What happens when the hardest-partying cast on TV has to grow up? That’s the question facing MTV’s Jersey Shore, which was thrown a pair of curveballs when pint-size, shot-pounding Nicole ”’Snooki” Polizzi revealed she was preggers and drama king Mike ”The Situation” Sorrentino checked into rehab. Sure, the housemates can still gym, tan, laundry. (Actually, Snooki can only G and L; she’s sworn off tanning beds.) But what about their usual heavy drinking, promiscuous sex, and head bashing?
In recent weeks, rumors have swirled that Snooki was refusing to live in the grungy Shore beach house for season 6, and that The Situation was bunking with a sober coach. A few days into production, The Situation was living in the house but Snooki had indeed fled for the comforts of ”contingency” accommodations next door. ”Every season I have a backup plan for everything under the sun,” says Shore exec producer SallyAnn Salsano. Looks like this season she might need it: At this point, MTV says the conditions are fluid and it’s unclear where Snooki will lay her head at night.
Snooki first told the network she was pregnant with longtime boyfriend Jionni LaValle‘s baby in February. The news represented a potential challenge for both Shore and the launch of its spin-off Snooki & JWoww (costarring Jenni ”JWoww” Farley and debuting June 21). ”We were happy for her,” MTV exec VP of programming Chris Linn says. ”It was a surprise to us, but it does provide an amazing new story.”
Salsano thinks the media reaction to Snooki’s baby bombshell has been seriously overblown. ”Everybody treats this like she’s 14,” she says. ”She’s a 24-year-old who fell in love and is having a baby. Am I the only person who thinks this is normal?”
Of course, being normal on Jersey Shore isn’t exactly normal. And Snooki’s delicate condition is only part of the household’s maturing dynamic. Committed relationships are becoming more common than random hookups (even perpetual lonelyheart Deena Cortese has a boyfriend this season), and The Situation is living clean after his rehab stint in the spring for a prescription drug problem. ”[Castmate Vinny Guadagnino] said it best,” recalls Salsano. ”He goes, ‘I have anxiety, Snooki is pregnant, Mike is sober — we’re like eight Lifetime movies wrapped up in one.”’
But will a more subdued Shore still entertain? ”The show has never been just about people getting drunk and doing stupid things,” says Linn. ”It’s always been about the comedy and the interactions between them, and that is very much intact.”
For now, at least. The show’s first four seasons sparked arguably the most stunning ratings climb in basic-cable history. At its peak, during the cast’s sojourn to Italy, the Guidos and Guidettes were bringing in 9 million viewers, with an adult demo rating that often beat top broadcast shows on Thursday nights. But the numbers began to slip during season 5 earlier this year, dropping to 7.6 million and causing some in the industry to wonder if MTV would switch off the Jacuzzi after season 6.
Unlike recent years, MTV plans to shoot only one cycle of Shore in 2012, a decision Linn says was made to accommodate two spin-offs. (In addition to Snooki & JWoww, MTV has The Pauly D Project, which debuted in March.) Execs hope that will give the show fresh energy, since the cast is reuniting after 11 months, their longest production hiatus ever. ”It’s too early to make any predictions,” Linn says of the show’s future, adding, ”We’re not looking to milk it to the end.”
In the meantime, the network has its eye on an upcoming Shore milestone. ”I would love to have a Snooki-Jionni wedding,” Linn says. ”That could be amazing.” The couple haven’t announced a date, but MTV is content to let Snooki take the lead. ”It’s her life,” he says. ”We’re just here to capture it.”