From left, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Vinny Guadagnino,… (Jeff Daly / MTV/PictureGroup )
Reporting from Florence, Italy — — Outside Florence's ancient Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, people are milling around the quiet Piazza del Duomo, calmly taking in the last moments of a May evening.
Just a few blocks away, inside a renovated bank building, a much noisier scene is unfolding. The buzzing of electric hair clippers can be heard through the walls as a quartet of amateur barbers unsuccessfully attempts to fade a hairline. Pranksters hold a stuffed squirrel hostage. Two lovers forlornly debate their relationship as their scantily clad roommate insensitively interrupts to smoke a cigarette. Camped outside are a flock of young admirers, hungry for a glimpse into it all.
Ladies and gentleman, Italy has been "Jersey Shore'd."
For the record
: The caption that accompanied a photo of four members of the "Jersey Shore" cast in a July 27 Calendar article about the MTV show shooting in Italy misidentified two of the men. The caption said that Paul DelVecchio was on the far left; that was actually Mike Sorrentino. The caption said Sorrentino was third from the left; that was DelVecchio.
Since the MTV reality show's debut two years ago, the cast of "Jersey Shore" — Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Paul "Pauly D" DelVecchio, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Jennifer "JWoww" Farley, Sammi Giancola, Vinny Guadagnino and recent addition Deena Cortese — has become infamous for spending days and nights clubbing, tanning, fighting and carousing. For the show's fourth season, which premieres Aug. 4, MTV sent the tangerine-tinted posse nearly 4,000 miles east to the home of such historical figures as Dante and Leonardo da Vinci as a way to shake things up and keep the franchise fresh.
These days, the cast's every move is fodder for the tabloids. Paparazzi stand guard outside the Florence dwelling, which explains how reports of a fistfight between Sorrentino and Ortiz-Magro surfaced in the media, as well as how word spread that Polizzi had crashed into a cop car.
But becoming household names for being themselves has inevitably changed the "Jersey" cast members, making them thoughtful about what was once thoughtless behavior. This becomes clear the next day, when Sorrentino and Ortiz-Magro are seated at a café wrapping up lunch. As the crew prepares for the trek back to the cast's European abode, Sorrentino and Ortiz-Magro share a brief, unguarded moment.
"I'm awesome in front of the camera," Sorrentino tells his roommate in a hushed tone, seemingly unaware of the reporter taking notes nearby. "To be honest with you, I'm not great at anything else."
Luckily, he doesn't really need to be.
A former assistant manager of a gym in New York's Staten Island, Sorrentino now is a published author, has fox-trotted his way through a season of "Dancing With the Stars," has a development deal and a string of product endorsements. He is a lucrative brand, as are his housemates, some of whom reportedly make six-digit figures per episode. The first season of the reality soap averaged 2.7 million viewers. Last season's premiere scored 8.4 million total viewers, according to the Nielsen Co.
It's a media whirlwind none said they saw coming. According to DelVecchio: "I thought it'd be cool. It was different. No big deal. But I did not think there was going to be T-shirts of everything I say. That there'd be dudes on the boardwalk with my hairstyle. That there'd be guys taking pictures of everything I did. How does that happen?"
The cast has been in heavy rotation on MTV since its debut, with seasons rolling out as fast as they can be filmed. In fact, as you read this, the show is in production at its Seaside Heights, N.J., headquarters for the fifth season. And spinoffs featuring DelVecchio and besties Polizzi and Farley begin production in the fall. Options for the cast extend beyond the fifth season.
"I enjoy every second," Polizzi said. "I just look at it as spending the summer with my friends. I can do ['Jersey Shore'] for the rest of my life."
Does all this saturation threaten to dim the glow of the reality stalwart as its funny, obnoxious cast members try to hold on to the loudmouthed quirkiness that first made people want to watch them?
Chris Linn, MTV executive vice president of programming and head of production, doesn't think so: "We're very careful to rest them in between so that people are excited to see them when they do come back each season."
The Italy trip, though, seemed to be MTV's way of "looking for a conceit to make sure that [the show] didn't get boring," said Andy Dehnart, a reality TV connoisseur and editor of RealityBlurred.com.
During production of the show's season abroad, reports surfaced that some portions had been staged or re-shot. Every cast member denied the allegations to The Times, as did creator Sally Ann Salsano.