matthews chatted up two of the most successful reality TV producers: SallyAnn Salsano, owner of 495 Productions, better known as the creator of the MTV super-hit "Jersey Shore," and Brent Montgomery, owner of Leftfield Pictures, also known as the entity behind the successful History Channel show "Pawn Stars."

The two talked about everything reality TV-related -- from the shows they wish they had produced to the ongoing struggle to find people for their shows to why they get annoyed at all the people who think creating a reality show is easy. They also touched on how long "Jersey Shore" might continue, and their thoughts on CNN's decision to partner with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

CNN: Recently I've noticed that networks which had no reality TV shows are now getting into the reality game. What do you think about that?

Brent Montgomery: I love it because that means there are more people for us to sell to.

CNN: Is it becoming more difficult to cast or find people in reality TV shows. Some failed actors are using the route of reality TV to get their name out.

Montgomery: That's why you don't cast in L.A. I did "Blind Date" in New York and L.A., and every "Blind Date" contestant in L.A. was like, "Here's my head shots and um, when do I get my $100 and what are the chances of me, you know, when do film directors get to see this and do you guys get a lot of calls?" I said never. ...

SallyAnn Salsano: (Steven) Spielberg is not watching "Blind Date." I mean maybe but not to find talent. I mean he may be watching it. I don't know. But certainly not to cast his next film.

CNN: Have you both gotten better at pitching reality shows to networks since you've had a successful track record with some of your shows?

Montgomery: I think so. Because I think you get better at anything you do over the course of time. I think I'm better at knowing the steps that it's gonna take to (make a show with) subsequent seasons and how you'll have to have a show that will have room to grow.

Salsano: No one wants a "one and done." Not a producer and not a network, because in the end of season one, everyone spends so much time behind the scenes in our offices and at the network level trying to crack it. ... But in the end, you put so much into it that if you can get to season two, then you are off to the races. You know what works and you know what didn't work and then you can move forward.

CNN: People watch reality TV, and some people think that some of it is crap, and (it) has led many to believe that anybody can create a reality show.

Montgomery: This p*sses me off more than anything because people think because they watch TV they can make TV, and that may sound kind of simplistic, but people may actually think that these shows are very simple. I watch "Jersey Shore," and I know that for every minute of on-camera drama there is probably an hour or two or more of off-camera drama. My show people say all the time, "Wow, it's just such a simple show." We work hard to make them look simple!

Salsano: Here is my least favorite (expletive) thing. ... You are in the process of deciding if you want to work with someone, and you show up with your camera, and they say you should have been here yesterday it was so funny. OK, well I'm here today, and if I'm shooting a show; I'm not going to schedule good TV. You're telling me you're so great that you should have your own TV show, then go (show me what you've got)!

CNN: Sally, can you ever envision the "Jersey Shore" (still shooting even in a nursing home)?

Salsano: The thing about "Jersey Shore" is that there is a guido born every day. ... So for me it's an endless supply.

CNN: Which show do both of you wish you had created?

Montgomery: I like "1000 Ways to Die"!

Salsano: I'm so crazy because I love, like "Storage Wars," but I (expletive) love "Toddlers & Tiaras" so much it hurts. I literally like, (expletive) love it. It's just like crack. I literally can't get enough of that show.

Montgomery: Can I change mine? It's "An Idiot Abroad." I love that show!

CNN: As you both know, CNN recently hired Anthony Bourdain. What do you guys think about that?

Salsano: I think it's a great fit.

Montgomery: I think it's a great fit, too. I think when you are a network doing something new, why not go after a big name? I'm sure the cross over between your viewers and his show is a high-income viewer.

Salsano: I think it's going to be fine. And I actually would like to see the new twist on it. Like I do watch "No Reservations" like crazy and I (DVR) it, and I'm into it, but now I'm excited to see what happens on another network.

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