How to cast Emmy-worthy reality shows

Wed May 26, 2010 8:21pm EDT
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By Randee Dawn

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - SallyAnn Salsano knew she was in the presence of greatness.

Deep into the casting for what would become MTV's "Jersey Shore," scouts for the prolific reality producer had plucked what looked like a perfectly tanned and buffed specimen out of an Atlantic City nightclub. Even better: His name was Mike Sorrentino but he called himself "The Situation."

"I was like, 'Get comfortable, this is going to be a while, I want to know what makes you tick,'" Salsano recalls of her first interview with Sorrentino. "And he says, 'Baby, if you want to know that ...' And the next thing I know, he's shirtless."

Salsano cast him almost immediately.

"When anybody comes in and, within 30 seconds of meeting, feels like they have to have their clothes off to be comfortable with you -- well, that was him putting his best foot forward," she says.

Salsano got lucky with The Situation, Snooki and the rest of the "Jersey" kids. But reality insiders know that even the most established series like "The Amazing Race," "Survivor" or "Project Runway" struggle to find compelling cast members.

"We all know that people want their 15 minutes of fame," says Ellen Rakieten, who booked "Oprah" for more than two decades and now executive produces NBC's "The Marriage Ref." "But audiences are savvy and they want people they can relate to and resonate with."

Finding that diamond-in-the-rough typically starts with a casting tape. Producers are looking for those willing to reveal personal information freely.   Continued...

<p>Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino from the television show "The Jersey Shore" arrives at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles January 31, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>