CasiNotes: 'Jersey Shore' fading like old tan

The show boosted MTV's ratings at a critical time and helped it find a new pop-culture relevance.
The show boosted MTV's ratings at a critical time and helped it find a new pop-culture relevance.
Posted: October 05, 2012

Editor's Note: Due to a technical error, a feature story on the MTV program “Jersey Shore” that was written by Yvonne Villarreal of the Los Angeles Times appeared briefly on philly.com as a column written by Chuck Darrow of the Philadelphia Daily News.

LOS ANGELES - Like a tan growing pale, "Jersey Shore" is fading into the TV sunset. Thursday marks the beginning of its sixth season - its last.

It began as just another low-budget MTV reality show, with lower expectations, that would chronicle the fist-pumping antics of its ultra-bronzed, ultra-average stars cooped up in a house in Seaside Heights, N.J. But when the series aired in December 2009, it quickly and curiously morphed into a surprisingly potent pop force that made "Snooki" a household name and turned an unknown cast into late-night punch lines.

Ultimately, its title became shorthand for the further dumbing down of American culture.

"Let's just keep it real - we've made a lasting effect," said Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino during a phone interview. "It will take a number of years to try to forget what we've done. We changed the way people view reality TV. We helped changed how reality TV is done."

Sorrentino, for once, isn't exaggerating too much. The program, originally planned as a competition-based series intended for VH1, let viewers peep inside the "guido youth" subculture whose hallmarks were late-night boozing and grinding, while sporting perfectly coiffed hair and extremely tan skin.

The show's novelty and buzz opened the floodgates for imitators across dozens of niche networks desperate to stand out amid the cacophony of reality television. Bravo's "Shahs of Sunset," Animal Planet's "Hillbilly Handfishin' " and even TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" all owe a tip of the hat to the "Jersey Shore" kids.

"It proved that you can still surprise this late in the reality game," said Andy Dehnart, editor of the reality TV news and review site RealityBlurred.com.

Along with a pair of gritty reality shows, "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom," the "Jersey Shore" gamble boosted MTV's ratings at a critical time and helped it find a new pop-culture relevance.

The first season of "Jersey Shore" averaged 2.7 million viewers and the show would reach 8 million viewers in its third cycle, according to ratings firm Nielsen. Last season it dropped to a still-impressive 5.8 million viewers, and once again ranked as the No. 1 cable series among the 12-34 demographic, as it had been for the previous four runs.

In time, the "Jersey Shore" conversation broadened the English language as well. New words and terms - GTL (gym, tan, laundry), grenades (unattractive females) and smushing (sex) - became part of the youth lexicon.

Fascination with Jersey reached beyond American shores, as the show aired in nearly 170 territories.

The show wasn't wholeheartedly embraced by everyone. Italian American anti-defamation groups lambasted "Jersey Shore" for playing on the worst ethnic stereotypes - a national Italian American organization, UNICO, called it "trash television." When the show jet-setted to Italy in its fourth season, the cast members were met with outrage by some locals. And a few sponsors, including Domino's Pizza, pulled ads after the show's premiere.

The culture rubberneckers catapulted the eight unknowns into reality stars whose antics burned up Web gossip sites and were routinely splashed across tabloid magazines. They cashed in on their newfound celebrity, negotiating book and lucrative endorsement deals, and landed movie roles and TV spin-offs. The group was also savvy enough to get a pay raise ahead of the fourth season, one which brought some of the players at least $100,000 per episode.

"Every day is crazier than the last," said Sorrentino, who most recently made headlines for a stint in rehab.

That's part of the problem, Dehnart said - the cast mates were victims of their own astonishing success. "It was such a surprise and so interesting at first," he said. "But its success just consumed it. Obviously it's remained a popular show, but things got less interesting. They weren't the genuine, authentic, real characters who were unlike anyone we had seen on TV anymore."

The network retains some of its "Jersey Shore" real estate with the spin-off "Snooki & JWoww" coming back for a second season. (There's no word on whether Paul "Pauly D" DelVecchio's spin-off will return).

MTV has other new series, including this month's premiere of "Underemployed," which furthers its push toward scripted programs - joining "Awkward," "Teen Wolf" and "The Inbetweeners." And a new reality series, "Catfish," inspired by the 2010 film, will debut in November, focusing on online relationships. They have a tough act to follow.

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