Some people spend their childhoods dreaming about how they are going to grow up and get into the TV business. Not SallyAnn Salsano.
She was studying accounting and in her junior year at the University of Missouri, and she needed an internship. It was November and she was supposed to complete one internship before her second semester in January.
Like some people, Salsano found the answer to her problems at her local bar. On the bar’s TV, an ad appeared: “Are you looking for an internship? Call 1-900-93 Sally.” Problem solved, she thought.
Salsano made the call, setting up an interview with The Sally Jessy Raphael Show during Thanksgiving break, while she was back home on Long Island.
The interview went well, and she was offered a position the following summer. That was a problem.
Salsano marched into the office of Amy Rosenblum, Sally Jessy Raphael executive producer, and said: “Hi there. I’m SallyAnn. I don’t know who you are or what you do here, but here’s the bind that I’m in.”
Salsano explained her problem—and asked if Rosenblum could sign a form saying that Salsano had already completed the internship, displaying the gumption that many a Sally Jessy guest had. Rosenblum’s response (according to Salsano): “I don’t know who you are or what you are doing here, but I’m definitely going to say yes.”
Thus a producing star was born. “Her stories of her days in the talk-show circuit are hysterical and show that she has balls of steel,” says Mike Darnell, president of unscripted and alternative at Warner Bros. Television. “I have rarely met a producer more willing to do whatever she must to produce the show she wants.”
‘Bitten By the Bug’
Salsano finished up her degree and returned to work at Sally Jessy. Over five years, she climbed the ranks.
From then on, she never wanted for production work, whether on Warner Bros.’ Elimi-Date or reality specials for Darnell, who was then Fox’s head of alternative. Eventually, she interviewed to produce a daytime talk show at Telepictures, and found herself crying to Telepictures’ Sheila Bouttier during the interview.
“I didn’t want to work in daytime anymore,” Salsano says. “Reality was the big boom.”
Bouttier called Mike Fleiss at Telepictures and suddenly Salsano was a reality TV producer. While working at Fleiss’ Next Entertainment, she produced The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and other shows.
Making the Leap
In 2006, Salsano opened 495 Productions. The company’s first original was MTV’s Shot at Love With Tia Tequila, which turned into a six-series deal with MTV.
Salsano began producing shows, including HGTV’s Design Star and Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off. She also had other shows in production, including a crazy little piece called Jersey Shore.
New executives arrived at HGTV and Oxygen. They wanted to put their own producers in place, dropping her.
“The last show I had a shot with was Jersey Shore,” Salsano says. “I knew this show was psychotically crazy, and I didn’t know if it was good-different or bad-different. If Jersey Shore didn’t hit, I only had three months that I could afford to keep my doors open. My MTV deal expired literally the night before the episode aired in which Snooki got punched in the face.”
As everyone now knows, “The next day, Jersey Shore went through the roof. They picked up my deal for another two years and from there it just got busier and busier.”
In 2013, Telepictures’ Bouttier called, asking if she wouldn’t mind returning to daytime talk. The project—a twist on The View with a diverse cast—appealed to her and she took the job.
Salsano cast The Real by testing chemistry until she found what she thought was the right combination: Tamera Mowry-Housley, Tamar Braxton, Adrienne Bailon, Loni Love and Jeannie Mai. And the stars believe the whole thing works with Salsano aboard.
“[Salsano is] not fake or phony,” says Love. “You can see why the projects she produces become hits. They are different, creative, sparky and bright, and she is just as creative and sparky and bright as her ideas.”
On Sept. 15, The Real debuted in national syndication.
“I am sick to my freaking stomach, I am so excited,” says Salsano, who was so busy this summer she could barely make time to get married. She wed Peter Aronson, executive VP of IFC, on July 26 in Mexico. “I’m proud of what we are putting out. Last summer was a high school play. Now we’re going to Broadway, and we’re going to see if we’re going to make it.”