Texas is home sweet home for 'Jersey Shore' producer Scott Jeffress
Forget the gym and hit the couch. "Jersey Shore" is back for a third season, with all the abs you need.
After heading south to Miami Beach, the crew returns on Thursday to Seaside Heights for a new installment of fist-pumping. If you've seen or even heard about the popular MTV reality series, you know what to expect — techno music, late-night shenanigans, questionable romantic decisions, all with an Italian American flair.
Even though Snooki, the Situation and the rest of the gang might seem like they're from another planet, Scott Jeffress, one of the show's top producers, actually calls Central Texas home. And though a lot of people might consider "Jersey Shore" the television equivalent of junk food, Jeffress takes his entertainment seriously.
"The nicknames, the crazy poofs and the fake boobs and the abs, it's just a unique thing that blended at the right time," he said. "Yes, there's emotion, there's drama, there's fights, but there's so much you can laugh about, and that's where the show really breaks through."
Jeffress would know. In addition to "Jersey Shore," he's worked for years on high-profile reality television shows, including ABC's smash hits "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette."
Although it might seem odd for a television producer to live so far from where his product is made, Jeffress is just as serious about getting away from the bustle of the business.
Over coffee on the porch of his lakeside home in Spicewood, where he lives with his wife, Amy, and son Jude, 17 (his other son, Schuyler, 20, lives in Los Angeles, where he also works on "Jersey Shore"), Jeffress was apologetic. He had been up all night smoking meat and hadn't a chance to clean up. The spread, which included a goat, was for the Lake Travis High School football team's defense. Jude plays tackle for the team, which was in the midst of a playoff run that resulted in a state championship.
Jeffress, 53, grew up in Friendswood outside Houston and spent time fishing and camping in Austin as a kid. "I love this area, and I wanted the boys to experience it," he said.
To make that happen, he commutes on an almost weekly basis to Los Angeles, where he lived for 19 years before moving back to Texas.
His television career was already in motion before his arrival in LA, however. After graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1980, Jeffress' first job was working for NASA in Houston (his father worked there as an engineer), where he filmed the first three space shuttle landings. From there he worked in television in Kansas City, Mo., before landing a job as an editor on the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
After the Olympics, Jeffress and his wife moved to Los Angeles. It was there that Jeffress cut his teeth on reality television, working as an editor on the first two seasons of MTV's "The Real World," which debuted in 1992.
From there he moved on to Nickelodeon's animated series "Ren and Stimpy," which, with its in-your-face, often gross humor, was right up his alley.
"The show was hilarious, it was edgy, and that's what I liked," he said. "I knew early on that I liked things that were loud, things that cut through the clutter, things that were pushing the envelope."
He thought for a while that his thing was comedy, and he worked as an editor with comedians including Bill Maher and on David Cross' "Mr. Show." That world, however, proved a difficult nut to crack.
"Reality television was kind of taking off, and what I wanted to do was produce, I wanted to make my mark on television," he said. "I looked at the comedy world, and it's a small community, very difficult to move up and direct and produce at that level, so I jumped over and started doing reality TV."
His early forays into the genre weren't exactly "Survivor" caliber. They included gems like "World's Deadliest Volcanoes," "Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed" and "World's Most Daring Rescues."
What those shows did do, however, was allow him to get to know people like Mike Fleiss, the creator of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," among other things.
Fleiss hired Jeffress as a producer on the first season of "The Bachelor" in 2002, and eventually "The Bachelorette." He worked on the two shows for a combined 10 seasons.
"We spent millions of dollars on candles," Jeffress joked. "I had a cameraman catch on fire — it was a cold night and he was wearing a down jacket, and we turn around and the guy has flames coming out of his head." (The cameraman wasn't injured.)
Jeffress says that working on that show was a lot of fun and that he still stays in touch with some of the contestants, including the Bob Guiney, aka Bachelor Bob.
It was also on "The Bachelor" that Jeffress met "Jersey Shore" creator Sally Ann Salsano, who first hired him as a producer on HGTV's "Design Star."
"Scott is one of the best producers out there," Salsano said. "The two of us would kill for each other, and that's how we get to where we are."
Jeffress has worked on nearly every show Salsano has produced since, including MTV's bisexual-themed "A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila," which drew plenty of criticism (and viewers) for its sexual explicitness. Jeffress liked how over-the-top it was.
"Our shows always try to have an attitude, so some sort of opinion, and we're not afraid to try to express it," he said.
Enter "Jersey Shore," Salsano's documentary-style (Jeffress says "docu-style") ode to Italian American youth killing brain cells over a club music soundtrack. Italian American group UNICO asked MTV to cancel the show before it even aired in 2009, claiming that the liberal use of the word "guido" and other behavior by the cast was culturally insensitive.
MTV made some concessions ("we had to paint over the Italian flag on the garage door," Jeffress said), but the show went on. If anything, the flap brought in more viewers. "We had a pretty decent audience going in, and when that hit, it almost doubled."
Jeffress said there is a lot more to the show than just scandal. "When there's controversy, people pay attention," he said. "The fact that they tuned in to watch the show and stayed, that's a different story."
Salsano said that Jeffress, who converts the raw footage into a narrative, is meticulous in his approach to creating the finished product. "On a show like "Jersey Shore" we shoot hundreds of hours, and never for a second do I think that his team has not watched every frame of that stuff," she said.
Salsano, who is both Italian American and from Long Island, added that Jeffress' Texas roots allow him to bring perspective to the show that she might not have.
"Things that I think are normal, he's like, 'That's not normal. It may be normal for you but it's not normal,'" she said. "He definitely looks at things a little different than I do."
Looking ahead, Jeffress said that they're already looking to shoot another season. "We feel like there's at least another season or two in it, but you don't want to shortchange these characters because there is an appeal to them and you want to get as much out of them as you can," he said.
He also is planning on casting a reality series soon starring people from different areas of Texas. Though he admits that it's getting more and more difficult to sell a show, his work on "The Bachelor" and "Jersey Shore" has helped. "It's almost impossible to walk in with a piece of paper and pitch a show," he said. "I'm in a place right now where people know my name, and companies are starting to come to me and saying let's get your projects out there."
'Jersey Shore' season premiere: 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, on MTV